Dealing with a mental health problem is a very personal experience. Indeed, perhaps one of the reasons that those who suffer in silence struggle to talk is that it is so hard to articulate something that is so individual, personal and internal with words. In many ways it feels like an almost completely unexplainable thing. No wonder then that so many of us turn to metaphors to describe how we are feeling. For us at Silent Faces, we knew that metaphor would be a really important part of A Clown Show About Rain from a very early stage in the making process. Not only because our work is largely wordless, but also because somehow, when discussing mental health, using a metaphor helps. I think it’s probably because, our mental wellness can’t be seen (unlike our physical wellness). With metaphor we find ourselves likening our experience to a more palpable or physical shared experience that everyone can relate too. I think it is for this reason that the metaphor of weather, and specifically rain, crops up.
But of course, there are also others. Let’s take a look at some…
The Black Dog
One of the most famous mental health metaphors. Winston Churchill is particularly renowned for using this one. His description of depression as a “black dog on [his] back” is, for many, considered to be an accurate way of articulating the experience of depression. There’s something within Churchill’s phrasing here that brings up the image of depression as a constant companion. It’s interesting too that he describes it “on [his] back”, as if something that literally weighs him down, making everything a little bit tougher than it would ordinarily be. Seem easy to relate to? But this is one of those that proves that if someone of influence and notoriety speaks about their own mental health issues, they are more likely to be heard and therefore be able to help others follow. Good on Winston for speaking up.
The Bottom of a pit
In Notes on a Nervous Planet writer Matt Haig talks openly and candidly about mental health and his own experience of depression (as a follow on to his first book Reason’s To Stay Alive). In Notes on a Nervous Planet he says that when “at the bottom of the pit, I always had to force myself to find the beauty, the goodness, love, however hard it was.” The idea of a pit or a hole makes particular sense: this sense of being lost, or stuck, again the association with darkness (as with Churchill’s four-legged friend). But what’s interesting here is actually the sense of hope that is implicit. Haig gives the sense that, it’s perfectly natural to feel like we’re in a hole, but there is hope. With the right guidance we can find our way upwards again.
We all experience rain collectively when it comes, but we all experience it as an individual too. No one else can know how we feel exactly in our body and mind when we are caught in a thunderstorm, standing in a phone box, alone and slightly claustrophobic, waiting for it to pass, and hoping we don’t get struck by lightning. But we can all imagine it. We’ve all seen rain.
There’s something about the fact that weather is natural. It’s nature. Feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, is natural. It comes from human instinct, and it’s a reaction to the world around us. With the world always moving and changing and turning in different directions, who knows when the storm could strike. It’s the same with the weather. Even with all the knowledge of the atmosphere and all the amazing talented meteorologists out there, even with all the amazing knowledge of the brain and all the incredible talented doctors out there, there will always be something we can’t predict. There’s some sort of comfort in knowing there’s a comparison.
The metaphor of the weather and of rain in particular is a popular one. Us Faces were at a recent performance 0 Day’s Without Crying by Caterina Incisa at The Hope Theatre, Islington. In this semi-autobiographical exploration of depression, Caterina at one point describes her recovery as the fact that there’s a cloud around her waist that she can now see over. ‘It’s raining on my feet’ she says, but she can now see over the top of the storm cloud that once surrounded her whole head and body. The rain passes.
A Clown Show About Rain
For me, living depression is not just about the bad days. Having lived with depression, there’s always that awareness that it could come back, that those darkest days have passed but could come again. I guess in some ways this is part of the recovery. It’s about acceptance and making sure we’re as prepared as we can be for the possibility of the storm rearing its ugly head again.
Everyone has weather – good days and bad. Rain days and sunny days. Every day is the day in the life of our mental health and what we forget is that we all have a mental health. Just like we all have a physical health. Just like, if we have the flu, we would take it easy, let our boss know and do things a bit more at our own pace, it’s the same with our mental health.
Mental health isn’t just depression and anxiety. It’s stress, grief, sadness and… happiness. Basically all the stuff that our funny little brains give us on a daily basis.
Sometimes words aren’t enough. It’s too visceral, too personal, to describe simply as just ‘I feel really sad and I don’t know why’. It’s like grieving, but nobody has died. It’s an ache – the feeling in your nose and the back of your throat and your mouth and ears and eyes before you well right up and cry, but the tears never come. The wailing stays inside. The wave never breaks…until it does. Alone in your room, the staff toilet, crying silently behind sunglasses on the bus.
You don’t have to #WeatherTheStorm alone.