Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Lies People Believe About Depression

So here's the thing, fellow digressors: there's a reason why this blog is called 'Digressions of a Demented Scribe'. Several reasons, actually. You've probably picked up on several of them, if not all. I am a highly random person who's just as likely to bring up Messy Mondays, Doctor Who, or the weather in Afghanistan as she is to talk about how her day went on her blog. I have a chronic, neurological disease that messes with my head and gives me such things as photophobia (no, I'm not afraid of light; it just hurts my eyes sometimes), neuropathy (like pins and needles in the hands and feet), neurological tics (that's a new one; I keep randomly jerking my head back and forth), anxiety, and depression. 

One one accepts the idea that Lyme is a real disease, and that it can be chronic (and believe me, not everyone is willing to accept that), most of these are readily forgiven. People understand that, if microscopic parasites have gotten into your bloodstream and made their way to your brain and throughout your nervous system, things are going to get a little wacky. Heads might jerk, light might sting, and it might get uncomfortable to walk. But things like depression and anxiety are often stigmatized, and are widely misunderstood, even if they come about in relation to a separate, officially diagnosed issue. Depression in itself is a diagnosable, treatable problem, but all the same, there are a number of lies that people in general tend to believe about it, whether they pay lip-service to those lies or whether they just hold them in the back of their minds as "something I heard from some knowledgeable friend once." 

So, without further ado, here are a few... 

Lies People Believe About Depression (Debunked) 

Depression is just a bad mood that comes and goes. 

Depression is more than just a bad mood, though such moods are common when the disease is present, due to a low amount of serotonin and other mood-regulating or pleasure-related chemicals in the brain. In fact, sometimes it is not a mood or a feeling at all, but an absence of feeling, and absence of pleasure or of the ability to appreciate what once made a person happy. It may frequently involve tears and guilt and a crushing feeling of hopelessness that strips you of everything you are. But oftentimes, it may keep you chained to your bed, or sitting in a chair in your room, staring at a blank wall or an empty page, struggling to feel, to remember what it might have been like to experience joy, or excitement, or even pain or sadness. It is more than a sadness -- it is a loss of self. And although the intensity of one's "bad mood" may rise and fall, that pervasive sense of being different, of being a non-self without the ability to "fix" oneself, or to even remember who that "self" was before depression, persists. 

Depression has no physical symptoms, and is not a viable disease. 

Clinical depression is a highly researched disease with multiple neurological symptoms, and is often made marginally more bearable through treatments and activities that promote the production of healthy chemicals in the brain, although this is only a temporary "fix" meant to help with day-by-day coping, not a cure. It can affect not only one's mood, but also sleep cycles, concentration, energy levels, body weight, and even a tendency towards substance abuse and other self-destructive behaviors (usually as methods of coping or escape). Genetics can also play a role -- some people carry a gene that makes them more likely to suffer from depression or a similar disorder, and this can be passed on to their offspring. Therefore, depression often runs in families, though severity may vary between affected family members. 

Depression impacts nothing beyond a person's basic mood swings. It does not interfere significantly with its victims' lives. 

Among the many documented symptoms of depression are fatigue, lack of focus, severe loss of motivation (to the point where some severe sufferers lose even the will to leave their beds in the morning), and a loss of interest in activities that would normally be pleasurable. I realize I am repeating myself here, but one of the major points here is that depression is not just a mood -- it is a disease, and it should be taken seriously. 

Depression is a choice people make. If they would just try harder, smile more, make an effort to think more positively, exercise more, etc., they could snap out of it. 

Sorry, no. While some of these suggestions might help to alleviate symptoms temporarily (for example, exercise has been proven to release pleasure-related chemicals in the brain of which the sufferer is usually deprived, and promotes health overall), they do not cure depression. A person with hypoglycemia needs frequent blood-sugar-boosting foods to keep them going, but the foods do not cure the hypoglycemia. They are necessary, yes, as exercise and other such things are necessary to someone with depression, but they do not cure the root problem. You would not give a hypoglycemic person a big jar of nuts and say, "Here you go -- you're cured. Now you don't have to worry about that pesky hypoglycemia anymore." Would you? Of course not. It might help deal with their deficiency in the short term, but their blood sugar will run low again when the nuts run out, because that is the nature of their condition. Likewise, you can do things to temporarily boost a depressed person's mood, but eventually the high will wear off. The disease is still there. That does not make the mood-boosters unnecessary or irrelevant, but it does mean that they will not be sufficient to cure the person of their issues on a permanent basis. 

