Following on from the previous article on how to explain mental health to others I thought I would write a little more specifically about using analogies to explain depression and anxiety. Why depression and anxiety? Because these are the issues I experience personally and can share my experiences. Although my experiences include depression and anxiety I hope that the idea of using analogy can also help explain other disorders.
In the previous post, I mentioned that analogies are generally my way of choice when it comes to explaining mental health issues as without them I simply don’t have the words in my vocabulary when it comes to talking about my mental health. I would like to share some ideas for analogies that others are able to relate to and hopefully understand. For example, many people have heard of the ‘black dog’ being used to explain depression. This is an analogy that I use to explain my depression to myself, and in turn, I could use it to explain depression to others.
Some days my black dog is constantly in my face. He is a large Newfoundland, bigger than me. Sitting on my chest, weighing me down. He puts his paws in my food so I don’t want to eat, he messes up my house and doesn’t allow me to tidy up, he sits on my book so I can’t read or hides my phone so I can’t communicate with others. He doesn’t listen to commands or my pleas for him to behave. Other days he is a little long haired Chihuahua. He follows me around, making little irritating whining sounds, occasionally a little yap or a nip at the heels just to remind me he is still there. His fur gets everywhere, but he’s too little to stop me giving the living room a quick whip round with the hoover. Some days I’m up for taking him for a walk. It keeps him quiet for a while. Other days he even takes himself off for a bit of a walk on his own. It can be a short jog around the block or an expedition that takes him a few days. If I’m lucky, even a few weeks. He can return unexpectedly. He can morph throughout the day. It can be sudden, Chihuahua to Newfoundland in 0.7 seconds! He may be a Newfoundland when I wake up, but slowly reduce down to Labrador to Spaniel to Chihuahua throughout the day or the same in reverse.
Of course, this isn’t the only analogy out there. Depression may not feel like a dog to you. It could be like clouds, from low, heavy, suffocating storm clouds to light grey to white to clear blue skies. Depression could be tied to you and the rope binding you could be different lengths. Maybe it’s so short depression is basically sat on you, smothering you, yelling negative thoughts right into your ear. Or the rope could be longer – you can hear what depression is shouting at the other end, but there’s lots of background noise and interference so despite the yelling you can hear the birds in the trees and your favourite songs on the radio. With depression being able to be at any point on almost a sliding spectrum that can vary from moment to moment, and it being difficult to differentiate between the points on the scale, analogies like these can often help explain and help others to understand. If someone you feel able to speak to knows your analogy you could try to use phrases with them such as ‘my dog is a Newfoundland today’ as a way of asking them to understand your feelings or letting them know that you need help.
I also use analogies when trying to explain my anxiety. One of my issues with my anxiety is all my anxious thoughts, some of which are so minor and are barely worth considering, being all mixed up in my head. Almost like a bowl of cooked spaghetti or a really messed up and knotted ball of wool. I just can’t make the thoughts make sense. I can’t differentiate between things that are actually worth worrying about, that I can work on figuring out how to solve, and the things that are logically not even a problem. By being able to recognise my anxiety in this way I can sometimes ask for help to sort out the spaghetti strands into nice straight lines and ordered so I can deal with them logically.
Another one I particularly like and that I’ve been using for years, is that of an Internet browser. I often feel like I have a million and one browser tabs open all demanding different thoughts. Some making different noises such as several tabs shouting negative and anxious thoughts at me, some play those little annoying tunes that get stuck in your head on repeat. Some tabs are genuine things I need to worry about in the sense they need genuine attention – deadlines at work, looking after the dog, keeping the house tidy or appointments. Others are detrimental. The pop-ups that come up in front of everything else telling me I’m going to fail or I can’t do it or tell me other people think badly of me. Sometimes they are so demanding and keep popping up no matter how many times I try to click on the little x to try to get them to go away. These pop-ups demanding all the attention can sometimes mean I miss some of the important tabs like appointments and deadlines by accident which then makes the ‘you’re a failure’ and ‘people think badly of you’ pop-ups increase. Like a catch 22.
Explaining anxiety and depression to myself in this way helps make a little more sense in my head. As I am then able to begin to explain things to myself, in turn, I can use them to help explain my mental health to others. It certainly doesn’t make me an expert when it comes to explaining my thoughts, but I find they really help. Using words that can paint a picture.
Remember, you are not your disorder. Your disorders are part of you. If you are able to find a way to help explain your disorder to yourself it may help you to explain it to others. I find talking therapeutic, but when I can’t find the words it makes my anxiety worse. By using analogies I am sometimes able to speak out in a clearer way that helps me to understand myself and others to understand how I am feeling. In the process of speaking out a little more, I have reconnected with people who are going through similar mental health problems and we are able to support each other. After all, if mental health issues affect at least 1 in 4 of us there are potentially many people who could benefit from speaking out, including ourselves.