The road trip to visit family went well, as these things go. Driving around the Northeast corridor isn’t exactly a cakewalk, but I had good weather and few traffic issues. It helps that I like to drive. Connecting with some family and friends from long ago, who remember me as the successful doctor with a beautiful home, is easier now, since I’ve gotten comfortable with being transparent about my story. And when I share mine, people naturally share theirs.
I met a woman who lost her brother to suicide a few months ago, and an old friend who is grieving the loss of his friend in a similar fashion. I’m free of the guilt that can arise when someone shares this tragedy, secure in the conviction that the luck of the draw saved me, not some superhuman feat. It might have even been cowardice, as it takes courage to end a life.
Two people I visited shared their struggle with anxiety. According to the New York Times, this is the new twenty-first century “epidemic,” surpassing depression. This may be irrelevant, as depressed persons often have periods of anxiousness, and vice versa. They’re two sides of the same coin. What struck me was their willingness to be open about how the anxiety affects them on a day-to-day basis. They – both women – have broken through the internal walls of denial that may have kept them silent before.
There are others I know who suffer great imbalance, but who aren’t yet capable of holding a mirror to themselves. There are methods they use to avoid the topic: denying; deflecting; and demurring. I’ve written on “D” words before (see September, 2014 archive), and was going to add “decline” this list, but I think it doesn’t quite fit. Many use these means to evade both addressing their own brain health issues or acknowledging those of others. You can imagine how much trouble this causes.
Deny’s root, the Latin denego, means to say it isn’t so, and to subject one’s will to another’s. The PIE root, *ne-, means simply “no.” The mental health world is full of denial; the word penetrates all layers of consideration. People who are ill can be deniers, but many with “healthy” brains can be deeply embedded too. Their refusal to recognize or acknowledge the suffering of others is a major impediment to speedy healing. When someone reaches out for help, they must subject themselves to the will of insurance companies, providers, and others who take part in the denial business. It’s all so tragic and unnecessary.
Deflect derives from the Latin deflecto, to bend downward or turn aside, and sometimes to avoid or turn off. Many who suffer are masters of this maneuver. Questioning how they’re doing results in an immediate change of subject. Why does this happen? It’s fear, of course, of being perceived as nuts, or less than, or incapable of living up to the expectations of others, or even themselves. Sadly, this default behavior may be caused by the dismissive posture of others. Either way, it makes the road more difficult.
Demur, defined as to raise doubts or show reluctance, arose from the Latin moror, to delay, wait, or hinder. I remember the massive reluctance I felt when things were spiraling downward and I had many, many difficulties to surmount. I just couldn’t face it at the time, and so what had been a mild depression intensified to a life-threatening condition. But again, I want to put that shoe on some other feet by pointing out how damaging it was for others to demur from comprehending the depth of my loss and illness.
At a deeper level, demur’s PIE root of *mere- (to hinder) gave rise to the English moratorium, defined as a temporary prohibition of an activity. In a way, the women who shared their stories with me took a moratorium on chronic silence, and I was glad to share their burden and encourage them to stay the course. One has been getting therapy in various forms for a year now, long enough to experience the benefits. I’d like to see the other pursue a similar course. We got far enough in the conversation for her to recognize the possibilities here.
I don’t know about you, but I can name names of others – family, friends, acquaintances – who persist in denial and deflection, and it saddens me to think of the consequences that result. Getting help for brain health issues is no panacea by any means, but help can come in many forms, and can be quicker and more powerful than you think. Sometimes, simply acknowledging the problem is more than half the battle, and a few little tweaks can make all the difference in the world.
Well, since I’ve done the three new “D” words I might as well visit decline. Its root, the Latin decline, means to turn from the straight path, or turn aside. But the PIE root, *klein-, means “to lean.” In the end, this is what it’s all about. If there’s no one to lean on, if we don’t take the steps to support one another, the topic becomes moot in the end. And there’s a quirky word I can blog about on another rainy day. . .