DEPRESSION AND THE NECESSITY FOR DISCLOSURE: "IF I TELL SOMEONE MY LIFE STORY, THAT DEFINITELY IS PART OF IT."
Cyrulnik says, “When we keep silent, we die even more. But when we bear witness, we encounter silence” (2005, p. 115). Interviewing Richard was my attempt to break the cycle of silence. I wanted to be a receptive witness to his story by meeting him with an open invitation for dialogue instead of turning away. Richard did speak about instances of disclosing his depression in close relationships and the reactions that people had. Ultimately, he felt that most people in his life were rather understanding of depression as a condition that people sometimes struggle with. There had never been any person who had made him feel ashamed or negatively evaluated as a result of his disclosure. And since he tended to reveal his experience with depression to most people whom he developed a close relationship with, Richard said he was used to disclosure.
Nobody’s judged me bad. I never went with someone and they were like like “whoa.” I think everybody accepts. I think people are like open-minded that you know people, have depression. But it’s like, I don’t know. Maybe if I was getting bad reactions, maybe I would start wearing like, big-ass like watches and stuff.
Or wristbands and stuff.
In many respects, telling people about his experiences with depression was sort of a non-choice for Richard, as the physical scars remained as proof on his body of what he had been through. As he said, “I’m stuck with it now so I have to do it.” Talking about depression as an aspect of his life seemed to be an unavoidable inevitability, especially in the context of new relationships. He elaborated,
I definitely feel like I’ve got to tell like if I you know if I meet someone new.
I meet a girlfriend, I think it’s only fair that I tell them, about that. Do you know what I mean? ‘Cause I mean I have scars, like on my wrists and stuff too, so like, eventually they’re gonna s- they’re gonna see that soon on when they meet me. So I have to eventually- I’ve got to tell them within a couple of weeks probably like tell them well “I was depressed when I was younger.” You know what I mean? So like maybe if I didn’t have the scars, maybe I would never tell- I don’t know. I probably- I don’t know. That’s a good question I don’t know if I would have uh would tell people. But like I kind of have to though because they see it. They see like the physical, aspects of it. But I don’t know if- I- I don’t know if I would tell them. That’s that’s kind of, interesting. I don’t know if like I didn’t have scars on my wrists and . . . then . . . you know that that forces me kind of to tell people that you know I committed suicide- tried to commit suicide. If I didn’t have them I don’t know that I would tell people.
I don’t know . . . I’ve been kind of forced to tell people. So, but I’ve never thought about it. I don’t know if I would have if I didn’t have to.
This issue of forced self-disclosure led to a conversation about depression and what role it had played in identity formation. I wondered whether Richard saw depression as a core aspect of his identity or whether he viewed it more as an external event or condition, something not inherent in who he was as a person. The following conversation ensued:
M: Do you feel like, do you think that your depression is the result of some sort of internal process that’s c- that, like something that’s a part of you, or is it more due to external factors? Like life events and- and stuff, like, some of the things you mentioned?
R: For some reason I want to say I think it maybe is part of me. I mean ‘cause I think that everybody has like all your brain chemistry, and stuff (M: Mmhmm).
It’s just- just because I’ve had it, like ongoing, I just feel like it must be part of like my, my DNA or something. You know what I mean? I don’t judge that if I feel like- you know what I mean? It’s just like- that’s just like the roll of the dice, I just have that in my- you know what I mean ‘cause I don’t ha- I don’t really have like history of that in my- in my family, as far as I know. You know.
At least not in my immediate family, for sure like I don’t- never heard of no one committing suicide or, taking medication for, depression but, I don’t know.
I just feel like it’s in me, or something. You know what I mean, like it’s part of my, like my DNA I guess. . . .
So although Richard acknowledged that depression felt like it was in a sense “a part of’ him and in some respects it felt like it was in his DNA because it had been an ongoing struggle that he had dealt with over the course of his life, he drew a distinction between this description and depression as a core part of his identity as a person. Depression had definitely played a significant role in Richard’s life. However, he felt it very important to strike a balance between acknowledging its effects in shaping who he was and not letting it completely define him. At many points during our interview,
Richard expressed a desire not to discuss his feelings. Although part of the reason likely had to do with not wanting to burden others or feeling that other people might not meet him with an appropriate and compassionate level of concern, another reason for holding everything in had to do with Richard’s sense of identity and how he wanted to be perceived.
Well lately, like I said- like I haven’t, had that much depression. It just kind of like lasts like a year and a half, two years. I had a like a good run where I didn’t really, have any issues. So . . . and now I feel like a different person, like I’m more of a confident person. So it’s like . . . maybe I feel like I don’t want to be that person that has all these problems. . . . You know? Like I don’t want to i- th- if- if you had asked of me “Oh describe yourself,” I don’t wanna I don’t want to have to be like “Oh, you know I’m a, depressed person. I have depression.” I would want to- I wouldn’t want to even think like that, you know? So it’s like . . . so I guess, always talking to people about it would make me feel like, “Oh that’s the dude that’s always the depressed guy.” You know and then be, “That’s the dude that has depression.” I don’t want to be like, known as that or something maybe.
Richard acknowledged that in some respects, depression was a part of him. But he also didn’t want to have that be a defining factor in his life. When I asked him whether he felt that having depression contributed to some core aspect of who he was, Richard did not endorse feeling that way.
No I wouldn’t say that. ‘Cause I think I have like, I think I could beat it for a period of time. You know what I mean? So I don’t know I wouldn’t say it’s a core part of me. It’s but it’s like it has played into my life. You know? Like if you know if I tell someone my life story, that definitely is part of it.
In this respect, depression had a very dystonic, external quality. It was something that he could “beat,” an entity outside of himself. Thus there was a tension between his recognition of its significance in his life and his desire not to be reduced to being “That Depressed Guy.” His experiences with depression had shaped him, but Richard’s identity extends far beyond this struggle. Furthermore, although Richard spoke about depression as a malignant force that has the potential to be incredibly devastating, he also seemed to have made peace with it as one aspect of his struggle in life.