Why I Gave My Depression A Pet Name

Why I Gave Depression A Name

In 2014, the Office For National Statistics reported that 19.7% of people in the UK aged 16 and over showed symptoms of anxiety or depression. Having likely increased since then, somehow, the subject doesn’t become any easier to talk about.

When I was diagnosed with depression in early 2017 and again in 2019, I found the title ‘depression’ challenging to accept. I didn’t want to admit I was depressed because I didn’t want to accept I needed help or struggled. I also think I was afraid of the term because of what I saw in mainstream media. Depression, to me, seemed like someone who couldn’t get out of bed or shower, someone who found day-to-day life too challenging to face. This didn’t match what I was experiencing or living, as I went to work and only crumbled when alone, hiding away from those who cared about me.

Each time the word ‘depression’ came up, I withdrew. I didn’t even recognize I was doing it, but when asked why the word made me so uncomfortable, I came up with a sea of excuses when the real reason was: the word sounded bigger than me.

I knew I needed to accept what was happening, but I didn’t know how to tackle it head-on when I was not too fond of the name. Truthfully, to either remove the emotions I’d attached to the word, I needed to rename it. This was how ‘The Little Monster’ term was born.

This name became the best way to explain what was happening in my head. I could use the term to describe all emotions, the waves of sadness, the feelings of inadequacy, and the shame for struggling, as something else not attached to me. The Little Monster was at fault, not me, and separating myself in this way allowed me to begin to open up about how I was feeling.

The Power Of “Ernie”

I’m not the only person who has done this. In ‘My Secret Weapon Against Depression, ’ Terri talks about how the idea to remove the power from depression came from a tactic her parents used when she was a child. Having suffered from night terrors, her parents decided to call the monster in her dreams, Ernie, helping Terri to become less afraid after that. Although Terri doesn’t call her depression Ernie, she has learned from this experience how to separate the depression from herself, helping her to be less afraid.

Little Monsters

By giving my depression a name and finding the confidence to talk about it, others have shared what name they have given to their ‘Little Monsters,’ whether these are monsters of grief, fear, anxiety, or even doubt. These discussions have helped show depression isn’t a ‘one-size-fits-all’ experience, something, I too, had previously believed.

Using this name allows a certain detachment from the illness and makes me feel empowered to beat it; this title makes it feel more physical, giving me something tangible to overcome. It provided space to accept I needed help and that I wasn’t as broken as my mind kept leading me to believe. It aids me when I’m explaining my concerns with whether my depression is reappearing without saying the words. It removes any fear of being misunderstood because I know those who know about ‘The Little Monster’ get what I’m referring to. It also helps using this name as it allows me to articulate words I know I’ll struggle to find, but a little monster is easier to explain.

Just saying the word depression is terrifying. It has thoughts and misconceptions attached to it, making it hard to say. But, when I first explained that this ‘Little Monster’ in my head made me doubt myself, and he made me feel sad, I felt as if they understood. It felt easier to carry on talking until all of the words were out. Things such as ‘I felt like I was drowning when I’m not even in any water’ and ‘the sadness was crushing me, the monster was crushing me. To say this ‘Little Monster’ is the cause felt easier than expressing my brain had turned on me, or I was depressed.

Cognitive Defusion

Naming your depression is, in part, close to cognitive defusion, a term coined by Luoma and Hayes in the paper Cognitive Defusion. The aim is to remind patients that their thoughts aren’t facts, but a theory, attempting to remind them to see that these thoughts have little basis. For example, when I told myself, ‘no one cares about me,’ this thought had no foundation but was something my depression had forged because I hadn’t heard from anyone. Cognitive defusion is the aim of undermining a belief, stripping it back down to its base, showing us how it’s not real and merely a concept.

This helps to loosen the grip of the thought or behavior, and in my case, it allowed me to see my Little Monster was the one making me feel isolated, rather than people not caring; that when it feels dark, it’s the Little Monster dimming the lights, and I need to turn them back on. Using a term, I felt comfortable, which helped me gain some distance and provided me with the chance to seek help and heal.

With whatever you’re experiencing, if you can, name what you’re going through. Whatever it is, whether it takes the wind from your sails, the air from your lungs, and fills your head with words you know aren’t yours, give it a name. Naming it can help you reframe what you’re overcoming, making it tangible and real and something you know you can beat.

We can beat our monsters. The little monster isn’t us, and now when my monster comes knocking, I arm myself for battle with this knowledge.

Because you can do this; I did this. We can do this.

Jason B. Luoma and Steven C. Hayes https://www.personal.kent.edu/~dfresco/CBT_Readings/Luoma_Cognitive_Defusion.pdf

My Secret Weapon Against Depression https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/the-bipolar-lens/201205/my-secret-weapon-against-depression?quicktabs_5=1