I can't remember when I first learned of depression; it was certainly before I ever considered I might be suffering from it, and before I had internet access to find answers easily. I imagine the early filtering through of information came from posters and leaflets read out of boredom whilst waiting for doctor's appointments. From this, I knew it was unhelpful to tell the person to “pull yourself together”, and that someone suffering from depression already felt useless and guilty so you needed to be nice to them.
These two things seem pretty obvious to me. If someone is depressed, they clearly can't “snap out of it”, or they presumably would have done so already. Depression is, by it's very nature, no fun whatsoever. And anyone suffering in any way is surely deserving of sympathy and support.
Apparently it's not so obvious to most people (including mental health professionals). The same tired and unhelpful old assumptions just go on and on; people don't even realise they're doing it. For example, people are always suggesting to me that I do things to help me feel better. This irritates me beyond belief, because:
- I already do that and their suggestion subtly sweeps aside my efforts as worthless. I know when just getting out of bed is a huge achievement; they don't.
- They always suggest activities that are basically living everyday life – things like getting a job, socialising more, or taking up running/swimming/anything else that feels like climbing Everest when you're low.
If I could do these things, I'd be fine! The reason I don't do them is not because I am unimaginative, lazy or stupid. It's because I feel exhausted, physically lifeless, struggle to concentrate, find things more effort than fun, and can't keep a fake smile plastered to my face at all the required times. I'm not sat around twiddling my thumbs, bored and depressed, for want of a hobby. Actually, I'm not bored at all, and certainly don't lack hobbies. I'm just putting in a lot of effort for what seems like little return, trying to feel moderately ok whilst taking hours to keep on top of things like laundry, eating healthily, and not ending up being dragged to A&E by police. I think I'm actually doing quite well, in my own small way, and suggestions for further action, however well-intended, just leave me feeling like I've got a to-do list the length of the Amazon, which is totally overwhelming and means I actually end up doing even less.
I am constantly frustrated that otherwise kind and understanding people fail to grasp this. It's the whole point (for want of a better word) of depression. What gets to me especially - and I have been pondering this lately – is that other people seem to do the most silly things, whilst bumbling along quite happily and dealing with the eventual fallout with ease. For me, the stakes are too high. I have to carefully consider every decision I make – and have learnt over time what is a good idea and what is not. (A friend actually commented the other day that I am “quite sensible”, whilst incredulous at various unfortunate, unlucky situations I've been in.) So, in terms of what people do with their life and the decisions they make that affect their happiness, I'm actually doing pretty well, and am in relative terms, it seems, quite wise (and oh-so-modest!) Yet these same people who make silly mistakes in their own lives view me as someone who's just not trying very hard, or possibly is not clever enough to figure out what to do. Even some mental health workers I've had the bad luck to encounter seem to be displaying signs of personality disorders that should render them ineligible to work with vulnerable people, let alone make judgements of them.
I sometimes wonder if everyone actually has the same amount of 'depression potential' or whatever it'd be called, and it just manifests differently. Some of these things are recognised as being linked to mental health – substance abuse and obesity, for example. But what about things like having a messy house, eating erratically (though sensible weight), being racist/sexist, or generally a bit of a tosser? These things aren't considered 'essential' by society in the same way as, say, holding down a job or managing to go to the shops without having a panic attack. So theoretically, if I gave up bothering about certain things or caring about other people, would I have more resilience in dealing with other things? Do I use up all my self-discipline and energy on things considered less important by society?
I've heard people being described as so depressed they “can't hold down a job”. Yet for me, a job is the first thing that goes. Having to be somewhere at a certain time, able to concentrate, not allowed to break down in tears, etc etc, is hard! Yet I can keep my flat and myself relatively clean, and try to eat healthily, and don't turn to alcohol...
Do I have my priorities wrong? Does society?
What really bugs me is that I'm the one asking for help from mental health services, I'm the 'broken' one, whilst others might be making all sorts of mistakes or living in a selfish way, yet perfectly 'fine'! I want to yell at psych-types: “Give me some credit!” and point out all the sensible decisions I've made, not to mention the bad luck I've had too. I suppose it's to do with the stigma of mental ill-health, and the blaming attitude towards certain diagnoses from mental health professionals. If they decide you are not 'mad' (floridly psychotic), they automatically see you as 'bad' (attention-seeker, not trying hard enough etc).
I'm not really sure what conclusions to draw from all this, except that the mental health services are as messed up as those they treat, and their job is basically to make these individuals function in a messed up world.
On the plus side, I suddenly feel a lot saner!