I read an article once about a man coping with his wife’s mental breakdowns and how she would switch languages whenever she became depressed. I remember thinking “Wow! I can relate!” and not really understanding that there were people who suffered in only one language. I mean, obviously it’s entirely acceptable and completely normal to use the language you are comfortable with and fluent in to express yourself.
For me, bilinguialism is a tip off that I’m about to become depressed.
Think of it like listening to the radio. When you’re happy, you listen to songs about fun and happy times. When you’re sad, like when you’re getting over a break up, you listen to sad songs, songs you can cry to and scream at. But my “playlists” turn to a whole different language.
Don’t get me wrong, I love being able to use multiple languages in a general setting. It helps me professionally, it gives me access to other cultures and some really excellent foods. But when my heart is breaking, when the deep clouds of depression are hovering, my own language fails to live up to my needs. English leaves something to be desired.
I notice the change very abruptly. Instead of involving myself casually in another language, I will switch entirely from English into the other one. My music will become entirely Latinx, for example. Or I will only read in Cyrillic. Sometimes it will be a little more gradual and I’ll switch my recipes to all Kenyan, then start writing myself notes in Swahili. And then I will refuse to speak in English, I’ll write my grocery list in something else and I will immerse myself in this entire other state of being. It is then that I realize I need to double-down for some self-care time and take care of myself. When I start pulling out of my depression, I can go back to enjoying those same activities, but without the despair that anti-mania brings. Those extra cultures give me a safe place to go so I can start to heal.
In the realm of mental health and self-care, it’s really common to hear about things to look out for: an increase in impulsive behavior for mania, apathy for depression, paranoia for psychotic episodes and more. Physical symptoms take a really forward presence in your overall health, the life threatening symptoms next and then the ongoing symptoms. Signs you’re about to enter into a “danger zone” come in lists, self-help articles and off-handed comments. But it’s much harder when no one talks about potential tip offs that aren’t as common-but still just as serious.
When I was learning other languages, I was told that they would be keys to a door. I didn’t ask what that door would look like because I thought it was “to other cultures”. It turns out, it was a door to self-expression and the way I know I need to prepare myself for the pending breakdown.
Whatever your tip offs, you shouldn’t doubt yourself. And you should always invest in your own self-care. You know yourself best.