The Centre for Solution Focused Practice

The Limits of my Language – Meditations on Depression

I wonder how many of you may have come across this book by the Dutch author Eva Meijer? The title intrigued me and I bought it solely on the basis of the title and although I cannot say that I have enjoyed it, it is hard to enjoy a book about an author’s experience of depression, nonetheless it has certainly engaged me and interested me from the first page.

Here is an excerpt that may encourage you to read the book yourself if you have not already:
 ‘The dimensions of time run together too. The future transforms into a kind of repetitive now:  if you're lucky you can perceive the extent of a day, but more often it's about surviving the moments. The past turns into a strange fiction, more distant than usual - once things were good, but it's impossible to understand how; a bare kind of knowing, without actually feeling it. During a depression you are presented with a new map of your life: what happened in the past is displayed again, but now in the context of depression. Events have a tendency to be coloured by memory, but the reverse also happens: memories take on the colour of your mood at a particular moment. The past isn't fixed, it just stalks you (and like a good stalker it often changes disguise). Despair points to previous despair, which strengthens it, just as grief draws other, older griefs to the surface. Events from the past can suddenly be summoned into the foreground - and during a depression these are always the bad things, never the good ones.
What remains is an empty present. We can no longer orientate ourselves in time. Andrew Solomon describes depression as a kind of timelessness, in which past and future are completely dominated by this lost present. You can't imagine any future that could be better; at the most you can vaguely remember better times in the past. This is one of the big differences between depression and grief. Grief often leaves the past intact, although the future is damaged.’ (pp 48 – 49) Meijer also comments, describing the experience of depression ‘I see depression more as an absence than a presence. Everything worthwhile is slowly scraped away and all that remains is bare rock. . . depression isn't black, let alone pitch-black. Dark, perhaps, just as night is dark when light has left the world, making your surroundings seem more dangerous, making you less able to orientate yourself - it's much quieter than during the day and what is still there is less noticeable. If depression has a colour at all, it's more grey than anything else, and sometimes it's white. White is the colour of silence, a freezing cold, of being shut out, of nothing, of loss’. (pp 34 – 35)

Of course the title of her book is a reference to Wittgenstein ‘the limits of my language mean the limits of my world’ from the Tractatus logico-philosophicus and fits beautifully with Mark McKergow’s  (2021) use of the concept ‘stretching the world of the client’. He writes ‘what is going on when we engage the client in describing tiny signs of progress, of the miracle happening, that things were going better, that they are now closer to 10 on the scale? We are helping them generate new, or at least newly relevant and important, affordances: stretching their world. . . .  Every time a new detail emerges in the conversation in terms of a sign or action, that becomes a potential affordance. Not all potential affordances will be important - that only becomes apparent later on when the client experiences their stretched world first hand after the session.’ (p 87)

And of course all this brings to mind Terry Eagleton writing in Hope without Enthusiasm (2015) where he comments ‘the mere act of being able to imagine an alternative future may distance and relativize the present, loosening its grip upon us to the point where the future in question becomes more feasible. . . True hopelessness would be when such imaginings why inconceivable.’ (p 85) Is this not what we are doing in Solution Focused Brief Therapy, inviting people to imagine, and of course to describe in detail, ‘an alternative future’, re-populating the world with colour and presence, thereby changing the (grey and silent) present, such that the present loses its grip upon us, re-colouring the past, such that it supports a stretched world of new possibilities, affordances, in the future?

My thanks to Eva Meijer for her generosity, for the rich use to which she has put the experiences that she has lived through, offering those of us who have not suffered in the way that she has, a host of new ideas and thoughts.

Eagleton, T. (2015) Hope without Optimism. New Haven: Yale University Press.
McKergow, M. (2021) The next generation of Solution Focused Practice: Stretching the World for New Opportunities and Progress.  London: Routledge.
Meijer, E. (2021) The Limits of my Language: Meditations on Depression. London: Pushkin Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (2001) Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (1922).  London: Routledge.


Evan George
24th October 2021



Featured Video

What is SF - a 2020 version of the approach


July 9, 2020