First off: let’s launch this locomotive by saying that depression is no longer a taboo topic. Statistics currently show that 1 in 10 Americans are affected by it, and over 80% of the people with clinical symptoms aren’t receiving specific treatment. Why is this? I think the pendulum has swung the other way too fast. Being a member of Generation X puts me in a unique position between the “we don’t talk about that” Greatest Generation and Baby Boomers and the “we talk about everything” Millennials. Depression has gone from unspoken to a cliché. My book Anywhere But Here was inspired by a dinner with an in-depth conversation about antidepressants. I was the only one of the four at the table that didn’t have depression!
My point: Before, people were embarrassed to talk about it. Now, everybody’s talking about it so much that we assume it’s normal and don’t worry about it. And if it isn’t the actual disease we talk about, then it’s the side effects of the medication because sadly, medications for emotional and mental issues aren’t as exact a science as antihistamines and antacids. What works for one doesn’t work for another, and it can take time and frequent adjustment of medications – enough that many people say “to hell with it.” They also say to hell with the cognitive therapy that they probably should be having, because medical doctors rarely recommend it. We want to think that a pill solves every ill, but the truth is that we need to do some work, and changing how you think is harder work that we want to do because it's convicting. It's admitting we're wrong (egads!). It's letting somebody who doesn't know us tell us things we don't know about ourself, which pisses us off because nobody wants anybody telling them what to do, and especially what to think. So most depression is only half treated at best, and not treated at all in most cases because we talk about it, but doing something is a whole other (hard) issue.
Second, let’s move to the boxcar that is social influence. I’ve read a quote attributed to Sigmund Freud: “before you diagnose yourself with depression make sure that you are not, in reality, surrounded by ***holes.” I went through a tough spell a few years ago, learned that peoples’ patience with struggle, pain and suffering outside of their “inner circle” has a short statute of limitations. Even in that circle, people wear out on pain other than their own fast. It wasn’t long before people were admonishing me to “get your crap together.” One person even told me I needed antidepressants, and quit speaking to me when I asked if that pill would improve their attitude, because they were part of the problem! At least they went away, which did help – no pill required. I have no evidence to back this up, but my 41 years of observation of human behavior have me guessing that Chris Cornell faced a lot of this attitude, because he was regarded as one of the most talented people in the grunge scene, and many of his interviews proved that he had a better grasp on life than many of his peers that didn’t last as long on planet Earth. He did, by all accounts, have his crap together, and was a highly regarded singer and artist, even outside of grunge – or so it seemed on the outside. Unfortunately, anxiety and depression prevent one from distinguishing reality from image, which takes me to:
Boxcar Two: reality is perception. We want to believe that what we see is real, but reality is perception, and everybody perceives differently. I saw one reaction to Cornell’s suicide where they said “I wish I had his problems!” That’s just it, though – we all have problems, and things affect everybody differently. I’ve seen people knocked out by things I barely batted an eye at, and I’ve had the rug jerked out from under me by things that other people said “oh, that’s all? Geeze! That’s nothing!” Unfortunately, we live in our own heads, there’s no way out of it, and our altruism is limited to our own thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. We want to believe that what we see is the truth, but that is almost never the case, and digging into that reality takes more time, patience, and mental energy than most of us have. I have to admit that I did relate to the “I wish I had his problems” quote because I’ve never had depression, so it’s impossible for me to imagine a problem that’s “the end of all ends” to justify suicide in this fickle world where things are one way one minute, and something else the next. I’ve lived long enough to see that nothing last forever, and have seen enough waves of C.S. Lewis’ “Law of Undulation” to not take things too hard for too long. Sure, I can see how the changing nature of the world and it’s definitions of success could be stressful to an artist like Cornell, but I thought he adapted well and was shocked by his suicide. But then again, that’s my perception. Another person may be reading this right now and saying “Sherri, you’re a jerk.”
The Caboose: They’d be right. But you know what? We’re all jerks, in one way or another. None of us are all one way, and none of us are perfect. Just as we’re smart in some ways and stupid in others, we’re also good in some ways, and those mean ***holes that Freud talked about in others. Sure, I’m a hard***, but it’s because I want people to do and be their best, and sometimes they need that extra push that others are too scared to give to drop the excuses and do what’s best or right. I don’t like to see people fail. If that pisses you off, well, I’m a jerk who doesn’t care if you get mad at me as long as you do what’s right. What do you expect? There have been plenty of adjectives to describe me, and “nice” has never been one of them. In fact, “interesting” has been the word of choice, and I’m ok with that because nobody likes boring or predictable. Choo choo. Coming in to our final destination --
And here, we disembark at “don’t blame it all on the brain” station. Depression is an awful thing that skews perception, but I think we’re too quick to blame everything on the disease when in fact, it’s one underlying factor. For all the statistics and suicide stories you hear, I personally know plenty of people who live with depression and have normal, healthy, successful lives because they want it bad enough to keep it from taking over. Sure, they have struggles, but they fight it and win every day, because they’re determined not to let a condition take over. Just like the rest of us, who manage conditions, trials, and struggles in our everyday life. But at least we know what depression isn't now - an excuse in and of itself, especially for the things we don't really want to face. The bottom line is that we all have problems. So what are you doing about it? Are you working to have your proverbial crap together? Are you supporting others on this journey with you? You don’t have to “get it;” you just have to acknowledge that the journey is hard for everybody in a unique way. And preferably, do it without being a jerk.
Yea, I guess I need to work on that.
That’s all today. Take care, and have a great week.