Do you remember Winnie the Pooh and the Heffalump? Pooh and Piglet decide to catch a Heffalump by digging a Very Deep Pit into which the Heffalump would fall; although it was never entirely clear why that was considered desirable. But of course this being Winnie the Pooh, he fell into the Very Deep Pit himself and ended up trapped with a honey jar stuck on his head.
Now if you found yourself in a Very Deep Pit with a honey jar stuck on your head, you’d have three options. You could sit and weep over how unfortunate you are to be in a Very Deep Pit. Or you could try to climb out. Or you could call for someone to help you escape. You might do all of these by turns and that would be okay.
Depression has been likened by many to being like getting trapped in a Very Deep Pit. It’s dark, cold and lonely, and the light seems very far away. Getting out is pretty difficult. Some people will rant about how the Very Deep Pit should never have been there in the first place and it’s someone else’s fault that they fell in. This doesn’t help them get out, but it makes them feel better because it means they’re entirely blameless for their situation and therefore people should feel sorry for them. Or perhaps, having a jar on your head, you’d feel you have no alternative but to stay in the Very Deep Pit for ever.
The other thing you could do is try to climb out of the Very Deep Pit. That won’t be easy, and you might fall down several times, particularly with a jar on your head like Pooh had. It might take you years, and you might feel like giving up, or even give up for a while and bemoan your fate instead. But perhaps you’ll persevere long enough that you actually do reach the edge of the Very Deep Pit and escape. You’ll feel pretty damn proud of yourself when you finally come out into the sunshine and find the world still exists.
If you’re lucky, at some point during your residence in the Very Deep Pit someone will come along and hear you either climbing or complaining, whichever you’re doing at the time. That person might be like Piglet, and run to find someone (Christopher Robin) who can help. Or it might be Christopher Robin himself who brought a ladder to let down into the Very Deep Pit so Pooh could climb out. The world will be just as beautiful when you get out of the Very Deep Pit as if you’d climbed out by yourself, but it will have taken you much less time and effort.
Recently Joanna Lumley upset many people by saying that people should ‘get a grip’ and stop ‘jumping on the mental health bandwagon’. We don’t know whether that’s because she’s never suffered from mental health problems herself, or because when she found herself in the Very Deep Pit she was fortunate enough to be able to climb out without assistance. And it’s also true that sometimes what looks like a Very Deep Pit isn’t really, but is just the sort of normal pothole in the road that most of us come across from time to time. Some of us skirt round them, some hop over them, and some fall into one and sprain an ankle. If you’ve sprained your ankle it might feel as if you’ve broken a leg, and either way it’s hard to climb out of even quite a shallow pothole until it’s better.
When we hear ‘get a grip’ we tend to assume that it means ‘pretend everything is all right’. So you’re in a Very Deep Pit? Well, shit happens. ‘Mustn’t grumble’ as people say. It’s alleged you can live quite comfortably in a Very Deep Pit, so you’ve nothing to complain about. But perhaps ‘get a grip’ means ‘take control of your situation and do something’. Try to climb out, or at least shout for help like Winnie the Pooh did. But as he had a jar on his head it wasn’t totally clear what he was saying. It might have sounded like complaining about being in a Very Deep Pit. Until someone stops and listens, they can’t be sure.
Most of us, if we found ourselves in a Very Deep Pit, would be delighted if someone came along to help us out. You probably wouldn’t say ‘No, take the ladder away. I want to climb out by myself’ or even 'No, I live in a pit now'. And while there might be a few of us who would look up despairingly and say ‘I can’t climb that ladder because I have this jar on my head’ most of us would leap up and grope our way to the lower rungs without hesitation. And nobody would think you were useless or pathetic for using a ladder to get out of the Very Deep Pit; in fact, they would congratulate you that someone with a ladder happened to be nearby.
So when the Very Deep Pit is in your head, why would it be so much of a problem to need help to get out of it? Why wouldn’t you call out if you heard someone passing, instead of sitting silently because you deserve to be in the Very Deep Pit? Especially when there are people like me who spend their lives wandering up and down with a ladder, just in case someone is stuck in a Very Deep Pit and needs help to get out.
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Caeredwen is a counsellor, coach and physical therapist based in Coleford in the Forest of Dean. If you would like to contact her in confidence you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via her website at www.magichandscalmminds.com.