Last evening an individual attempted to leave a comment on my previous post. As moderator of the blog, I opted to trash the comment rather than address it. That decision did not sit well with me, and for many reasons. I shared my story to help open up dialogue about mental health; my case is specific to clinical depression and anxiety. Part of my impetus was to enlighten individuals about these subjects, because it’s been proven that secrecy regarding these issues reinforces the negative motivation behind them, and therefore the act of doing them. When we opt to remain silent about the struggles we live with we give them power, we induce a level of anxiety and fear regarding otherwise rational understandings that lead to irrational phobias and deep-seeded fears. Those who have diagnosed mental illness have an additional hurdle: our bodies’ inability, on a genetic and chemical level, to hasten response and begin operating positively in reaction to stressors. Where one person’s brain can produce the needed serotonin and dopamine to respond to an otherwise psychically painful day, my brain is less capable. It produces the chemicals, but not in amounts that reduce anxiety or siphon off overwhelming sadness. To quote one of my favorite lyricists and artists: “our brains are sick, but that’s okay” (Tyler Joseph).
But, the reason I am opting to respond now is that at the first sign of antagonism I ran with my tail between my legs. The comment not only reminded me there is still much misunderstanding regarding mental health, but it also highlighted the importance of willing empathy. This comment was a prime example in misunderstanding. Every person’s experience is different, and even if there are shared history or genetics, there is no way to completely predict how those genes express themselves. And forcing an understanding catered specifically to one person’s experience is where misunderstanding insidiously blooms. It creates harmful, not just hurtful, consequences.
Below I will re-post the comment and then respond with more in-depth detail. I have chosen to leave the poster anonymous, aside from gender specific pronouns, since I am singling out his comment.
“Nice opening for a discussion of depression. A description… quite articulate… of what depression can be like. How it feels.
But the discussion cannot end with this. It should not end with expressions of how it feels or just empathy.
There are many options for battling this demon. And in our world of narrowly focused experts it is not a good idea to rely on any one expert. Or conclude that popping the right pill is the solution. Or risking becoming an enabler by limiting the response to creating a protective environment for the depressed person.
Psychotherapy and self-awareness can help. But is it helping when 10 years later the problem persists? The war is not over until the demon can be consistently kept at bay through improved life style habits. This takes more work than sitting through therapy sessions or popping pills.
Here is a list of holistic strategies to consider and act on.
Nutrition. Some people have unique or rare or unusual nutritional needs to keep their systems functioning in balance. Much nutritional information is based on statistical studies. Many people do not fit into statistical norms. If you are struggling with depression have you explored your individual nutritional needs? Perhaps you do need mega doses of a certain B vitamin or some other nutrient?
Exercise. We live in this sedentary world. It is not what the human body was “designed” for. Abused systems break down and get gummed up. Can at least one hour of aerobic exercise a day cure depression? Try it for 2 months and find out.
Mindset. Learn about it. Read the book. It’s not about snapping out of depression. It’s about deciding to keep exploring options and taking actions until something makes a difference.
Yoga. Exercises to control and balance inner forces. This one I know little about but it would be on my list of options to explore.
Self Help books and programs. Consume them all. It’s part of the war on depression. You will learn more than any one therapist can teach.
Acupuncture. Centuries of oriental experience must have come up with some great ideas.
Buddhism or other spiritual ideas. The quest is inner peace.
The list is far from exhausted. The point is that a mere explanation of what depression is like is only the introduction. And arguing for patience while going through years of therapy is not good enough. Life is passing by. Winning the war on depression takes an aggressive multi front effort.
I will save my thoughts on enablers of depression for another day.”
I appreciate your comment, and I agree that the discussion cannot end here. It has to continue to spread outward, and part of that comes from those of us that have mental illness being willing to share our experience, despite knowing there will be open hostility and reprisal, even from people closest to us. It has been an unfortunate reality of my experience, and I know others have dealt with it, as well.
I commend you for doing research on the subject, and finding a path that works for you. I, too, have put in a significant amount of effort figuring out my disease (I apologize if you do not suffer from mental illness; I made the assumption based on the detailed list you supplied) and the way it interacts in my life, which is why I feel it is necessary to address your assumption that individuals who derive a treatment plan with their chosen medical profession only “rely on any one expert”. It is a grave fallacy to believe that those who suffer mental illness do so passively. There is a difference between accepting the physiological reality that I need help to produce the same levels of dopamine an otherwise “healthy” brain would be able to produce and accepting that I am fundamentally altered and therefore should let this chemical quirk derail my life.
To continue, I have not relied on the advice of any one expert. I have relied on the advice of many experts, including medical professionals trained in these fields. I mentioned that at the age of sixteen I was diagnosed with these illnesses. Since that age I have seen upwards of four psychiatrists, two psychotherapists, a family counselor, a group counselor, my primary care from youth, and my current primary care. They all come at this medical issue with varying degrees of understanding, as well as individual and unique perspectives. Each of these professionals, along my path, have aided in developing coping mechanisms that operate on a physical level (my heart rate, breathing, etc.) and a psychic level (visualization and mediation). Your “holistic” approaches are the exact things being discussed inside the walls of my therapist’s office. And in-fact, these approaches have been a long-standard in short-term and long-term treatment with accredited medical professionals. They do not eradicate depression, seeing as depression and anxiety cannot be eradicated, but they do help sufferer’s reach remission and remain in remission. Again, it is a gross misunderstanding to believe that depression can be “cured”. My depression is as inherent as my eye color and skin color. It is derived from genetics and body chemistry, therefore unless I somehow alter my very DNA, there is no way I will not suffer the side effects brought on by these genetic hiccups. The choice every sufferer has to face is how they handle those side effects.
