Every Thanksgiving for many years we have played Taboo. This is a high-energy game where the volume gets turned up and only the relationally closest partners win, usually siblings in our family. The more you know about your game partner the better. This year I looked over the shoulder of my daughter as she began to describe her designated word. “Our whole family has this!” she shouted. That was her clue. Her word was depression. We are still laughing about that one, sort of.
Labels get tossed around so much. This one in particular feels accurate. It seems to come in a one-size-fits-many variety. The trouble with labels is that they stick. Ever try to get one off your hardwood floor? The residue that remains collects dirt and actually becomes a new label, most often dirtier than the one before.
As we look at the courageous task of examining our labels and beginning to peel them up a bit, even remove them, we must be aware of the residue. Depression can cover some pretty nasty secrets: trauma, failure, and shame. Peeling one label alone is not enough. Patience and compassion directed toward ourselves is needed as we look at each label and honor its place in our story.
Depression is far more than a label. Please don’t hear me further stigmatize what is already a disorder forced to lurk too long in private closets. What I am saying is that we tend to refer to depression as mine, my depression. That is when labels are affixed. We may struggle with the depression, but it is not who we are.
Several years ago I learned that olive oil removes adhesive residue from floors. And it works. I find it interesting that gently anointing the residue with oil creates a clean surface. A healing oil of compassion, kindness, prayer, mindfulness, and attention causes the dirtiest parts of our sticky, label-gathering tendencies to dissolve and allow us to come to life again. So labels might help us win a Thanksgiving game, but they don’t have to be what defines who we are and what we are meant to become.