In Defence of Weakness

In which I will spout some cheesy, poorly thought out drivel for ten minutes.

I often hear people saying that depression is an illness, not a weakness. What I don’t understand is what’s so terrible, so shameful about weakness. We’re not all emotional or psychological superpeople in the same way we’re not all capable of benchpressing 500 lbs or being ultra marathon runners – and there shouldn’t be any more shame involved in being unable to drag around the weight of a tragic life than there should in being unable to drag a train with your teeth. But our society won’t allow it. Weakness is something we can’t tolerate, can’t talk about. Maybe we worry that it’s contagious – maybe we worry that empathising with weakness in others is the first step towards finding it lurking within ourselves.

We feel the need to defend ourselves against the charge of weakness in ways we don’t feel compelled to do regarding illness. Society will, grudgingly, cut you some slack if you’re ill – not if you’re weak. I’m not going to get into arguing too vigorously here against the existence of various strains of mental illness – just to say that medicalising weakness is no more helpful than trying to cauterise it with shame. Maybe the best approach would be to accept that there is no such thing as an ideal, or normal, person, that we all struggle with certain things that our fellows seem to take in their depressingly confident stride. Maybe we can accept that we are sometimes weak, that this isn’t always an illness, and that having accepted this we can – to the best of our uneven abilities – seek to become stronger, through our own puny little struggles and with the help of others wherever possible. Being sad, feeling hopeless, feeling worthless and unable to cope with the horrors and humiliations of this world might mean that you are weak – but being weak doesn’t mean you’re either bad or ill – just human, as unfortunate as that may be…

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