I got off the phone with a friend last week, and as I hung up, I felt a wave of sadness sweep over me. See, my friend’s cousin died, a sweet young lady in her mid thirties, at the prime of her life, mother of an adorable 5 year old girl. How did she die? Depression killed her! Yeah, that jolted me too. No, she didn’t commit suicide. She actually died of depression. But depression doesn’t kill, right? I asked her. Well, she replied, she closed herself up, shut down, stopped eating, went into serious dehydration… and the doctors couldn’t do anything for her. She wanted to die. And she did.
My friend was devastated. And stark, raving mad. She was angry at her cousin. And she didn’t mince her words. How could she ‘allow’ things to get this out of hand? Ok, her husband left her, he chose another woman over her… but… she’s not the first to experience that for heaven’s sake! Look at all the other women who have moved on with their lives! Why couldn’t she just snap out of it? She has a 5 year old daughter, wasn’t that reason enough to live? How could she give up on life, ‘because of a man?’
Sigh. I could understand her anger, her grief, her bewilderment, and her genuine regret over such a wasted life. And before you judge my friend, take a moment and think about how you’ve responded to a similar situation. We’ve all been there. We’ve all compared people to others. We’ve all expected more from them. Urged them to move on, to forgive and forget, to get out there, to be strong, to pray more, to have more faith, to try this, try that…the expectations are endless.
We’ve all – unknowingly and knowingly – made people feel like they are inadequate, they are somehow to blame, they are weak. We’ve done it with our words. With our silence. With our actions. Or inaction. Snap out of it? Pull yourself together? Right. In the words of a client, “It’s like telling a cancer patient to snap out of a tumor”.
When we push those around us to snap out of it… that’s exactly what they do.
Snap out. Of it. Literally.
That almost always makes sensational headlines. Man kills wife in a jealous fit of rage. Boy commits suicide after quarrel over homework. Police man goes on shooting rampage after losing his job. And the questions begin…”how did it get there?”. ”who is to blame?”
I have been reflecting a lot about that. Who is to blame? Parents? Media? Victims? And I realize there’s no easy answer. All I know is that it’s unfair to blame someone for lack of information. And therein lies the blame. We’re pretty clueless when it comes to issues regarding mental health. Issues regarding depression. We have no clue that depression is an illness. A mental illness. A serious mental illness that as a society, we have very little information about. And like all humanity the world over, here’s what we do with stuff we have very little information about – we ignore, we reject, we mask, we dismiss.
We judge. Boy, do we judge!
In ignoring, we pretend it doesn’t exist, and like the proverbial ostrich, we bury our heads in the sand, hoping, willing it to go away by …tomorrow, maybe? In rejecting, we detach ourselves from it, and watch things unfold from our ivory tower, once in a while offering the occasional cliché, from waaaaay uuuuuup there. In masking, we redirect focus to something less painful, more acceptable (work, church, hobbies) or unacceptable (alcohol, drugs, addictions). In judging, we self-righteously appoint ourselves the judge, never mind that we have never walked that road.
While it’s true that ignorance is bliss, it’s also true that knowledge is power. So, let’s educate ourselves. What has been your experience with depression? Maybe for you. Or someone you know. Do you mind sharing? I am genuinely interested in getting together real stories about experiences with depression. You don’t have to post here. You can inbox, or email me. Your experience might… will be helpful to someone.