Other People’s Judgements About Our Depression

We all dish out opinions and advice whether asked for or not.

Much of it harmless; some, necessary and kind.

Then there’s those we dole out without knowing what the hell we’re talking about. Where we should tread carefully, we lumbar.

For better or worse, there’s tremendous power in words we use to express our opinions.  When vulnerable – as we are during depression – the critical or misguided words of others take on the ring of gospel truth. Some may blame us for our depression.

In one poll, 54% of Americans said they thought of depression as a “personal or emotional weakness”.  This explains much of stigma surrounding not only depression but all mental illness.

In a recent survey, what do 43.8 percent of women state as the Number 1 reason for not telling someone they were depressed?

“Others would think I am weak or think less of me.

What do 57 percent state as their Number 1 reason?

“I believe I will get over it by myself”, followed by the same reason as women, the fear of being seen as weak, at 32 percent.

In the book, Unholy Ghosts: Writers on Depression, author Susanna Kaysen writes:

“The Failure of Will theory is popular with people who are not depressed. Get out and take your mind off yourself, they say. You’re too self-absorbed. This is just about the stupidest thing you can say to a depressed person, and it is said every day to depressed people all over this country. And if it isn’t that, it’s, shut up and take your Wellbutrin. These attitudes are contradictory. Conquer Your Depression and Everything Can Be Fixed by the Miracle of Science presuppose opposite explanations of the problem. One blames character, the other neurotransmitters. They are often thrown at the sufferer in sequence: Get out and do something, and if that doesn’t work, take pills. Sometimes they’re used simultaneously: You won’t take those pills because you don’t WANT to do anything about your depression, i.e. Failure of Will.”

Some just don’t think of it as the illness it is, but an excuse not to work hard.

Years ago, when I first told my three law partners that I was diagnosed with major depression and would need to take time off from work.  They sat there stunned. After a moment of awkward silence, one partner said, “What in the world do you have to be depressed about? You’ve got a great job, wife, family and friends. Take a vacation!”

His anger humiliated me.  “What’s wrong with me?” I thought.

I later learned that his reaction was, sadly, all too common. His judgment was that a lack of gratefulness was at the root of my distress. If only I jetted to Florida and sat under a palm counting my blessings, I would be depression-free.

For some time, these types of comments hurt me.  They made me feel less-than. But after a while, they often made me angry. I thought, “What the hell do I have to do to be worthy of their mercy?” In retrospect, it wasn’t a question of my worthiness, but their ignorance. They didn’t have an emotional reference point for depression. They thought of it as stress, or, at worst, a bit of burnout.  I recall a surgeon friend of mine (you would think that he, as a medically trained person, would know better!) telling me I was just in a “funk.” And then he said, “You want to see people who really have a right to be depressed?  You should see the poor people with little money take two bus rides just to get to my office!”

Another painful innuendo.  I had no right to be depressed, he must have thought.  I was an upper-middle class professional, after all.

Some people (friends, family and business associates) will never be able to overcome the inertia of their own ignorance. They’re not bad people. It’s just the way life is. And we have to learn to be okay with that.

One of my best friends who has struggled with depression the past five years is frustrated by his wife’s lack of interest in talking to him about his depression.  “Why doesn’t she love me, Dan?”  “It’s not that she doesn’t love you,” I replied.  “It might just be that she’s not capable of understanding in the way you want her to.”

But then there are others. These precious souls – and there don’t have to be lots of them – who have our back. They truly want to understand and help. Mother Teresa was once asked by a hard-boiled reporter what God expects of humanity. I think the reporter expected some stock answer. Mother Teresa, in all her gracious dignity, said that all God really wants from us to be is a “loving presence” to one another. There are those in our lives who want to be that presence to us.

Give them the chance to be that light.


Kristin Bell, Chris Evans and What Happens When Celebrities Talk About Anxiety and Depression?

