Month: May 2014

I say “affliction.” You say “totally normal and necessary part of the human experience.”

affliction afflactionI was recently told by a loved one that depression is not an affliction. Affliction has a negative connotation, and depression is something everyone goes through – part of the human experience.

I took a deep breath. I said that if anything deserves a negative connotation this does, but she didn’t budge.

It’s a common refrain – a gentle way to dismiss the pain depression causes, and it hurts to hear. So what’s going on here? Why are people so defensive of depression? I’ve thought of a couple options.

  1. They confuse the person with the condition. Not wanting the person to feel stigmatized, they feel a need to celebrate the disease.
  2. They are hesitant to accept that you’re hurting – or that your pain is profound – because they love you.
  3. They worry about their own mood health and want to believe that mood disorders are common and even positive in the long run.

I was relieved to notice that all of the explanations I could come up with were rooted in love and concern for self and others.

I shuffled through possible reactions and settled on “meh.” It hurts my feelings when someone disagrees with me about the nature of my condition – but only momentarily.

With this stigmatized, little understood condition, it often falls on us to be patients and educators at the same time. But what if that weren’t true? I love the idea of letting go of the need to educate, of the need to manage other people’s responses. I love the idea of just being a patient for a while.

My friend is not responsible for my recovery. I am. Does it really matter if I think she’s wrong headed on this particular issue?

I can respectfully disagree (maybe send her an article or two) and then let it go. I can stop worrying about the fact that “someone is wrong on the internet,” and focus on getting better.


Photo from Patrick Feller on Flickr.

To Rest or Not To Rest?

Be EasyWhen my brother was about to be put in “time out” as a kid he would face his palms up to my dad and wave them around, saying gently, “Be easy Daddy. Be easy with me.” Judging from the smile on my dad’s face when he tells the story, I think my brother’s pleas worked – Dad melted a bit and went easy on the guilty toddler.

Depressed people are told to be easy on themselves all the time. Don’t beat yourself up. Don’t worry so much. Don’t take on more than you can handle. It’s good advice.

Unfortunately it’s in direct contradiction to the second refrain we’re constantly hearing – that of “contrary action.” Contrary action is the thing you’re supposed to do when you don’t want to get out of bed, don’t want to shower, don’t want to feed yourself or answer your phone. You’re supposed to act contrary to those urges. Fake it until you make it they say. You must not give in to those urges, because they’ll make you more depressed in the long run. Also very good advice.

So… um… which are we supposed to do?

Two Paths

I get that I’m supposed to wash my hair occasionally. But what about sports events? What about things I used to enjoy that I simply don’t anymore? How often can I fake it before it starts making me more miserable? And if being easy on myself means doing very little? Is that ok?

The internal debate is NEVER ENDING because when you’re super depressed, it applies to almost everything.

I don’t have an answer here. I’m looking for suggestions. Am I thinking about it wrong? Do these two types of advice actually complement each other? Is one just bullshit? Help end the ongoing argument in my struggling head-bag. Hit me up at or click through to leave a comment. Thank you!


Top photo from Regan76 on Flickr.

Bottom photo from William Ward on Flickr.

Three Signs You’re Getting Better

A-OkWe often don’t notice when we’ve improved. We focus on how much further we have to go without noticing how far we’ve come. The “mean voice” finds new ways to criticize.

Here is a short list of signs that you might be getting a little better, and some encouragement to help you feel good about them.

Your interests broaden. It occurs to you to go to a meditation class, a support group or just out with friends. It occurs to you to order a book or call your grandmother. This is a great example of the weird tailspins depression can cause. Instead of noticing your newfound interest in social or intellectual pursuits, you might (like I was) be overwhelmed by the fact that you still lack the motivation to pursue them. See? You can’t do anything. You’re so sick you’ll never start doing the things that could make you feel better. All you can do is stay at home – like the depressed person that you are.

When really you’re a huge step closer to doing lots of things. A little motivation and you’d be there, at that gathering, taking that class, reading that book.

You email people you haven’t seen in a while. That friend from high school who’s now a neighbor, that old work friend – you remember them fondly and now you feel like knowing what they’re up to. You might do this in the most noncommittal way, you might give yourself trouble for not answering their reply for days or weeks, but you’re taking steps to engage other people. For the first time in a long time, it seems like people have something to offer.

The good feeling lasts a little longer. Restful activities used to make you feel better in the moment, and maybe for part of the walk home. Now that good feeling lasts just a little longer. Maybe you make it the whole way home before the worries flood in. Maybe it’s a whole afternoon, a night, a day. Your body is more restored than it used to be by good, calm moments. Your mind is more able to hold them.

These are things which might seem tiny to people unfamiliar with depression. To us, they’re monumental. Being interested in people and things, having positive experiences actually affect your mood – these are significant improvements. These are signs you’re getting better.


Photo by Wonderlane on Flickr.

I can’t tell you where I hurt, but I love it when you smile.

Holding HandsPeople don’t understand depression. Your mom doesn’t understand it. Your best friend. All the people who are suffering, the people who are trying to help or who are avoiding the pain. The doctors and researchers who have dedicated their lives to figuring it out.

We fight with each other about what it means, why it comes and goes.

Sufferers isolate, thinking that a lack of understanding equals a lack of concern from their friends, family, and doctors, a lack of compassion.

I once spent about three months caring for a relative who was terminally ill. There was so much I didn’t know. Cancer throws clots into the blood stream. Yawning is a sign of anemia. Pain in the trunk is hard for the sufferer to locate – she can’t tell you where it hurts.

I didn’t understand. But I did help. Being there. Trying. Tracking down doctors and social workers, making hot water bottles and providing grapefruit juice – so flavorful that she could taste again. Holding her hand.

I can’t tell you where I hurt. But I love it when you smile, show me a picture of your baby or your cat, think of me when you’re going out someplace. I love it when you recommend a book or a movie. When you’re there, just watching TV and hanging around with the least charming version of me.

Understanding how it feels is not a prerequisite for helping. It’s just not.

If you’re wondering how to help – you probably already have everything it takes. Tenderness, Love, and the desire to show it. To send a note. To hold her hand.


Photo by Brian on Flickr

Letter to a Loved One

Morning letter

Morning Letter by Boldini

I’ve heard a couple versions of this tip for depression. The premise is that depression makes us treat ourselves pretty awfully. We avoid bathing, we have a mean, critical voice in our heads, we isolate and blame ourselves for things we can’t control.

Treating yourself poorly hurts, and it gets in the way of feeling better – but it’s really really hard to change. So here we’re aiming for just a glimpse of what it would be like to be kinder to yourself.

It’s a simple tip – think of someone that you’ve always felt tenderness for, someone with whom you have a relatively simple, loving relationship. Younger relatives are good candidates. Imagine that it’s them who feels the way you feel, and write them a letter.

What would you tell your younger sibling, your childhood friend, your favorite aunt if she were mired in depression?

When it works, this exercise helps my mind to rest. It lets me spend time in a loving place and helps me glimpse a kinder, gentler interpretation of my suffering – even if I can’t always stick to it.

Here’s to your health.


Photo by ErgSap on Flickr