Naming is a prominent theme in our religions, our mythology and our legends – to name something is to have power over it. It removes the thing from the unknown, makes it familiar and therefore manageable. I feel that the scene in the Bible here Adam is given the task of naming the animals in order to have dominion over them is an prime example of this.
The unknown is the largest human fear there is, which is why naming holds so much power. Without an identity you don’t know how to handle it. Without a name it’s part of that terrifying blackness, or blankness that haunts us – the moment after death, the bogeyman in the night.
But once a thing has a name it becomes something else. It has edges, definition and with those comes all the information that others have gathered over the years.
Which is why a chance encounter with a single word was such a relief to me: dysthymia. For years I just figured I’d been affected by things that had happened to me, that I was permanently – not broken, but damaged. It didn’t occur to me that I had a form of depression, because I could still get out of bed in the morning and go to work and interact with other human beings in the fairly normal, if limited way of an empath. But reading the article I stumbled across online entitled “high-functioning depression” made a light come on in my brain. I wasn’t alone, and the black dog that sometimes sits on my chest making it hard to breathe, or think, also visits other people.
I’d purposely avoided reading about depression because the literature I’d seen up until that moment had focused on major depression and suicide prevention. I didn’t think about leaving this world in dramatic ways or that everyone else would be better off without me. Depression in that frame didn’t apply to me. I wasn’t there, I just felt low, worthless, anxious to the point that sleep eluded me. I gained weight. I stopped writing; something I truly enjoy. I spun in little circles trying to chase the black dog off. Some days I felt like I succeeded. Sometimes that feeling would last for weeks so how could I be depressed?
For a while I thought it was just my backwater job, or the weight of student debt, the general anxiety that has dogged me since childhood, or some external force that weighed me down. And they did, certainly, but the fact that I can tackle my feelings as ‘depression’ is a relief. I’m not a pretender to the term – if you know what I mean. It’s not a capital D depression, but no less legitimate for its form because now it has a name. The more reading I do, the more talking I do, the better handle on it I get. Some days are still better than others, but having that one piece, that name, makes such a difference.
So if you feel that something isn’t right, I encourage you to keep going, keep reading, there’s a name out there to give you power over the dark.