Help Yourself

“If you do become depressed there are several things you can do to help yourself and make the illness as short-lived as possible.”*

I read this in a book preparing women for pregnancy and childbirth. It is meant well. It introduces a section on self-care and avoiding or alleviating depression (including medical help), which goes on to dispel the myth of the ‘perfect mother’, but the tone of this statement rankled me.

Self-advocacy, expectation, and positive outlook do play an important role in mental health, but they only go so far.

If a woman is clinically depressed, no amount of happy thoughts will pull her out. No amount of pampering will soothe her. Strong and mighty though she may be, bent but not broken, she still needs more. Some sort of medical and/or therapeutic intervention.

Statements like this perpetuate the feeling of failure that women suffering from mental illness already feel. That there is something they failed to do, some step they missed or didn’t push hard enough to save themselves. To embrace life and joy.  And the idea that they’ve prolonged their misery by not making it as ‘short-lived as possible’ – argh!

Maybe I’m just cranky because it didn’t work for me. I know I’m reading this not as an objective observer or researcher, but as a severely chipped shoulder. But a lot of the literature I’ve found reads like it’s written by someone who’s too objective, like someone who views depression as a clear-cut, easily addressed condition.

Like someone who’s never been there.

from I’m Pregnant by Lesley Regan, MD; no disrespect to the author, this post represents my own subjective opinion on the topic.

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  1. I’m someone that has lived with bipolar disorder for more than fifty years, and there are still times that I’ll read or hear something that clearly demonstrates how little the general population understands what it’s like be clinically depressed. I tend to rankle a bit, too, when someone suggests, no matter how well-intentioned, that we should just dust ourselves off and get on with enjoying life. Even though their words are probably meant to offer encouragement or support, what I hear is someone saying that it’s my fault, and that I’m choosing to be mired in the darkness of depression. I try (really, I do) to understand that they simply don’t have an adequate frame of reference to understand the complexities of depression, but sometimes, despite my own knowledge of the subject, I still end up feeling even more isolated and shamed.

    I think that’s been the single most freeing thing I’ve learned about depression in these past fifty years. There are plenty of things in our lives we might have done to feel shame about, but being depressed is not one of them. On my better days, knowing this is true helps me keep moving forward.

    I’ve never personally experienced postpartum depression, although my daughter-in-law struggled with it for a long while. Their family lived with us during that time, so I witnessed what it can look like, and how difficult it can be to overcome. Especially when we have this idea in our heads of what it’s supposed to look like to be a good mother. The guilt and shame can be brutal. Thankfully, she sought medical help, and learned some coping techniques, and had plenty of family support, so things gradually improved.

    I understand about taking personal responsibility for guiding yourself through the journey of healing, but language suggesting we are obligated to “make it as short-lived as possible” does tend to sound accusatory, rather than supportive. Just one opinion, among many.

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    • Jennifer Butler Basile

       /  February 25, 2015

      This is amazing insight. Knowledge vs. feeling is a hard balance. Intention vs. experience as well. Not feeling shame over depression is a huge victory. Did it take all fifty years to get to that point?! 🙂

      Much love. Thank you for your comment.

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