Thursday, June 25, 2015

Never broken

I have an intensely visceral reaction to the word "broken" as it applies to people. It twists up my gut and tightens my throat. I find myself sitting hunched over, as though I'm fending off an attack.

I'm aware that my reaction is not ordinary. Nina talked about how broken can be beautiful. Sheena reminded us that perfection is boring, and that perfection is not synonymous with worth. I actually completely agree with Sheena's post. My reactions to the word itself are my own, and I'm aware they're a little… exaggerated.

I can't find a logical, outward rationale as to why the word bothers me so much. So I'm going to take my post to dive in deeper to the meaning of the word, as I see it. This is going to be more personal than many of my posts, since my reaction comes from my own prejudices, and my own flawed interpretation of self.

To me, broken means damaged. Broken means flawed. Broken means wrong.

Broken means you've lost something that you can never, ever get back.


I want to make something very clear. On the scale of what everyone calls mental illness, what I have is extremely minor. I've struggled with depression and anxiety my entire life, and I did reach a point where I thought I would never, ever get better. I was so certain that I was destined to be depressed and anxious my whole life, and that what was wrong with me could never be fixed.

I place a good portion of the blame for my fears on the bizarre way that society views depression and anxiety. They tell us that anxiety and depression are Other. They tell us that we need to be fixed. This amazing blog post gives some examples of the warped portrayal of mental illness:
And when the screenwriters feel like tossing out a bone and allow a character an official diagnosis, the illness often becomes the character’s defining characteristic. Emma Pillsbury from “Glee” is diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and aside from her red hair, that seems to be her only notable quality... Her relationship with Mr. Schuster is unhealthily dependent, and neither he nor she seems to be able to accept her for who she is, OCD and all, as evidenced by his serenading her with the Coldplay song “Fix You.”
The amount of crime shows and horror films wherein the antagonist is discovered or assumed to have a mental illness or to be simply (and incorrectly) “crazy” is astounding. There is a constant correlation of “bad” and the “other” with those mental illness. There is little talk of treatment, therapy or a personality outside of the disability.
And it is the extreme cases that are getting more of the lime light. This perpetuates misconceptions as well as the idea that help can only be afforded to those who are past the breaking point. Those misconceptions keep people from seeking treatment and support.
From another site:
Subtle stereotypes pervade the news regularly. Just the other day, a local news program in Central Florida reported on a woman setting her son’s dog on fire. The reporter ended the segment by stating that the woman had been depressed recently…
And these pictures can have a big influence on the public. Research has shown that many people get their information about mental illness from the mass media (Wahl, 2004). What they do see can color their perspective, leading them to fear, avoid and discriminate against individuals with mental illness.

Picture shared by kind permission of S.T. on Flicker
No changes made.
The weird thing is, depression and anxiety aren't this wacky condition that happens to a few "weak" individuals. One in five Americans will experience some form of mental illness in any give year. ONE IN FIVE. And up to one in four women will go through an episode of major depressive disorder in their lifetime (the rate is closer to 1 in 10 for men) Depression and anxiety aren't an affliction of the weak and lazy. They're something that so, so many of us struggle with. And yet we're made to feel that we are alone. That we are Other. There's just so much shame - so much, that only one-third of those suffering from anxiety get help.


Without meaning to, I absorbed all of those viewpoints the media put forth. I must be stupid and weak, I thought, to not be able to overcome this. My life wasn't hard. And so I internalized the belief that being depressed meant something in me had broken, that I'd spun so far from the path of normalcy that I could never be fixed. The harder I tried to reject and move past my fears, the stronger they grew.

One of the most important parts of healing, for me, was realizing that my depression and anxiety are a part of me. In my case, they're defense mechanisms gone haywire. I'd somehow internalized the logic that if I thought bad things about myself, that nothing anyone else said could never hurt me. It's a weird sort of self-protection, and it was entirely unconscious.

Picture by kind permission of Eric Malette on Flicker
No changes made.
It's taken a lot of work, but in the past few years, I'm doing so much better than I did. Changing deeply held, unconscious beliefs doesn't happen quickly. But my goodness, it feels so much better to just accept that I'm this crazy emotional person who worries too much about trivial things and cries at the drop of the hat. There's nothing broken about that. It's just me. It's just how I am, and I'm not ashamed any more.

I hope all of you who are out there struggling can find your way. It's different for everyone; broken can be an insult for some, and a powerful talisman for others. Find your own way, but don't be afraid to ask for some help if you need it. It doesn't mean you're weak, I promise you that.

Always remember: we are not Other. We are not wrong. We are not flawed creatures that need repairing. True, our best intentions can become twisted and warped. But we are beautifully, uniquely human.

And none of us should be ashamed.


  1. <3 everyone should read this

  2. <3 everyone should read this

    1. That is pretty much the nicest compliment anyone could give a blog post. Thank you.

  3. I liked all three posts about broken characters. I did feel that you were all kind of making the same point: that character flaws/quirks/individuality is a good thing, whether you like the word broken in reference to those things or not.

    When I hear the term "broken character" I actually think of something different. I think of a character that is just not working for some reason. Maybe your audience isn't responding to the character in the way you intended, or you need your character to take a specific action to move the plot, but it feels out of character. What are your thoughts on using the word broken in that context?


Got an opinion? Use it! Remember... be silly, be honest, and be nice/proofread.