Psychology

Depression is Society Taking the Wrong Approach



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It's admittedly difficult for me to write coherently about something that has been so central and so devastating to me. Yes, society takes the wrong approach when dealing with individuals it labels as "depressed".

Depression is an effect, not a cause. It is the effect of a woman with ADHD struggling to do housework and handle a job with lots of paperwork, giving up all her time as a result. Depression is the effect of a life lead by placing the needs and wants of others ahead of one's own desires and one's own aptitudes. It is the effect of a woman with metabolic syndrome attempting to fit into the image of beauty that men demand, exercising, giving up good food in favor of disgusting healthy food, starving her soul in the process.

The response I received when I attempted to follow the oxymoronic conventional wisdom by "seeking help" exacerbated my feelings of worthlessness and despair. I was told by the councilor I went to that I had to "work on" things, that I had to "do better". He echoed the very voice in my head that makes me want to die, the voice that says I am not good enough, I must change, I must work harder, make more money, spend less time doing things I love and more time doing things I hate, eat less good food and more disgusting food, give more to others and ask less for myself.

The result of his hurtful nagging? I became even more suicidal, of course. I stopped caring about anyone else, because no one cared about me. That's childish, but my feelings are to a great degree an echo of what happened to me when I was a trouble teen, tired of being harassed about my weight. My parents did not support me. Instead, they sent me to a psychiatrist, in essence saying that I had no right to be upset about the emotional bullying I suffered. By demanding that I change, by insulting my mind, by attempting to wish me into someone else, they made me feel like the most worthless person on the face of the earth, and I have never recovered.

I've spent my life singing the "do better, be better" song. I've even spouted existential American rhetoric about positive attitudes while taking college courses I didn't like to impress a man I admired but didn't love. I've denied myself and proved that mind truly is more powerful than matter by losing weight and going to the gym every day until I was as thin and muscular as an athlete. Yes, attitude conquers all! With my positive attitude, I eradicated myself and became a bitter, sick woman, often going down to the basement where I hoped the neighbors wouldn't hear me as I screamed and screamed about how much I hate exercise and starving.

I earned a degree in a subject I can't stand, qualifying me on paper for jobs at which I could never succeed in reality. I can learn about chemistry since I have a good memory for concepts, a decent ability to remember terms, and the virtually superhuman ability to make connections and solve problems that comes along with ADHD. Of course, I also have no ability to keep track of paperwork or physical objects. I lose things constantly, don't remember details, can't follow procedures. I make constant arithmetic errors, of which my professors were always forgiving but employers are not. I have no sense of time. So, while I know "about" chemistry I am simply not cut out to "do" chemistry. By forcing myself to earn a degree in the subject, I wasn't making a heroic attempt to overcome my disability! I was being hideously untrue to myself.

My studies in mathematics have been fun, but I would literally rather die than work a lucrative job doing calculations all day. My part time job as a community college math teacher is really a full time job if you count the extra hours I have to put in because of my disability. It's tough, but I've managed to find ways to get computers to do a lot of the administrative parts of the job, and my teaching methods compensate enough to make me an adequate instructor when I am feeling well enough to do my best. When my husband pushed me and pushed me to get a full time job, he succeeded only in pushing me over the proverbial edge.

And then the councilor I so hoped would be my advocate pushed me further. He agreed wholeheartedly that I do indeed have severe ADHD. He also diagnosed me with major depressive disorder. Then, even knowing what was wrong with me, he pushed me to do better! At the time, I was teaching three classes, tutoring 15 hours a week for the college, and privately tutoring several students. After the semester ended, I mentioned to him that I did not want to teach at all in the spring and got the same response I had gotten from my husband, "what would that accomplish?"

That question broke my heart. I'm sick, I need to rest, and that isn't enough? No? I have to accomplish something? Pressured, I made promises to "work on strategies" and clean the house, even tackling the garage and basement. I was so sick, so deeply suicidal that I couldn't take another day of teaching, couldn't take another visit to the gym. So, in essence, by questioning my need to rest, both men declared my life worthless.

I went back on the promises I had made to my husband and repeated to my councilor. I'm perversely proud to say that the garage is still a mess, the basement not much better. I sat on my increasingly fat behind and played Rome: Total War. I started seedlings and purchased plants, vowing that keeping the plants alive and harvesting the produce would be my way of showing I could, for once, follow through with something. My husband and the councilor didn't really care about helping me with ADHD unless it meant me making more money. They didn't care about me growing as a person in way I actually cared about. Mentally cursing them in language I'm not allowed to use here, I vowed that my plants would be my personal challenge, something to stick with and not abandon once it lost my interest. Rome: Total War was yet another challenge. There are very few games I've played to the end. When the going gets tough, I get going- onto something else! Not so with my virtual empire. Despite defeats, rebellions, and bouts of plague, I conquered the virtual ancient world by saying, "Screw doing better! Forget competition! Who gives a flying fig if I'm not the biggest, best richest faction? I'm taking care of my economy, and that's that." Instead of taking that idiotic councilor's advice and asking myself how I could do more and better, I focused on doing less and worse. Conquer fewer territories at a time, maintain a smaller military, ignore any order from the senate that goes against the best interests of my faction's economy. Needless to say, my politics proved sound in the game, and have become something resembling my philosophy of life.

In a nutshell, I think society looks at a depressed person as a broken cog that just needs to get fixed and get back in the machine. But the thing is, you do that and guess what? The darn thing will just break again. The cog broke because you have it in the wrong place, under too much stress.

The real truth is, we're all different. We all have different abilities in areas like memory, concentration, reasoning, spatial estimation, fine motor skills, and gross motor skills. Who can deny that there are some people who seem to be born knowing how to draw, or have perfect pitch, or have the reflexes to catch anything you throw at them? Who can deny that there are those would have to work endless hours in order to be marginally competent at music, art, or athletics?

Now here's the kicker- the ability to handle stress is just another skill, no different, no better, no worse than skills like drawing and singing. What our society so wrongly labels as "major depressive disorder" is simply a natural variation in the ability to handle stress. By placing individuals with the traits ascribed to that mythical disorder under stress, you ask them to exceed their abilities and the result is a total breakdown.

"But but but!" Scream the mental health morons. "That's why you need to work on coping skills!"

"Yes", I say in a tone of exaggerated patience with which I would never patronize a student, or even my dog, "you do. But not when you're sick."

Telling a depressed person they need to work on or get better at anything, whether it's coping skills or singing, only puts that person under more stress, making them more suicidal. It doesn't make them better at their jobs, it doesn't help them earn more money, and it sure makes them hate their fellow man with a burning passion.

If the mental health morons and the rest of society would try a little compassion instead, people could feel better and start doing what they are capable of instead of making themselves sick trying to do what they aren't.

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