I have a friend who has suffered from depression for many, many years.
She’s been on depression meds for many years too… without which (she says), she would “slit (her) wrists in a warm bath”…
I never understood this. I kinda-sorta empathised (because that did sound rather ominous… and rather drastic).. but I never understood. I never got it.
I’ve always been a naturally optimistic, upbeat, laid-back kind of person. Even during the really shitty times of my life (and there have been some really shitty times) – I would always manage, somehow, to find a silver lining to the darkest of clouds. I never understood how some people just seemed to go through life… continually depressed… even when life seemed to be going reasonably well.
Take Robin Williams. I was terribly sad when he committed suicide… but – for the life of me – I just didn’t get it. How, I wondered, could somebody – who seemed to have everything (including a loving, supportive family)… been miserable enough to take his own life (?)
Sure, I wasn’t screaming judgement and condemnation… and I wasn’t voicing any disapproval of his decision (to end his life)…
But – I think – if I’m honest with myself… on a deep level, there were those lingering questions about Robin Williams, my friend and anyone else who has struggled with depression:
- “But, why can’t they just get over it?”
- “Why can’t they just think happy thoughts?”
- “Why can’t they just get involved in charity work or something that will take their minds off their own irrational woes?”
“Why can’t they just….?”
To be honest… I want to make a bit of vomit in my own mouth when I hear those words. “Why can’t they just…?”
Because – I remember when those words were applied to ME and MY life… and MY issues:
- “Why can’t you just eat less?”
- “Why can’t you just exercise more?”
- “Why can’t you just control yourself around food?”
- “Why can’t you just say no?”
And I remember how FRUSTRATED… and humiliated… I would feel after those conversations… because – unless you have walked down that road yourself… and unless you have been an addict yourself… and unless you *know and get the deep, internal struggles… the feelings of worthlessness and failure… the feelings of self-hatred… the constant yearning for the taboo… the obsession… the feelings of helplessness…
… well, unless… you know…
… unless you’ve BEEN THERE…
You have no right to spout forth judgement on others.
At the age of 19, I got married to a man 10 years my senior. It didn’t go well. He’s a very different man now (all these years later – and he has apologised and made right with me)… so I hesitate to tell you the full story. But… let’s just say that it involved lots of alcohol, prostitutes and emotional abuse.
It lasted for 5 years. At the end of it… I was an emotional wreck… and self-abusing (binge eating, hair pulling and cutting… mostly).
The church I attended decided that I needed help (which was true).
So… they packed me off to a Divorce Recovery Workshop… facilitated by (I kid you not)… 3 married couples… who had never been divorced (or abused… or self-abusing… or, well, anything really).
Instead, I had to sit under the condescending tutelage of three shiny, happy Christian couples who were hopelessly equipped to deal with the mess-that-was-me.
And how could they?
They hadn’t walked in my shoes…
They didn’t know…
They didn’t get it.
They just told me to “pray more”…. and “have more faith”… and that God would miraculously fix me.
(I wonder how often depressed people have been told the same thing?)
About 4 months ago, a doctor put me on some very strong antibiotics to deal with a lingering chest cold that just didn’t want to go away. The side affects of the antibiotics (which I didn’t realise at the time)… was depression and anxiety.
Well… it hit me like a freight train (only months later, I worked out why).
And all of a sudden… the “normal” me… the upbeat, positive, silver-lining me… was suffocating under the weight of the thick, black smog of depression…
I have never experienced anything like it. And I never, ever want to feel that way again.
It’s like all the life and the joy and the purpose seemed to have been sucked out of the world… and out of my life. All the things that used to make sense… no longer made any sense. All the purpose that I used to feel… now seemed pointless and irrelevant. All the beauty and the positivity that I used to see around me… seemed to have faded – like a bright shiny apple that goes brown, rotten and worm-infested.
The rational part of my mind could NOT get to grips with this craziness. I remember thinking: “What is wrong with me? This is not like me? I’m not like this! I’m a happy person! Where did my happiness go? What is happening? I can’t carry on like this? I can’t live like this!!??”
It made no sense.
And the FEAR… and the ANXIETY.
I would be gripped by sudden, inexplicable panic. My heart would beat so fast and so loudly that I was sure that others could hear it. I would break out in a sweat – and be utterly convinced that some terrible disaster… some tragedy… was about to happen either to me – or to my loved ones.
I became convinced that I was dying… of some god-awful disease. I started thinking: “That’s it. I’ve lost my mind and my health. My life is over. Nick is going to end up raising the kids without me”.
The world just became… a very dark, dark place for a while.
A dark… lonely…. purposeless place.
I get it now.
Sure, I don’t get a life-long struggle with depression and anxiety because, thankfully… I experienced that dark place for only a month… and once the course of antibiotics wore off… the depression and anxiety left too – and I returned to my normal (generally optimistic) self.
But… now I get it.
And I suddenly have this abundance… this deep well of empathy… for those who struggle, on a long-term basis, with depression and anxiety.
Never again will I think: “Why can’t they just think happy thoughts?” or “Why can’t they just do something positive with their lives that will make them happy again?” or “Why can’t they just get over themselves?”
Never again will I think those things.
Never again will I judge those whose shoes I have NOT walked in.
Going through that experience has given me a lot of food for thought. It has made me wonder about who else I judge (even if only on a deep, internal level).
Who else am I inwardly scorning and judging… even though I’ve never walked in their shoes (?)
Who else do I quietly ridicule… even though I have no idea about their circumstances or journey?
Maybe the world needs more love and compassion from the likes of me. And maybe I should keep in mind this quote from Ghandi (which, I think, could pertain to pretty-much anything):
“Mine is not an exclusive love. I cannot love Moslems or Hindus and hate Englishmen. For if I love merely Hindus and Moslems because their ways are on the whole pleasing to me, I shall soon begin to hate them when their ways displease me, as they well do any moment. A love that is based on the goodness of those you love is a mercenary affair”
“A love that is based only on the GOODNESS of those you love… is a mercenary affair”.
Chew on that for a bit.