Author: Goddess of Biscuits
Just Do It
I was diagnosed with Major Depression when I was 14 years old. As is the case with most people, I had some triggering life events. Actually, I had a whole rash of them. I was something of an over-achiever at times. Any big life event can do it, and I just happened to experience approximately one billion life events in roughly a year an a half (+/- nine hundred ninety-nine million nine hundred ninety-nine thousand nine hundred ninety-three). But as I said, these events were just the triggers. I was a perfectionist and simply couldn’t keep it together any longer in the face of my new adolescence and so much personal loss. The feelings became too big to contain. And as is the so often the case with depression, after the triggering events were no longer eating at me, the feelings of despair remained.
I had always had a rather dysthymic personality (dysthymia is sort of a low-level depression which tends to be longer-term and less severe). I wasn’t a total Debbie Downer of a little girl, but I seemed pretty serious, especially to those who didn’t understand my dry wit. I felt stressed a lot. Adults usually loved me, but I wasn’t good at interacting with my peers. It wasn’t terrible, though. Some kids picked on me, but I didn’t have a great deal of conflict with most kids my age. I just felt separate. I did have friends my age, though. I as involved in activities I enjoyed. I also had a good home, loving parents, and never went without the things I needed. I did very well in school. Unfortunately, depression is not beholden to logic.
As a fairly intelligent being, I find that this disconnection between depression and reason is perhaps the most difficult aspect to deal with. It often does not matter what I know rationally to be true. When I am deeply depressed, I cannot get my emotions in line with logic. Often thinking follows the emotions, but not always. A lot of therapy focuses on correcting fallacious thinking. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy aims to help patients look at thought patterns that might perpetuate the illness. I hate CBT with a fiery passion. Like many approaches, it has some good points. And to someone who has never considered unhealthy thinking habits before, it is worth learning about. But to someone who has been struggling to dig her way out of depression, it feels tantamount to saying “just think happy thoughts.”
For someone with a mood disorder (or any kind of emotional suffering), ‘just’ is a dirty word. Did you notice the four-letter-ness of it? Yeah. I don’t think that’s just a coincidence.
“Just be positive.”
“Just think of all the people who have it worse than you.”
“Just don’t think about it.”
“Just let me tell you how your feelings don’t matter or aren’t valid.”
The intentions of the interlocutor may be kind. He may never have suffered deep psychic pain. To him, it seems easy to avoid. Just follow these easy steps! But to the person suffering, this is rarely helpful. Depression really does hurt. Healthy people don’t want to feel that way (and I’m talking real depression, here. I hate when people don’t want me to feel anything negative at all, too, but that’s another conversation). If the answer were as easy as putting on some Elton-John-rose-colored glasses, pink lens tints would be much, much more prevalent.
Healthy thinking does have a place in treatment of illnesses of all sorts, especially psychiatric illness. We know that forming new habits, thinking and otherwise, change and build neural pathways. Studies show that our bodies respond to many kinds of cues. Smiling may actually impact mood. But things are rarely that simple and those who have never struggled with something like depression would do well to tread carefully when reducing mental suffering to trite phrases.
My depression is not at all as severe as it was during my adolescent years. Healthy thinking aids in keeping it in check. But to suggest that this can be the entirety of my strategy demonstrates ignorance of what I am experiencing at best, and often feels instead like disregard and blame.
It’s a manic world.