Last week, I saw a couple of things on social media that really pissed me off. The first was a meme, shared on someone’s Facebook page that had two images, one above, one below. The top image was a beautiful picture of a forest, and the caption simply said “This is an antidepressant”. The bottom image was a spilled jar of pills, and its caption said “This is an addiction.” Then I read the comments on the post. Words like drug addict and over-dependant on medication. Saying that getting over depression was as simple as going for a walk or spending time outside.
Then, I saw a series of tweets that stated that people chose to be depressed and were weak because of it. He claimed that everyone goes through hard times, and that people made the choice to suffer from depression, and that all that was needed was the desire to get past it.
I was shocked.
I’m sure that some times these comments stem from a good place, but they are gross and ignorant and hurtful and just plain old wrong.
I’ve been public about my struggles with depression because I really believe that the more we talk about it, the less we stigmatize it. And then, over the course of a few days, I see these things. How incredibly disheartening for me, and for anyone who battles with depression.
If only it was that simple.
If only I could choose to take my shoes off and walk in the grass, or stroll through the forest that is a 5 min walk from my house, and have those feelings of despair disappear.
If only I could just decide to be happy. Because obviously my depression is my fault, I just don’t want to be happy and enjoying my life.
If only I could be mentally stronger, and make my mind cooperate, just because I wanted it to.
If only I could wake up in the morning, after less hours sleep than I have fingers on one hand, those scarce hours plagued by nightmares, and know, just know, that I could make it all go away if only I wanted to badly enough.
If only I could throw my pills away and replace them with the leaves on the trees, the acorns and pine needles and the dirt beneath my feet on my daily walks.
If only my doctor and I knew more about my mind and body than a kickboxer or creator of an internet meme meant to shame people with mental illness.
This practice of shaming people with mental illness has got to stop. A walk in the woods will not “fix” clinical depression no matter how badly you want it to. Nor will calling people who use antidepressants “addicts”. People seem to forget that most of us don’t want to have to take a pill to help keep our minds from spinning out of control, or our moods stable. Antidepressants are not usually the first line of defense – in my case I tried for years to work through it on my own using counselling, exercise, meditation, socializing, self-care, everything. I worked with my doctor and a psychologist, doing therapy, journalling, pain management techniques – you name it, I tried it. But eventually it just wasn’t enough. These medications are literally life-saving measures in a lot of cases. You wouldn’t call a diabetic who uses insulin as prescribed by a doctor an addict, and you wouldn’t tell someone with MS that their condition could be cured by spending more time connected to nature.
So why is it ok to say those things to, or about, someone with a mental illness?
We don’t choose depression, depression chooses us.
I never wanted to have days where getting myself dressed and the kid off to school would sap my energy dry. I don’t want to have days where my mind tells me that I’m useless, that my friends really hate me, that my family would be better off without me. I would prefer not to have days where I feel flat, like I’m standing behind a clear glass wall and am watching the world and my life go by, without being able to touch or feel any of it.
And what about all those who struggle in silence?
I had gotten to the point where I felt like I had a bit of a handle on things, like they were looking up, until a couple of months ago when the floor dropped out from under me. You may have noticed that I’ve been quiet around here, and on social media for the past few weeks.
Now you know why.
I didn’t really want to talk about it to anyone. I tried to deny it to myself. I didn’t tell my friends, and only talked to my doctor and psychologist about it when I no longer felt like I had a choice in the matter. I already felt like a burden, and this just made things that much worse. Dealing with CRPS, I already struggle with the amount of help I need to ask others for, and somehow this just felt like adding logs to an already ranging bonfire.
I was angry at myself for falling backwards, for not being “strong” enough to keep my brain in check.
If only I had more self-control, or more mental fortitude, or something, maybe I could have prevented it from happening.
And you know how much good that did me?
You know what did help? An increase in my medication. Confiding in a close friend and letting her in on what was going on with me. Talking to my psychologist and my doctor about new strategies, and understanding that setbacks happen. It’s okay when they do – all we can do is deal with them the best ways that we can and survive another day. Putting one foot ahead of the other, taking baby steps and celebrating the small successes without punishing ourselves for the fails is all we can ask of ourselves.
Summing up mental health and depression, along with anecdotal “evidence” on how to “fix” it only contributes to the problem. You and your treatment team know the best way to tackle your symptoms head on, and while positive attitude and fresh air are helpful for some people, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to depression.
Stigmatizing people, shaming and guilting them, making them feel (even more) alone, those things are going to make the divide people feel even larger.
When you are already too wracked with guilt or shame because of the way your brain chemicals are making you feel, the last thing you need to hear is that you “should” be able to control it if only…
We try hard to teach Q the Golden Rule – treat others the way you want others to treat you, and I honestly believe that this is a good lesson for all of us to remember.