Friday, March 20, 2009

Depression - Are We All Alone?

Trying to tell someone who has never experienced depression what depression is like is like trying to describe a headache to someone who has never had a headache. People just don't get it, and they never will.

No one writes about this better than Therese Borchard of Beyond Blue. Here's the last three paragraphs from a blog post from yesterday:

"The pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it," Styron wrote. "To the tragic legion who are compelled to destroy themselves there should be no more reproof attached than to the victims of terminal cancer."

Like Styron, I was both enraged and saddened that friends and family were shocked to hear that two doctors sliced me open--before full anesthesia kicked in--to save little David's life in an emergency C-section. Yet when I voiced the desperation of depression--which made the knife cut feel like a knee scratch--they often brushed it off, as if I were whining to win some undeserved sympathy votes.

But I should know better. Most people don't get it. And the day I get that through my head I'll be less disappointed.

Obviously, Therese touched a raw nerve. Her blog post (as of right now) drew an incredible 209 comments, nearly all of it along the lines of "my friends and family don't get it, either."

So, are we on our own? No, not really. Way too many of us, unfortunately, get depressed. Between those with major unipolar depression and those with bipolar depression, not to mention those with depression as a symptom of another illness, we are talking in the neighborhood of one in five Americans who experience major depression over the course of their lifetimes.

So, if your family and friends are deaf to you, all you have to do is reach out a little further. Literally, throw a stone out the window. It is bound to land on someone who has been through depression. You will have someone to talk to. Keep in mind that Bill Styron, cited by Therese, cultivated friendships with fellow depressives Mike Wallace and Art Buchwald.

Also, keep in mind that although most people don't get depression, they are not exactly hostile, either. Chances are, depression has touched their lives in some way. They may not understand what is going on, but a good many are truly moved by the suffering they have witnessed close-up.

Finally, be mindful of the fact that depression affects our capacity to process positive news. Friends and family may be more supportive than you give them credit for.


Anonymous said...

I disagree. Its like trying to describe a migraine to someone who has never had one, but have had headaches. They just don't understand how intense it can be.

John McManamy said...

HI, themadandwild. I sounds like we actually agree. Your analogy dials it in much better than mine. Welcome to "Knowledge is Necessity" and keep posting.

Ellen said...

Like the mad, I think the problem with people 'getting' what depression is like is that everyone has low energy or low motivation from time to time, and they get over it OK. If depression was more like, say, spinning off into the sky like a top and then coming down with a bounce, :-) , they might think it's something different from what they've experienced, and that they may not know all about it themselves.

John McManamy said...

Very good point, Ellen. I see what you and Madandwild are driving at, now. Many thanks. This really informs me. Welcome - and keep informing me.

Anonymous said...

My brother said to me recently, "I don't know what it is like going through depression, but you have never been THIS bad before." He has no clue that I HAVE BEEN THIS BAD BEFORE AND WORSE! It is like trying to speak to someone in another language that they can't understand.
His wife has had cancer and everyone understands that of course. Not that cancer is something to dismiss lightly. But to me depression and anxiety is so much more debilatating. I haven't been able to go back to
work because of it.

John McManamy said...

Hi, Anonymous. The good thing about your brother's comment: 1) He acknowledges he has no clue. 2) He knows what you are going through is bad, very bad.

So, even though he doesn't understand (and who can?) it appears he is displaying empathy and compassion. Yes, it may seem like he is speaking in another language, but he is making an effort.

My mother has no clue, either, but she did understand I was in great distress and her understanding saved my life.

But you're right - we are speaking different languages, but I hope you can accept my translation: Acknowledge your brother's good will and do what you can to make him your ally.

Mind you, I may have misinterpreted your comments (that language thing, again). But it is best to err on the good will side.

Kellybelle said...

Great post. I had the experience today of having my illness (depression) misunderstood.

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful post, thank you. My boyfriend was tremendously supportive during my depression, though I believe he and others who do not suffer from the disease often feel at a loss to help. Frustration, short tempers or backing away may be their response. We, in our pain, often do not understand why they behave this way. But as my boyfriend told me, "I don't know how to help, but I know you're in pain and I love you." Sometime this was the most wonderful comfort even in the fog of depression.

Anonymous said...

Most people really don't understand depression. I am a psych nurse and have suffered repeated bouts of major depression. When I tell a patient "I understand" and then ask "Do you feel you are falling into a black hole with no bottom, the sides of the hole are greased and, try as you might, you keep falling and can't crawl out?" They look at me and say "You really do understand" with such a look of relief. I know some good has come from my experience with depressions.

Anonymous said...

It's a dark desease that goes in cycle.
Unfortanely, we don't practice a natural cycle living so things could get very dark.
Following a spiritual lifestyle could help. I've enjoy doing research on the natural cycle which helps me enormously since we are part of nature.
the mayan calendar is the most accurate calendar that explains cycles which complitely makes sense.