What’s in a name? Names, labels and depression

There are a few lines in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, the “what’s in a name?” lines about names and titles and labels.

Juliet is locked in passionate conversation with Romeo, talking about the fact that the obstacle to their joy is nothing more and nothing less than his family name.

‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man.

What matters most, she says, is what something is, and not what it is called:

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

It transpires over the rest of the play, of course, that a war over names can be an unwinnable one.

(Arthur Miller, three and a half centuries after Shakespeare, was just as aware of this. John Proctor, his protagonist in The Crucible, talked about his name in a scene made memorable to many by Daniel Day-Lewis’s film version.)

Names vs Labels

Labels, on the other hand, are different to names.

We are born with our name, most of us, but labels are a story we tell ourselves.

That story can serve us, but just as often that story can limit us.

I vividly remember, during a spell of counselling three years ago, taking the GAD-7 and PHQ-9, the two short questionnaires that determined if I was suffering from Generalised Anxiety Disorder or Depression, and if so where I sat on the scale, from Mild to Moderate to Severe.

A couple of years previously, during a series of sessions with a psychotherapist, I had taken the tests and been diagnosed as clinically depressed, my score giving me the label Severe Depression.

For the next two years, I clung to that label like a crutch. I had Depression, and it was so bad that my label was Severe.

When I sat the test again two years later, with a different counsellor, the score came back as Moderate.

“No,” I thought, illogically. “I’m at the Severe end.”

I didn’t voice it but my unspoken thought was,

Please don’t take away my Severe Depression.

It was the first time that I started to think about these labels and what they were doing, how they were propping me up and holding me back.

Shakespeare wrote and Juliet said, “That which we call a rose / By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Labels that can empower us and those around us can be beneficial for our world and everything in it.

On the other side of the equation, though, recognising that labels can limit us and hold us back can be more powerful still.

What’s in a name? The heavy label of depression

Now, I don’t consider that I “have” depression. Occasionally, I become depressed, and that depressed state can run deep and lay me low. It can still confuse me, overwhelm me, de-energise me, so much that there are times that I need an outlet. Times that I need to retreat to a dark room where my phone and my email can’t reach me.

Jim Carrey says that “depressed” can be rewritten as “deep rest”. That being depressed is out body’s way of telling us that we need deep rest. That resonated with me.

Now, I choose to see what I previously thought of as “depression” as something different. As something even positive. It is a call from my core to pay attention, not to push through. When I try to push through, the wheels can spin and I embed myself deeper in the dirt. When I pay attention to what’s going on, and choose to take some deep rest, I find that I return to positive energy quickly.

In this way, I’m extraordinarily grateful what may in the past have turned into a couple of months of depression I can now limit to a couple of days or even a couple of hours.

Labels can be as powerful as names. When we attach a label to something, we give it a realness and a normality and a power that we might find impossible to overcome.

But when we consider that labels are artificial, and that we can remove them or change them whenever we please, just by deciding to, they can be overcome.

When deep down we want to move forward, labels can justify procrastination. When deep down we want to lead the way, labels can prevent us from stepping up. When our inner spirit urges us to speak up, labels can compel us to quiet down.

Overcoming a name can be an insurmountable challenge. But a label is different. Labels are artificial and we can take it off and choose a different one, one that serves us and empowers us, almost any time we please.


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