Why it can help to treat a broken spirit more like a broken arm

Imagine you’d been doing something goofy and – ouch! – had ended up with a broken arm: seriously, there’s nothing humorous about a shattered humerus.

Now, the health professions have standard practices for dealing with fractured limbs, so it ought to be relatively routine to get you fixed up.


You may well end up with a plaster cast, and you’ll probably need to wait around six to eight weeks before it’s all healed up again.

I believe you may also discover the joys of scratching itches with a knitting needle pushed down in the gap between cast and arm.

Expect sympathy from people, along with plenty of felt-tipped-pen graffiti from those who view your cast as an artistic opportunity, and prepare to make adjustments to your everyday life as you realise how tricky it can be, for instance, to take a shower without wetting your plaster.

But you’ll get better.

Contrast this, however, with doing something – perhaps not so goofy – and ending up not with a broken arm, but a broken spirit.

Suddenly things aren’t so straightforward.

You’re unlikely to be whisked off to the emergency room, so might not get any professional help unless you seek it yourself.

Beyond thinking that you’re maybe acting a bit quiet, others have no equivalent of the white plaster cast to know you’re unwell – so unless you have unusually perceptive friends and family, be prepared for little sympathy.

It’s not fair, is it?

Why should the physically-afflicted get all the attention?

What might we learn from this, however, when it comes to dealing with low mood and depression?

Beyond accepting that asking for help can be terribly important, perhaps the principal principle is that healing takes time: it just doesn’t happen overnight.

In the same way that we expect a broken arm to heal as long as we allow it time, we should believe that a period of low mood will generally last for only a finite period, and that we’ll feel better in due course.

But it’s important to be realistic about resilience.

Recovery is absolutely possible, but only Elastic Man bounces back instantly.

9 thoughts on “Why it can help to treat a broken spirit more like a broken arm

  1. Very good! Salutary reminder to ask for help, too. I feel almost ashamed of doing so…so silly as would not hesitate in the case of an arm. I suppose the fear is that people will think the less of you, especially, say, a group of your friends or acquaintances. Any tips for overcoming that one ?

  2. We used to wear a black armband when in mourning. A visual clue that perhaps people could treat us more gently. Not such a bad thing.

  3. I like the comparison I really do but people can relate to a physical injury or illness but really don’t know how to treat someone with a mental illness . I feel there is stigma still and people feel scared . I think there is the feeling from people that you are someone else who can behaviour differently . I feel apprehensive at trusting anyone with thatvinfomation unfortunately as have bad experiences in the past with avoidance or friends treating you differently and doing nothing except saying take care at the end of sentences. Wish it wasn’t the case. Would rather have a broken arm, or any physical illness and get the sympathy, humour and support than have anxiety , depression etc … I wouldn’t wish it on anyone . Trouble is you can look so well too! I do think what can be taken on board with this though is that we need healing time.

    1. Perhaps because broken bones are all more-or-less the same, whereas broken spirits take many forms, and present many, many different “symptoms”? Mental illness isn’t as straight forward, however nice the analogy may seem at first glance. We are all different, all need different things. Some, for example, need to be left alone, others dread being alone even for a few minutes.

  4. Thank you Jon. I guess it explains why we also need periods of gentleness with ourselves, protection for a while. But after a time we need to start to push ourselves a little, or the broken spirit never toughens up again.
    We might overdo it some days and need to go back to gentle mode, but I find I will suddenly see a chink of light, and need to move actively towards it. Spirit rehabilitation!

  5. Thanks Jon and others – really helpful advice and comments. Where I could do with a clue is when you seem to get better and then fall back again. One minute it’s ‘hooray’, next minute not, next minute ‘what was that all about?’

    1. When I’m in my anxious times – I wonder if it will ever end and I’m never sure what brought it on our why when I’m better how I got better! I do know that with enough experience ( I’m 59) that my brain know this will pass and self care does seem to speed the recovery – I’m still left with the why it happens when it happens!

  6. Thanks for this Jon. It’s just what I needed today. Six months of a broken spirit and I am becoming bored and annoyed with myself at the length of time it’s taking to recover. Irritation with myself doesn’t help either. Good days and bad days, take them as they come, knowing intellectually that this too will pass. Even if on the bad days it feels as though it never will.

    I rarely share my emotional state with others, agreeing with the post above – emotionally illness doesn’t usually elicit sympathy, and some people lack patience. I read this post for me, for me to treat myself with kindness and patience. Taking light from the better days. Thanks again Jon.

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