Depression sufferers are selfish and immature because they choose to wallow in self-pity and bring down the moods of everyone around them. 

Most (if not all) depression sufferers actively spend their days battling with their own minds in an attempt to think positively. They are constantly bombarded with thoughts of, "You're pathetic. What's the point? Nobody likes you. Your life stinks. You stink. You should just lock yourself in your room and never come out again. You're a freak. You shouldn't even be talking to normal people. This is all your fault. You should be able to just walk out there and be normal." To even make the effort to leave one's room and participate in normal activities often takes tremendous effort, and is exhausting for the person battling them. Personally, I sometimes find myself telling my brain out loud to shut up and leave me alone. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. The point is, if people with depression always wallowed in self-pity and made no effort to push past the thoughts their brains manufactured for them, you would never see any of them (us) out of their (our) rooms or even attempting to do anything or to interact with people. If they let their brains win, they might not even live long enough for you to realize they were depressed. They are far from selfish pity-party-throwers -- they are warriors. And their private war should be respected, as hard as it may be to relate to something you cannot always see from the outside. 

Depression sufferers are just lazy and looking for an excuse to get out of work, school, etc. 

Depression sufferers would like nothing more than to be healthy and happy, and to move on with their lives just like the 'normal people'. They want to succeed and to be treated with the same respect as everyone else, and most of them work hard to earn that respect. I have never met one who did not wish they could just be normal and happy like everyone else. I've never met one depressed person who said, "Hey, this depression thing is really convenient. Now I have an excuse to lie around and do nothing all day." It just doesn't happen. If someone with depression appears to be lazy and unmotivated, it is only because they are exhausted and find the idea of doing anything productive daunting beyond belief. 

People with depression are insecure attention-seekers who need to get ahold of themselves. 

It is true that depression sufferers tend to be insecure, but very few actually seek attention unless they are truly desperate and don't know any other way to get help. Most live their lives in fear that those they know will discover the darkness of their inner lives and reject them. People with depression also tend to see themselves as burdens on those they love, and are particularly sensitive to rejection. As such, they do their best to hide their problems with others and appear as "normal" as possible, but when your mind insists on assaulting you on a regular basis, sometimes acting normal is impossible. 

People who try to express or alleviate their depressive symptoms through such destructive behaviors as cutting, eating disorders, drug abuse, etc., are freaks to be shunned, and will obviously go to Hell for making these choices. 

Okay, no. Just no. Where did this idea even originate? True, self-destructive behaviors are terrible things to adopt, and might even be categorized as sin by some, but nothing is beyond the grace of God. I mean, think about it -- God forgave and redeemed Saul of Tarsus, a man who built his reputation on his religious supremacy and persecution of Christ-followers. (Read the book of Acts. Saul is mentioned a couple of times in reference to the stoning of Stephen in chapters 5-7, but much of his story starts in chapter 9.) In fact, Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul, one of the most faithful and effective witnesses for Christ ever to be seen. His crimes before coming to Christ were despicable, and I'm sure many believed he had no chance of redemption, but God worked through him nonetheless, and his mistakes now serve as a testament to us of how great God is and how mighty He is to save those who come to Him for forgiveness. 

So taking this into account, in what context can we assume that any person engaging in any behavior (no matter where their sins may fall on our scale of sinfulness) is past redemption? And beyond this, when is it okay to tell someone desperate enough to engage in self-destructive behaviors in an attempt to cope that they are irredeemable freaks unworthy of "righteous" people's attention? People who engage in self-destructive behaviors, while they may sometimes be crying for help with their actions, tend to engage in such behaviors as either a form of self-punishment, a release of tension, to make themselves feel again when depression has numbed them, or as a way to escape from the pain of their everyday lives. They are complex individuals created by God and loved infinitely by Him, and they are in pain. Excruciating pain. Pain so bad that they feel they need to hurt themselves just to survive. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it's common. And it is not your place, not my place, not anyone's place, to judge them. It is our place to love them and to do everything we can to help them deal with the problem behind these behaviors. You've heard that you can't treat the symptoms and ignore the disease and expect the patient to make a full recovery. Well, there you go. 

