dismissal

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.

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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 depressionwhoneedsit@gmail.com or click through to leave a comment. Thank you!

 

Top photo from Regan76 on Flickr.

Bottom photo from William Ward 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

Helpful Links

Blue and Droopy and Still BeautifulI recently found a treasure trove of useful links about depression on Reddit.

I was thrilled to see a lecture on depression by Robert Sapolsky, the author of one of the books in the “Books To Chill To” post. The lecture is almost an hour long, but he does a fantastic job of laying out the case for depression as a serious biological condition, and describes the biology and psychology of depression in a compelling and approachable way. I found this video very validating. I think it’ll be helpful not only for friends and family who are trying to understand what their loved one is going through, but also for people in the midst of the shitstorm who doubt the credibility of their own experience and symptoms.

Wing of Madness Depression Guide is an almost twenty year old blog on depression. It’s not overly technical, but it is well researched and the tone is somewhat formal. I love that it has a Start Here post that walks the reader through a context for depression, understanding a diagnosis, and tips on seeking treatment. There are also TONS of links to articles, curated for sufferers as opposed to mental health professionals.

I really like this article from the New York Times. It argues that trying to find an up-side to depression is to minimize the seriousness of the disease. I completely agree.

Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel is more formal than Wing of Madness. If you’re looking for good information about types of depression, symptoms, etc., this is a great, centralized collection of information. They have a mood journal app that I haven’t checked out yet but that looks good. Anything that makes tracking your mood less maddening gets an A+ in my book.

More to come.

 

Photo by Dominic Alves on Flickr

Drastic Pain Calls for Drastic Improvements

Still Life with Skull Leeks and Pitcher by Picasso

Still Life with Skull Leeks and Pitcher by Picasso

I’ve been told by multiple mental health professionals, from psychiatrists to social workers, that I should not make big decisions while in the midst of a crisis.

I mostly think that’s terrible advice, and it’s definitely inappropriate when it comes from someone who doesn’t understand the context of your crisis. When you’re suffering an abusive relationship, it’s a huge decision to leave – a huge decision that you must make and enforce before your crisis will end. That’s an easy example, of course. There are harder ones – quitting your job when you don’t have another one lined up, ending a relationship that has its ups and downs.

But there’s something deeply marginalizing about that advice. Yes, you’re hurting, and that means you’re not qualified to choose a path, so just keep crawling along for a while. Your problems are not real, so things will probably clear up on their own.

True, you’re often not thinking clearly when you’re in a crisis. But recovery is full of big decisions. Seeking treatment itself can be a life changing decision. We’re supposed to wait? For what?

I stayed in a traumatic job for more than a year after I knew I needed to leave. I stayed in a city that I desperately wanted to leave, too. I suffered without the support of my closest friends and family, who were too far away to realize how bad I’d gotten.

Maybe I didn’t have it together enough, or didn’t have the confidence to leave. I don’t think I was blindly following bad advice – but I did take it seriously, and it was liverwurst.

A chemistry professor, who was also a minister, once told me that we live more powerfully when we live by our own choice.

Trust yourself. Find a calm moment, think on it, and trust yourself.

 

Photo of painting by Sharon Mollerus on Flickr