In order to ease your mind (because I assume part of the reason behind your comment was to alert me to choices outside what you interpreted as me “giving up”) I began a treatment plan with my primary care and psychotherapist in March 2015. I opted to resume antidepressants and therapy, with special attention towards building mechanisms that act on my physiological self, as they are the stagnate aspects to my depression and anxiety. Regardless of what brings on an episode, or where my mind inevitably gravitates, the physical side effects of my depression remain constant, and as such meditation and diaphragm breathing have become integral tools in my recovery. And this is something that has been advocated for by each doctor I have seen through my journey. (This is the same with nutrition and exercise; it is part of the reason I am conscientious about the food I put into my body, and why I began a consorted effort to prepare all my own meals to avoid any unknowns.)
Though I appreciate the options you provide, please be aware that a majority of the items listed are already being used by the narrow-minded experts you railed against. Additionally, I find it somewhat disconcerting that you opted to leave a comment that ends with “[w]inning the war on depression” on a post that not only advocates for patience and understanding, but also details the detriment and harm statements like the above can actually cause to persons struggling with mental illness. To believe, and promote, the idea that depression can somehow be “beat” is hugely disadvantageous and oftentimes helps generate a sense of impending doom when the effects of depression present again, after a believed victory over a hard-fought war. It’s why the metaphor of a burning building is so apt. We do not get to choose whether or not we are in the fire, our genetics have already caused our surroundings to erupt in flame; what we can, do, though, is find ways that allow us to remain in that fire and not be burned alive by it.
To further this metaphor, let me add, we can put the fire out. As a sufferer, as someone standing in the midst of it, I can make choices that help me remain in the flames as I fight them. Those coping mechanisms – the exercise, nutrition, medication, meditation, diaphragm breathing, etc. _ are all choices that provide a better chance of putting the flames out without suffering too many burns and scars. I am not sure there is an individual alive that would opt to choke on the ash-filled air over having the ability to gulp fresh-air. If anything, we appreciate the fresh-air more. Even those who commit suicide are chasing after that fresh-air. They just feel they ran out of options.
My final message for you, though, addresses the idea of an “enabler” of depression. This mythical individual does not exist. Since depression is experienced via the conduit of our genetic expression – in laymen’s terms it is experienced due to our DNA and how those genes uniquely and non-duplicitously exhibit and interact – no one can provide more “material” or “promote” depression. Someone can enable the actions of a depressed person, and therefore enable destructive habits, but it is impossible to enable depression. The reason I delve into this distinction is because there is a fine line between enabling destructive behavior and supporting a person dealing with a depressive episode. And unfortunately, there are dire consequence if the two are confused.
The reason I called people to empathy was because there is a very simple, yet extremely difficult, truth to depression: it is never the same. Since this is an illness that is derived in genetics, there is no possible way two people can have the same experience in depression and anxiety. And because of this simple truth the only way someone should interact with sufferers of depression and anxiety is with willing empathy. It has to be the bridge that connects everyone else to the person in the depths of the disease. And to support someone with depression is as simple as acknowledging the necessity of that bridge and helping to build it.
I open this up to further discussion. By all means, the intent of the original post was to shed light on a very real and very painful issue. Many people suffer in silence due to fear of reprisal from friends, family, and co-workers. It was part of the reason I remained in the dark for so long about an issue that has truly consumed my life. I am twenty-nine, and thankfully I’ve had the opportunity to explore the impacts this disease has on me, and I’ve been given time and space to reflect and garner new understanding (not everyone is so lucky).
It has not been an easy process, nor has it been pain-free, but it is mine and because of that I wouldn’t change it. And I am not naïve enough to believe that I will wake up and be “fixed” one day. I am not broken. Nothing of my biology needs changed. I do not want to eradicate this disease, I simply want to live with it. My depression is inherent, so to desire a “me” without depression is to set myself up for inevitable and soul-crushing disappointment. I have accepted that I will live with this disease – I do not, have not, nor will I ever, let this disease overtake me, even if I can understand, and empathize with, the motivation behind those life-ending decisions. And that, my friend, is a distinction you failed to see. Your condescending tone to a stranger (imagine if I was your daughter or wife or sister!) has done nothing to move your agenda or view forward, rather it has very clearly shown your inability to relate-to, support, and empathize, even if you suffer from this “demon” too. Friend, depression is different for everyone. I am here if you ever need to discuss the trials of your struggle, and I will not judge you or push unwanted (and I dare say unneeded) advice at you. I will be here to listen. And if and when you want me to respond with aid, I will be more than willing to do so. Until that day comes, though, I will trust you are dealing with your disease in a way that works for you.