The Conversation – by Zoe

“So you just feel a bit sorry for yourself.”

The woman sitting opposite me, a recruiter at a job agency, purses her lips at the end of her pronouncement.  That’s what it is of course, not a question.  I sigh inwardly, knowing what will come next – and I’m right.

“You just need to get over it and get on with things.”

I look up, wondering if I can have this conversation again without going completely spare.  I chance it.

“It’s not that simple.  It’s a chemical imbalance making me ill.  You may as well ask a person in a wheelchair to just get up and walk around.”

She glances at me sharply.

“There’s no need to be rude,” she snaps.

I drop my gaze.  I’ve done it again.  In attempting to explain my patchy job history and the loss of my last job to depressive illness, I have made myself look worse.  That’s one of the problems, you see, with depression.  It makes it harder to think straight, and consequences of actions are almost impossible to predict.

I could easily write 10,000 words about the attitudes of people towards depression that I have encountered, but (ha!) I don’t want to depress you.  You would no doubt be horrified to hear that when I came back from sickness leave after a particularly bad transition between different antidepressants, my boss asked in front of everyone, “You’re not going to go mad and kill us all, are you?”.  You would probably gasp if I explained the time my new doctor smirked at me and asked, “What have you got to be depressed about?”.

Unfortunately, that is society’s view in general – that depression is a weakness, something a “better” person would “just get over”.  Depression has its roots in a hormonal imbalance – so does, just as an example, diabetes.  I wonder if those same people would attack diabetes sufferers?  Do diabetics get told to “get over it”?  Are they told, “I had diabetes once, but I had to work so hard at my job I didn’t notice!”? Are diabetics asked why they became diabetic?  Are they accused of “attention-seeking”?

I wonder if a lack of education is the reason.  A friend of mine had to teach some teenagers about the dangers of illegal drugs, the side effect of many is depression.  One of them frowned.

“What is depression?  Is that where you just feel sad, or where you hear voices?”

My friend smiled.  This was a good group – bright, intelligent and eager.  She decided to tell them the truth.

“Imagine you’ve had a rotten day.  Your girlfriend broke up with you.  You forgot your homework and got shouted at by your teacher.  Your best friend has decided he hates you, and won’t say why – but he has somehow turned all your mates against you so they hate you too.  When you get home, your mum has a go at you because your room is a mess.  Your games console fizzes and dies.  You left your homework assignment at school, so you won’t be able to do it – your teacher will go mad tomorrow.  How do you feel?”

The teen blinked.  “Pretty bad,” he said, smiling slightly.

“Yup.  Pretty bad.  Depression’s like that.  Except, you don’t just feel like it for a few hours.  Or a day.  Or a week.  You feel like it for months.  Years.  Decades.”

The teen’s eyes widened.  “Woah.”

“Oh yes.  Do you want to know what the best part is?   While you feel like this, society tells you to ‘get over it’, to ‘stop feeling sorry for yourself’ and to ‘stop being an attention seeker’.  THAT is what depression is.”

I beat my depression.  It’s still there, in the background.  I don’t think it will ever go away – but for now I am on top of it.  I am passionate about spreading awareness of depression, because so many of us will suffer from it (1 in 4 women and 1 in 7 or 8 men, according to “I Had A Black Dog”).  I couldn’t stand up for myself back then, but now I can – and I can stand up for others too.

I am not lazy.

I am not feeling sorry for myself.

I am not seeking attention.

Read the above description of depression again.  Imagine it happening to you.  I dare anyone to describe me or any other depressive as “weak”.  We are strong – because we have survived depths others couldn’t even contemplate.

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About shatteringthestigma

An open blog taking submissions from skeptics and skeptic friendly individuals on the subject of mental health.

Posted on January 19, 2012, in Depression and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. I really, really like your friend!

    We could really do with more teachers like her. A teacher in my school, when supposedly teaching us about depression, said something along the lines of:

    “You can’t help people who are depressed, they’re the only people who can help themselves.”

    Talk about stigmatising.

    I found the job agency’s accusation towards you as being rude incredibly hypocritical, considering what she had just said, but as you suggest, that’s probably due to a lack of education. People seem to think that depression is merely feeling ‘a bit sad’.

    The only thing I would kind of take issue with is that depression is a hormone imbalance. It undoubtedly is often, but not always. I guess I want to say this because my depression has been diagnosed as drug resistant. (Presumably meaning that it’s not a chemical imbalance in my brain that’s the real problem.)

    Just to take a really clear example – one would expect someone who has suffered severe physical abuse for a prolonged period in their life to have mental health issues whether or not they have a chemical imbalance. And being told to get over it is just as bad with a person like that, as with a person with a chemical imbalance.

    So although often it is a chemical imbalance, sometimes it’s also caused by events and not dealing with them and their consequences (or both, obviously, varying in amount depending on the individual).

  2. It’s such a shame when people talk down to those with medical problems like this. I’m sorry that you’ve had to deal with such treatment in your life.

  3. Kompani (@kompani101)

    A great article, thanks. Good to know there are others like me.

  4. Struck a chord with me. Thanks for putting how I feel in writing.

  5. I’ve experienced this too, there’s really no good way to get someone who shrugs and says “oh, everyone gets depressed” to understand the difference… very frustrating.

  6. I have heard people use the same type of language talking about diabetes, unfortunately. It can be common in groups that emphasize spiritual healing or obsessive “health” based dieting, to blame all sorts of maladies on the person who has it. Someone who has diabetes who doesn’t “manage” it with diet… well, that person is talked about as a failure. People who don’t get healed from all sorts of things by the proper prayer, failures.

    It’s so much more common, and even infests the mainstream, when it is directed at the mentally ill… but blaming people for their sicknesses can extend to all *sorts* of ailments.

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