Robin Williams, please forgive me. I am going to inadvertently throw you under the bus. I loved you. I still do. I always will, though sometimes I admit. . .I turned away from you when you’d get manic on talk shows. When I was thirsty for “you”, it was too tough to watch you instead isolate in front of an audience. It is painful now to watch as we, your people, shower you with affection AFTER your darkest hour, and excruciating to see how we are using your death as a platform to discuss the thorns of the depression business.
I say “we” because I am climbing on that platform, too.
People are saying (everywhere) how dismissed it is as a disease. Insidious, destructive, misunderstood, but most of all dismissed. Dismissed because of the supposition that people who suffer from its jaws are mentally frail, maybe even lying. . .at the very least self-involved. We are demanding that more light shine on this disease, and asking that people do not vilify the sufferer.
More light?Is it really any less recognized as a disease than any other?
In terms of advertising, anti-depressant meds take up almost as much air time as headache and arthritis meds.. Bus riders in my city see posters advertising local therapy centers. Schools send home, along with how to notice ADD, documents to help parents/teachers notice depression among preteens, along with the suggestion to “speak with the child’s pediatrician” about these signs. The Golden Gate Bridge literally has a hotline in the middle of the bridge, with signs telling would be leapers to get help.
We do not come across as a nation that closets the topic of depression. If anything, we seem on the capitalistic side of it, perfectly willing to farm the profits of its biological effects, if we could just get all those obviously depressed folks to come in for help.
Therein lies the problem. Diagnosing the illness is often anecdotal, rather than medical. People aren’t sure, or maybe unwilling to see it in themselves. Even Williams in an interview years ago tried to shrug off the implications that he was mentally ill.
So what we really are complaining about isn’t depression being recognized as a disease. Instead, we are upset about how others feel about us and our depression stories.
Do you dislike Mike Douglas because he battles cancer, or Vice President Biden for his heart disease? How about Mary Tyler Moore for Diabetes? I am sure you might have felt pity for them or at least sympathy. But remember Steven Wright’s humor. . .the depressed guy gig, where he uses a flat voice, zero facial affect, and whines? Who wants to be around that?
I had a professor ten years ago who battled severe depression. She was extremely open about it. I felt for her because I suffer from depressive episodes related to PMDD. At least I know that in a few days I won’t want to toss myself off the top of any buildings anymore. I will want to climb out of bed with purpose again. . .
But then. . .I felt like every time Prof. So-and-so took three weeks grading our work, every time she missed a thesis meeting, every time she came late to class. . .her students got a play-by-play of her empty, mentally exhausting weekend. She would be prostrate, tearfully apologetic. But also. . .an eensy bit self-righteous. Who are you students to expect me in my depression to work!?
When I suffered from debilitating morning (read: 24/7) sickness with child two, my students certainly weren’t forgiving. Nonstop vomiting is no good excuse. When my best-friend is hospitalized with complications of her kidney transplant, people expect her work to be finished still. Cancer insurance exists to cover the costs of missing work while one undergoes chemotherapy, implying that no work, equals no pay. Yes, these are recognized diseases, but they come with expectations and not really all that much sympathy. Honestly, my diabetic friend learned long ago people don’t really want to talk about that either.
I, in fact, do not want people to talk to me only about my disability, and their interest is really limited.
So is it that people suffering from depression want more sympathy? More attention? More forgiveness? More sick days? Like I said, it’s not really like ANY disease gains that much acceptance or warmth from others.
But to concede, I know there is stigma. Teachers have to admit (and most do not) if they have ever been treated for depression on their applications. They also know to keep it to themselves if they seek treatment. (You’d better say you were seeking therapy for family counseling and not depression.). Everybody fears a teacher “going postal” at school, right? Infact, even the term “going postal” illustrates the ridicule that depression receives. It’s a term, coined by jokesters, about the worst results of depression. No one says, when a man dies of lung cancer, “He went all carcinogenic on us, man!” Noone mocks it. . .Unless, being depressed, the lung cancer patient shoots out the chemotherapy floor.
I have found that stigma tends to exist around two extremes: the unknown and the questionable common. Extremely rare birth defects, rare forms of cancer, injuries from strange events, like spontaneous bone breakage or flesh eating viruses freak people out. They rubberneck briefly, then disappear. But very common inflictions also make people uncomfortable if there is an “unsavory” or distasteful quality to it. Thus, HIV has stigma, breast cancer does not. Scabies, no stigma, crabs, yes. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome vs. Down’s syndrome. ADD. vs. Depression. One is okay and worth our sympathy. The other is too low to discuss. (Plus, the that is judged seems to have culpability attached to it. Or so, people think.)
So just what’s unsavory about depression really. Where’s the blame?
Frowns? Tears? Constant Criticism? Negative Outlook? Self involvement? Drug or alcohol abuse?
Worse. It’s Death by what we see as selfish choice.
Who are you to leave us hurting? Who are you to choose to leave the rest of us slogging through the daily sludge without you? Depression is so common, almost everyone will suffer from it some point, but we do not all succumb.
It’s the “I walked through ten miles of snow up hill in my bare feet every day to go to school” mentality of the rest of the world that keeps depression dirty.