The Washington Post reports, “Mental-health issues have always been shrouded in stigma, despite data showing they affect about 18 percent of American adults. Because people tend to mimic the actions and opinions of celebrities they admire, interviews like Bell’s make a small dent in that stigma. Add her small dent to that of actor Chris Evans who, while promoting himself as the unshakable Captain America, discussed his anxiety in Rolling Stone magazine.” Read the News

A Message From A Colleague

I have a problem with depression. Some of the people in my life outside of work know about this. But because of my fear of encountering social stigma and causing damage to my career, I choose to be very private about this in my professional life. That tough and personal choice comes with a price, as being secretive with people that I spend so much time with puts an extra weight on me.  Nonetheless, it is my choice, for now anyway. Maybe one day I will be able to face my fears, I don’t know. stigma 1 I recently read Dan Lukasik’s article titled, “A Lawyer Breaks the Silence About Depression Among Lawyers”. I am not a lawyer, but as a professional, this article spoke to me. I’ve been tempted to break my silence in the workplace about my struggle with depression. Dan writes, “If I had been sick with cancer or suffered a heart attack, would I write it (an article about his experiences with depression while practicing law) anonymously?” So I asked myself, “Would I keep things like that a secret from my coworkers?” Probably not. But the thought of opening up about my problem with depression….now that gives me pause. A part of me does want to just let it out and be rid of this beast of a secret. I believe that being free from hiding might help me heal when I’m coming out of a depressive cycle. I also believe that in some cases, it’s fair to let others know what’s going on. I thought about it. If I did break my silence, I might feel relieved-right? It’s not like I would be facing ostracism-right? What I realized is that I’m not ready to find out the answers to those questions. While I have great admiration for those who speak up about depression, I’m not yet comfortable in crossing that threshold myself. I’m not ready to let the professional world know who I am. For now, I am going to take this opportunity to write some things about myself, anonymously. If you are a fellow sufferer, maybe you can identify with some of the things here. If you are not, perhaps you will gain some understanding about my problem with depression.

  • I have to write this anonymously. I truly hope that one day, this won’t be the case for myself and other professionals like me. But for now, I am unable to put that part of myself out there. I dread the misperceptions and the labels. I need to work.
  • I am not dangerous. Seriously, I feel bad using a fly swatter. I am no more of a threat than a coworker battling cancer or living with diabetes. The truth is that the only living being I have ever been a hazard to is myself.
  • I have willpower. When I look back at all the times I’ve sunk into the black hole of depression, I can’t believe I’m not dead. But somehow I’ve been able to crawl back out, somehow I’m here to write this.
  • I am in pain a lot of the time. It’s doubtful that anyone would know it by looking at me.
  • I get very sad sometimes, and I don’t always know why. This happens more often than I would like.  When it does, I can’t just “cheer up”. If I could, I would.
  • I am grateful, for the big things and the small. I really do recognize the blessings in my life. I am thankful for those who love me, for human kindness, for walks with my dogs, a fan on a hot day, a good book, homemade fruit smoothies, and so much more. I still have a problem with depression.
  • I have a sense of humor. I get it, I may sometimes come off as super serious. Please don’t write me off though. When I’m not living through a period of darkness, or treacherously close to one, I’m actually pretty good at finding humor in most situations.
  • I am not antisocial. Nor am I aloof. Yes, I sometimes gravitate towards isolating myself. Much of that comes from a paralyzing fear of exposing my problem. I’m working on that. The reality is that when I’m well, I love good company. I crave it.
  • I do take ownership of my condition. And, I’ve finally accepted that my condition will be a lifelong battle for me. I know it’s not healthy to wallow in self-pity, solely blaming genetics and a stressful childhood. I know I need to own it. Yes, I have had moments of weakness.
  • I am not the only one. I don’t have any research to share or stats to show on this, but I’ve lived long enough to know that there are others like me. Other professionals who suffer privately.  If you are one of them, you are not alone my friend.

So there it is. I’ve just said more about myself than I ever have, without actually revealing who I am. It’s the best I can do right now, and I think it is progress. I’ll take it. Thank you for reading, and maybe I’ll see you at work tomorrow. By Anonymous    

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