Before You Diagnose Yourself with Depression or Low Self-Esteem…

Sigmund Freud? William Gibson? @debihope? Anonymous?

bench07Dear Quotes Investigator: There is a saying about maintaining emotional health that is both heartfelt and sardonic. The words have been attributed to the famous psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud and the award-winning science fiction author William Gibson. Here are two versions:

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure that you are not, in fact, just surrounding yourself with assholes.

I think that the ascription to Freud is unlikely. Would you please examine this topic?

Quotes Investigator: QI believes that this saying was crafted relatively recently, and it first appeared online. Because electronic text is malleable, and attached dates are sometimes inaccurate the task of tracing recent expressions is difficult. In this case, the database of tweets seems to provide solid information.

The earliest evidence located by QI was the following tweet from 2010: 1

Twitter Handle: Notorious d.e.b. @debihope
Timestamp: 12:23 PM – 24 Jan 2010

Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes.

When QI communicated with @debihope she indicated that she was the originator of the expression, and she provided the following insight to its formulation: 2

Popped right out of my own head and based on a past boyfriend.

Here are additional selected citations in semi-chronological order.




The statement from @debihope was retweeted and moved through the electronic realm. Sometimes the message was transmitted without an identification and/or awareness of the source. When messages are replicated and retransmitted origins can become opaque.

A very popular tweet with matching text was sent out more than one year after the first tweet. This tweet on February 28, 2011 was retweeted more than 1,500 times. 3

One of the influential retweeters was William Gibson, and the very act of retweeting produced a linkage between the saying and his name. It is important to note that Gibson was not attempting to deceive anyone about the source of the statement; he was simply sharing information via a retweet. Nevertheless, quotations are often reassigned from lesser-known individuals to well-known individuals.

Gibson has stated on multiple occasions that he did not create the saying. For example, in December 2011 he sent out a tweet presenting an inquiry followed by his reply between square brackets: 4

What’s your (now) (in)famous quote about depression? [Actually not my quote. Never said it]

Gibson also answered the following question about the misattribution: 5

What’s it like having a now viral quote incorrectly attributed to yourself? [Very 21st Century]

The expression can be read as therapeutic advice, and unsurprisingly it has been reassigned to the most famous psychoanalytic practitioner. Here is an instance using the word “jerks” that was tweeted in October 2011 with an ascription to Freud: 6

“Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by jerks.” –Freud

In conclusion, based on current evidence QI believes that the twitter handle @debihope should be credited with constructing this saying. The attribution to William Gibson was based on a misunderstanding because he retweeted the remark. The ascription to Freud has no substantive support.

Image Notes: Woman on bench from RyanMcGuire at PixaBay

(Great thanks to Jim Allen whose query led QI to formulate this question and perform this exploration.)

Notes:

  1. Tweet, From: Notorious d.e.b. @debihope, Time: 12:23 PM, Date: January 24, 2010, Text: Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link
  2. Tweet, From: Notorious d.e.b. @debihope, Time: 2:39 PM, Date: October 17, 2014, Text: @QuoteResearch Popped right out of my own head and based on a past boyfriend. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link
  3. Tweet, From: Steven Winterburn @5tevenw, Time: 1:57 PM, Date: February 28, 2011, Text: Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, just surrounded by assholes. (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link
  4. Tweet, From: William Gibson ‏@GreatDismal (Verified account), Time: 8:42 PM, Date: December 8, 2011, Text: RT @WideLightImages @GreatDismal What’s your (now) (in)famous quote about depression? [Actually not my quote. Never said it] (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link
  5. Tweet, From: William Gibson @GreatDismal (Verified account), Time: 8:46 PM, Date: December 8, 2011, Text: RT @bxmx @GreatDismal Really? What’s it like having a now viral quote incorrectly attributed to yourself? [Very 21st Century] (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link
  6. Tweet, From: Jane Lebak ‏@JaneLebak, Time: 4:33 PM, Date: October 13, 2011, Text: “Before you diagnose yourself with depression or low self-esteem, first make sure you are not, in fact, surrounded by jerks.” –Freud (Accessed on twitter.com on October 25, 2014) link