Is society taking the wrong approach regarding depression? That is an ambiguous and confusing question and needs some clarification. Is the question implying that society has a dismissive and/or impatient stance toward depression and issues surrounding mental health in general? Is it a “non-question” question – by which I mean more is stated than asked in the question – and I might allege that the question is baiting a diatribe against the use of medication.
I am ill-qualified to answer a question that asks for a perspective more appropriately, or at least more likely, held by a professional sociologist or public health researcher. So, I am not going to speak to the broad strokes one would have to take and then dissect to thoroughly and adequately present all of the relevant issues to the question.
I will say this. I am NOT going to bite into the debate that this question begs to instigate. Frankly, I am too biased and emotionally loaded for bear as I attempt to organize my thoughts in preparation for, and to enable a literate and at the same time genuine testimony to the subject of mental health, and the sometimes unbearable misunderstanding and all of the consequences resulting from such misunderstanding of mood disorders, and the judgements often put upon those who suffer from them.
I count myself among and within that group of so judged and misunderstood. This is not a pity plea – I have better things to do with my writing time than to whine to an audience looking for information and good writing, and not the stuff of self-help chat rooms, newsgroups and discussion boards. But, I include my own disposition in the interest of full disclosure.
I also account it here because, at long last, I am not ashamed. No. I am no longer ashamed or afraid to do and say the things necessary to cleanse my soul and ease my mind. The peril that used to paralyze me into nonaction is that those who dare to open up about depression often are accused of whining, or of not being tough enough. I cannot report how this manifests societally in other cultures, but in the United States, is it practically UNAMERICAN to piss and moan about anything that’ll prevent you from “gitting ‘er done!”. Don’t believe me? Ask any pyschologist how long it usually takes before a client or patient who ends up having a problem expressed or identified as depression, can open up about it and describe with any kind of clarity the foggy and long history of unhappiness and lack of productivity and LIVING that is the baggage of the majority of folks who are ultimately diagnosed with clinical depression.
It is a nightmare. And it is ever so hard to face the judgement of the failures you have already amassed, let alone the “give me a break”s that come from expressing that you just can’t do it. What is it? “It” is everything in daily life. “It” is getting up in the morning and facing the myriad decisions that pound your chest before you even exit your house. It is the never-ending pressure of the expectation of productive contribution to a world that, some bastards will have the nerve to accuse “has blessed you more than you know”.
I am not trying to make a blind and sweeping condemnation of all who have offered tough love with the best of intentions and an eye toward helping their loved one maybe see things from a different perspective. I am talking about folks who, whether they say it out loud or not, have a near-darwinian contempt for anything they see as weakness. This is especially true among those inflicted with my gender. You had better not be the sissy who thinks he can share that he is seeing a therapist. You had better not let life grab a hold of your nuts and be the daddy of the world you’re supposed to run! YOU have the duty to protect and serve and bear arms and protect your homestead and FIGHT THE GOOD FIGHT.
A lttle over 13 years ago, when I was four years into college having made maybe two years of progress, I had exhausted any desire to continue the “old college try”. It was Sunday, November 14th, 1994. Well, technically, it was Monday the 15th – as it was approaching 4am. I had known for awhile that I had difficulties and needed to find some help in order to make, not just college, but LIFE work. I had seen a smorgasbord of therapists and counselors over the years, and for a guy in my early 20s at the time, I had indeed acquired more than those years of wisdom and personal insight.
What I hadn’t acquired was the strength and confidence to say out loud and clear that I was hurting and needed someone to help me. I didn’t know how to ask for help and I was too damned afraid of being judged – judged a whiner or a coward or a spoiled “gen-x’er” – to take charge of my own life and make any decision that could do me any good. I was, in fact, stuck. On this night – I was good and stuck. I was in the midst of one of way too many pressure-cooker all-nighters borne out of the indecision and lack of organizational and executive functioning to present my intelligence or thoughts in any sort of cogent and well crafted assignment that was to be expected of me in four short hours.
It wasn’t the looming deadline that had me by the throat. Well, it wasn’t that alone. It had a lot of company over the years and the treadmill of failure and the blindingly confusing frustration of not knowing how the hell to get off of it so that I can do some frigging thing with my life. I was in a full-blown ruminating rage and cursing God out loud and daring him to send me to a hell that could never be worse than where I was right then. Oh, I gave him so many one-digit salutes – I was fit to be tied and wanted out! I wanted out and needed out! I didn’t know how to achieve that. I was truly ambivalent about the drastic nature of the only means I knew of to find that ‘out’.
And so, with truly nothing left to lose, I smashed a plate and took the edges to both my forearms and cried and swore and cried and swore and fell into such a desperate pain knowing that as much as I thought I could find and make my own way out of the ‘stuck’ I had found myself in just one too many times – tonight would not bring me the relief I so craved that I didn’t give a damn that the relief would have come with the price of not feeling – not being at all.
And yet, I was too impotent even to find my way through that. Just one more unfinished task. One more mission failed. One more reason to hate myself and the world and the God who put me in it.
I am long away from that night today. The pains and struggles that brought me to the desperation and utter FEAR and sadness of that fading weekend night are still with me. I did end up dropping out of college – for my own sake and health, as I had learned one very important lesson from those still unfinished undergraduate years. I learned that pressure can kill. I learned that I can’t expect people to read my mind and come to ME to help. I have – I had – to go to them.
I do intend to finish that degree. Not for some damned piece of paper. Not for the acceptance of a world that I still find to be way too damned judgemental. But for my own self-assured getting done of something that means something to *me*. I want you readers to understand that depression and other mood disorders, and even learning disabilities and all of the invisible problems that plague more folks than you might realize, are real. They are real and they hurt.
I don’t know about public policy or sociological trends or pundits polls on the current public view of the ailments of the “weak”. I do know this. I will take any and all help that comes my way. Whether is comes in the form of deep and meaningful friendships – and love, whether it comes in the form of $150/hr professional help, or whether it comes from a monthly visit to my favorite pharmacist.
I will seek and get and deserve that help and that happiness. And society has no damned thing to say about it.