Depression is a character flaw, and proof that the sufferer doesn't really trust God like they should. 

Depression is a mental disease. It is neurological. It is perpetual. It is torturous and paralyzing. It is not a choice. It is not a mere state of mind. And it is not a sin. And for more on the subject of whether suffering is the result of a lack of trust in God, check out the book of Job. Seriously. Go look it up. Right now. Throughout the book, Job was judged and condemned by advisors who believed that his suffering was the result of some hidden sin, when all the while it was a test. It had nothing to do with Job's sins or with any lack of love for or trust in God. It had everything to do with putting the trust and love he had to the test, and proving just how strong and true it really was. Even when Job did not understand what was going on, even when he wished for death and questioned why God had brought it upon him, still he trusted that God was there, and glorified Him even when he didn't feel like doing it. Job did nothing to deserve his suffering. Likewise, whatever mistakes a person with depression may have made in their life, their depression should never be assumed to be a symptom of any hidden sin or lack of trust in God. Again, it is not our place to judge -- it is our place to accept people as they are, to acknowledge their pain without condemning them for it, and to love as God loves us. 

Depression is a temporary phase, and not to be taken seriously. 

Clinical depression, by its very definition, is a medical condition which can last months, years, or even for a person's entire life. It can severely impair its victims' ability to function and associate with others, or even to take care of themselves, and it drives some to take their own lives, either intentionally or by accident while engaging in self-destructive behaviors such as those listed above. And the longer it is left alone, the worse it gets. 

If someone with depression seems to have several good days and acts "normal" for longer than usual, this is a sign that their depression is gone, and should no longer be acknowledged as a reality. 

Sometimes people with depression have good days. They might even have an entire week of being able to behave normally, and those who are especially good at acting might be able to pass as a healthy individual for even longer. These highs, while enjoyable and encouraging, do not last forever, and often the depressed person may feel even worse when the high crashes, due to profound feelings of disappointment, fear, and guilt because they thought they were getting better. They truly want to be happy and healthy, as stated above, and when a high crashes, the loss of that empowering feeling may make the sufferer feel as though they have lost control. However, they may continue to fake the high so as not to disappoint their loved ones. In this way, the friends and family of depression sufferers are often left in the dark by a well-meaning person who only wants to spare them the hurt which the sufferer himself/herself bears every day and night. 

If you discover that someone you know is depressed, you should ignore their complaints and divert the conversation whenever possible. They will cheer up eventually on their own as long as no-one fosters their negativity. 

If you discover that someone you know is depressed, support them. Yes, cheering them up can sometimes be helpful (depending upon the person and how severe their depression is), and dwelling on the negative aspects of life can certainly be harmful. But what this person needs from you now is not just a pep talk, not just a cheery conversation about the weather or a TV show -- they need an ally, someone they know will be there no matter how rough things get, someone they can trust with their deepest insecurities. They need you to be the voice of sympathy and reason that does battle with the voices of insecurity and hopelessness that scream at them at all hours of the day. They need to feel that they can express their feelings and seek your help without being judged for what they say or do. Basically, actions speak louder than words, and your actions, whatever their nature, will positively scream your intentions in times like these. 

If depression is not a character flaw, then it must be the result of sin. Therefore, depression sufferers should be confronted and judged until they realize the error of their ways. 

Let's just start here: "Judge not, lest ye be judged." (Matthew 7:1, KJV) We already looked at the book of Job and discussed how suffering is not necessarily the result of sin or of a lack of trust in God. Suffering is a natural part of living in this sin-cursed world of ours. But even if it were the result of a person's own private sin, that is between them and God. Again, it is not your job to judge them. It is your job to love them. Yes, encourage them to think of good things. Gently encourage them to abstain from behaviors which harm themselves and others. Be honest, but also be loving. And in the case of depression, recognize the tremendous measure of strength it takes just to get through each day while suffering from this crippling disease. The error of their ways? Your friend, family member, etc. deserves a great big hug just for getting out of bed today, just for drawing breath again and again despite what their brain might try to make them do. Remember, you are not them. You do not know how they feel or what they are going through. You are in no position to judge them. 

And now, here's a big one: 

Depression sufferers are weak. 

No. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. 

And again, just to clarify: NO. 

