Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Fighting Depression: It's Not About Perspective

We all know how it goes. Someone's having a bad day and you say something like "well, there are starving children in Africa". Ok maybe not that extreme, but I've learned that people tend to reply one of two ways. They may try one-up you by sharing something that they're going through that's even worse, with obnoxious sayings like, "welcome to my world" (this works well if you want me to slap you) or "I'll trade with you" (sure, you have no idea what you have coming).  Or they might attempt to make you feel better by giving you perspective - perspective that we know we are supposed to have and try, as we might, cannot manage.  Quite honestly, when you're dealing with depression, both of these responses are infuriating, because they diminish what you're going through. To be fair, the road to diminishing is often paved with good intentions. People think that if they share with you that you're not alone, that others have it worse, that you'll feel better.  But it often has the reverse effect, in which our depression is not lessened at all, and now we feel guilty about it.

Depression carries a ridiculous amount of unnecessary and inaccurate stigma. Among this is that we're drama kings/queens, we blow everything out of proportion, we can't handle anything, etc etc. We KNOW what you think of us. We knew it before you pointed it out because guess what - sometimes we feel the same way about ourselves and desperately try to stop it. We feel like shit about it. We feel like shit about ourselves, which only further adds to the depression.  We do not want to be this way - we didn't choose it, it "chose" us. We KNOW we "aren't supposed to feel this way". We know it's "not that big of a deal", that others have it worse - perhaps even you. We also know we shouldn't complain about it. It only perpetuates the "glass half empty, no perspective" stigma. But to us, the options are the following: 1.) let it sit inside of us until it slowly rots away and eats us from the inside out. 2.) get it out of our system so that it doesn't do that. And yes, we try to write or talk to a therapist, or join a support group. But when we need to do something right then, because it feels overwhelming, we're panicking, our anxiety and depression feels like it has reached maximum capacity, we may not be able to whip out our journal or get our therapist on the phone. So we do the only think we think will save us: we talk about it, we freak out, we ball ourselves up in a corner and hope not too many people notice. We know what the end result is likely to be when the storm passes. We know we're going to feel upset, embarrassed, ashamed, possibly a combination of all three of these. And yet we still feel like we have no other option.

The best way I can explain to those who don't experience it is this: Say a friend and I are running a race. To me, because I'm always cold, the temperature is fine. I finish the race, I drink some water, no problem. To my friend, it's horribly hot. She is flushed and feeling dizzy and nauseous and like she's suffering from heat exhaustion even though it's only 70 degrees. Just because nobody else thinks it's too hot does not mean my friend isn't legitimately ill, or at least doesn't feel that way. For whatever reason, to her body this feels extreme, regardless of anyone else's opinion. Are there precautions she can take before, during, after the race? Sure. Are they foolproof? Of course not. Nothing is. Even if she does everything everyone's telling her, her body might still react this way. And her options are to sit there and suffer internally because she feels like she "shouldn't be so hot" and risk getting sicker or let others see her symptoms and hope they understand.

I know this isn't the best example, but it's the best I can think of. With depression, it's not that we don't want to prioritize, that we don't want perspective. It's that our brain alters how things feel to us, so that sometimes we can't, at least not in that initial few moments. I know this sounds like an excuse. I realize that. And the fact that others can't understand it unless they've gone through it - which I wouldn't wish on anyone - only makes us feel worse. We already feel terrible about "how we are".  Now we feel like we're not trying hard enough to change. One more thing we aren't doing right. One more fault of ours. One more reason we're isolated and feel alone no matter how many people tell us we aren't. Because our brain distorts that too.

I don't expect it to be ok. I don't expect everyone to put up with it. But I would ask, not just for myself, but for everyone battling with this:  please, stop blaming us. It makes nothing better. Not for us and in the long run, not for you. 

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