One of the perils of putting yourself out there in the public domain is that you become completely vulnerable to the judgement of others, and for sensitive souls this is less than pleasant. I can’t imagine anyone would like it, but for some of us it is more of a challenge to remain unaffected. Regardless of how many affirmations, quotations or books we may read about not letting other people’s opinions affect our self-esteem, confidence and general well-being, it’s always a tough one.
So I received an email from a reader a while ago. I call her the judgemental Christian depression lady, or JCDL for short. She found Changing Lightbulbs “interesting” but was “absolutely horrified” that as a teacher, a mother and the author of children’s books I chose to “pepper” my book with a certain expletive, other swear words, and even take the Lord’s name in vain.
(I really don’t use the f word that much, and, in any case, it has been scientifically proven that people who swear a lot are intellectually superior. And she had clearly failed to detect that my swearing was not a nasty, abusive type of swearing but rather a colourful, meaning-enhancing, self-deprecating, tongue in cheek variety, or so I like to think).
JCDL wrote that she too had been through periods of depression but had got through them with the help of God and her wonderful Christian counsellor without any need for coarse language. She was judging me, unequivocally and unashamedly. She was in no doubt that her recovery from depression was superior to mine.
I judged her back as being of narrow mind, closed heart, limited intelligence and devoid of any sense of humour whatsoever.
But then, realising that I was equally guilty of judging a fellow human, wrists poised in mid-air over keyboard, I paused, resisting the rather immature urge to reply using a sentence peppered with the very words that had caused her such horror. I fought back the temptation to tell her to f*&* off and stop being so judgemental.
Wasn’t she entitled to think I was a foul-mouthed, loose-moralled, undeniably-flawed (aren’t we all?) human being? And wasn’t I judging her, in the same way that she had judged me?
So I tried the more ‘christian’ approach, the compassion thing (maybe that’s buddhist not christian) that someone told me was the best way to deal with bullies, haters and nasty mean-spirited individuals. Compassion, compassion, compassion. It doesn’t come easily. I want to call out bad behaviour and unpleasantness every time.
There is a passage in Changing Lightbulbs (the book with the moderate amount of swearing) in which I question the Christianity of those god-fearing Christians amongst whom I grew up, those who like to go round judging others, that bigoted breed that give all genuinely good church going folk a bad name. The irony of her judgement of me in the light of what I had written clearly escaped her.
So anyway, judgemental Christian depression lady, I know you won’t be reading this, but I hope you are going well. Maybe you were going through a bad time. Maybe you were in the throws of a new depressive episode, one symptom of which was to cause you to be very judgemental of others. If so, I hope you are doing OK, I really do.
Depression is the pits, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. But I am bamboozled that anyone who has experienced it would be critical of someone else’s way of recovering from it and managing it unless, of course, it involved causing harm to others.
I am glad that her faith brought her comfort, but didn’t the good Lord of whom she is so fond tell us to turn the other cheek? Or was that his son? And didn’t one of them tell us to judge not that we be not judged and love our enemies? No matter, I’m pretty sure he, his son, and any other deities, would encourage us to find some more important things to be “absolutely horrified” about and focus on loving each other and being kind.
So, JCDL, I’m trying to love you even though you aren’t making it easy. I wish you well, but I ask you to be careful about how and whom you judge. Your judgement of a depressed person might just push them over the edge. You’ve been there. You should know better.
We live in a society where judgement of others is de rigueur. How they look, how they dress, what they eat, what shape and size they are, the list is endless. We all judge. I often judge fairly vehemently, but it’s usually about bad manners, disrespect, poor behaviour, unkindness, or directed towards poor customer service, unreliable tradesmen, narcissists, schemers, bullies, sociopaths, murderers and abusers of all kinds.
In short, I can think of many many things that “absolutely horrify” me in this day and age but reading a few non-abusive expletives or the word ‘god’ to express astonishment, excitement, or consternation is not one of them.
If you strongly object to the odd swear word here and there (it was only a couple of twists of the pepper pot), not the gratuitous kind you understand but the well-inserted craftily placed kind that serves a purpose and drives the narrative along, then maybe my book is not for you.
But reader feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, so it would be great if you could give it a go. There is no reference to drug use, some reference to alcohol, no violence, a couple of references to bedroom activity other than sleeping, but, sorry to be dull, only of the marital variety. And a bit of childbirth, but not too graphic in case you are squeamish.
On a serious note, I wrote the book because putting pen to paper saved me from the abyss when I was depressed, and as time went on and I recovered I gained enormous strength and comfort from reading other people’s stories of their journeys with the black dog.
Enormous, life-saving comfort.
Only through reading, writing and speaking about depression did I feel less alone, less of a failure, less of a burden. Eventually I had so many notes and thoughts and ideas scrawled in numerous notebooks that I decided to write my own story. If people don’t like it, fine, but please try not to be absolutely horrified.
The thing that should horrify us is that depression strikes so many and that stigma still exists. That each day, on average, 8 people in Australia take their own lives, and an astonishing number world wide.
We should have learnt by now that judgement too often leads to silence, a silence that perpetuates the stigma in which shame flourishes. We should never judge or try to silence someone’s self-expression. Feeling ashamed about being depressed is almost as bad as, if not worse than, the depression itself.
Changing Lightbulbs is about a journey through depression and anxiety, but, as many people tell me, it is not a depressing book. This was my aim, to write a book about depression that was uplifting, entertaining and maybe just a little bit funny in parts. It is also about acceptance, persistence, resilience, love and ultimately about the power of the human spirit.
We need to tell our stories, we need to shout them from the rooftops, with or without expletives. And we need to judge not that we be not judged. Compassion compassion, compassion. Amen.
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