Try this: Imagine the person you trust most is standing in front of you, the person whose ideas tend to most often match your own, whose opinion you value above all others. Now imagine that they're spouting out lies about you, horrible lies that tear you down and strip away whatever dignity you might have had previously. Now imagine they're sitting on your shoulders, and that you're forced to carry their weight all day, every day, and that they keep whispering these horrible lies while you try to sleep at night. They repeatedly tap your head in the most irritating and distracting way, making it impossible to focus, and whenever you try to do anything enjoyable or productive, they scream the futility of your actions into your ear, and don't quiet down until you give up and go back to bed. Then they just go back to whispering. You try to shake them off, but every attempt just makes them grab on more tightly. It's as if they're stuck to you with Gorilla glue, and it takes more energy than it's worth to pry them loose, so after the first couple of days, you just give up and try to ignore them. 

And they blame you for all of it. 

Over time, you begin to realize that this is not a person on your back -- it is a monster, and it's digging its claws into you, especially into your head. It makes it hard to sleep at night, and hard to get up in the morning, and what seemed like just a set of hurtful annoyances on the first day becomes a terrible routine and soon, you start to believe that all this is somehow your fault. You deserve this. Maybe those things the monster is saying about you really are true. Maybe nothing you do has a point. Maybe there's not really glue sticking them to you; by now, you should have just been able to shake them off and move on with your life. But they're still there. So now you believe you are a pathetic weakling who deserves all this distraction, discouragement, etc., just by nature of the fact that you're not able to get rid of this horrible, destructive person on your own. 

Congratulations. You've just gotten a tiny glimpse of what it's like to live with clinical depression. 

Now imagine that everyone around you sees you limping along with this leech on your back, but either they cannot see your burden, or they choose to ignore it, despite any pleas you may manage to communicate to them. And they start spouting things at you: 

"It's just a bad mood. You'll be fine." 

"Something on your back? Of course not. It's all in your head." 

"This isn't going to affect your work, is it?" 

"You know, if you would just straighten up and smile more, you'd forget all about that imaginary monster on your back." 

"How can you be so selfish? You should be running alongside all the rest of us, not asking for help with some little pest that's supposedly on your back. Shut up and man up." 

"You're just doing this to get a break from work/school/chores, aren't you?" 

"Sheesh, quit whining so much. It's not like you really have anything to complain about. Get ahold of yourself. You wouldn't even have these problems if you'd just stop complaining so much." 

"If there really is something on your back, it must mean God is punishing you. You're such a horrible person." 

"You're such a weakling."  

How do you think you would feel? 

I hope this post has been helpful in debunking a few of the common myths regarding depression. My intent is not to antagonize anyone, but simply to shed some light on a commonly misunderstood condition and help those who know and love someone with depression be better equipped to understand and help them. 

If you are depressed and thinking about hurting yourself, or are already engaged in some self-destructive behavior, I urge you to seek help. Talk to a parent, a trusted friend, a doctor or your pastor, but realize that you do not have to deal with this alone. Even if you have difficulty finding the support you need in your immediate group of friends and family, there are other options. Sites such as IMAlive allow you to chat instantly with someone who is trained in crisis intervention and wants desperately to help you through this, and the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline can be reached at 1 (800) 273-8255. And above all else, remember that you are a unique human being created by God, loved infinitely by Him, and with a purpose in life far beyond anything you can see right now. However hopeless things might seem right now, you are not alone, and there is always hope. The next time you feel weak or worthless or like no-one cares, place your hand over your chest and feel your heartbeat, how it's still going despite everything that has happened to keep you from making it to today. And remember that Jesus Christ came to earth to give His life for you, to take your sins and pay for them with His own blood, because HE LOVES YOU. And no disease, no mistake you've made, nothing anyone else says can change that. 

Thanks for reading. Oh, yeah -- and Merry Christmas. I ought to make an effort to post something a bit more cheery before Christmas comes tomorrow. Is it tomorrow already? Wow. That's close. And guess what, you out there still reading this? You made it this far. Now keep holding on, and celebrate Christ's birth, death, and resurrection with me and everyone else who remembers the true meaning of the holiday. He came for you, you know. Christmas happens because God loved you enough to send His only son for you. I think that's something worth celebrating, don't you? 

But, of course... I digress. 

No comments:

Post a Comment