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Molly Keeton Parnell | Ph.D.

As we come to the end of Mental Health Awareness Month, here’s a thought related to healing from the depression that can follow trauma.

We first knew artist and author Chanel Miller as Emily Doe, the name used in court documents about the harrowing sexual assault she survived on the campus of Stanford University in 2015. While Chanel’s life was permanently altered when she was attacked while unconscious, her assailant (swimmer, Brock Turner) was sentenced to 6 months in county jail and served only 3.

Four years later Chanel released her real name and made public her victim impact statement, which was published on Buzzfeed. This statement was read 11 million times in the next 4 days and forever changed the dialogue about sexual assault and the victim blaming that has always accompanied it. I remember reading it myself and being absolutely awestruck by hearing so many truths revealed that had never been named so clearly before.

In discussing her view of the depression that she has understandably experienced since her assault, Chanel Miller said the following on the “We Can Do Hard Things” podcast with Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach:

“When you’re depressed your vision narrows… So, it’s like looking through a little toilet paper tube… And suddenly, instead of seeing the whole scope of your life in your future and in your past, you have this very narrow vision and you can only see just a little bit and your focus is just in one spot.

And so, now when I’m depressed, I think ‘my vision has narrowed. I can only see outside of a little toilet paper tube’. And when I’m in this state, I’m not allowed to make any big decisions and I’m not allowed to draw any grand conclusions about who I am or who I’m going to be. And those are just my rules for when I’m in this state.

Photo by Chuck Arnold

But I also like it because… if you think of the toilet paper tube… maybe you can put a little shoelace through it and hang it around your neck like binoculars. And then that depression is not just a state, but it’s just a different way of seeing and I know it’s always going to be around my neck.

I know at times it’s the only way I’m going to be able to see things. Other times, it’s just going to be dangling and it’s fine. But I prefer seeing it as … an altered way of seeing versus just like a state that I’m stuck in indefinitely.”

In trying to find her way out of this narrow toilet paper roll view of the world, Chanel described needing to get the outside world in and shared the following story:

“In the subway… there’s these two friends and this guy had this smiley face patch on his sweatpants and he and his friend were just sitting, eating grapes. And his friend took a grape, pressed it to the smiley face and went, ‘um, um, um, um.’ And his friend was laughing so hard, he couldn’t breathe. And their little game became pressing the little grape to the mouth and then the other one would just lose it. That was the whole ride.

..And … my brain is in relief. My brain is inside their game. The world is full of that stuff and it’s free and it’s happening all the time. And you just got to, if you are stuck in your little toilet paper roll of depression, redirect that little roll to those small moments. They’re not going to save you, but I swear if you string them along, you come out somewhere different.”

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