Tuesday, 25 August 2015


OK, I thought there is a place to put my thoughts together on what this actually means. Some of these have been written elsewhere, but it is a personal perspective.

1. Don't ask "why are you depressed?" It is a meaningless question. Why do you have a cold? Why do you have poor taste in clothing? For me, there is probably a genetic disposition, and there have been events that have knocked my brain into a different state. None of which answers "why?" to me or to anyone else. I wish I knew, because I could then sort it out. But it is not a rational decision or choice. It is an illness, an aspect of my broken body.

2. "A depressive" vs "have depression". My son has diabetes, and I was once told off for saying that he was "a diabetic", because that shouldn't define him. Rather, I should say that he has diabetes. While it is true that his illness doesn't entirely define him, something that should involve testing and injecting 4-5 times a day, avoiding sugary food and drink, and meaning he cannot walk as well as he could does pretty well define his life and activity. It is an all-encompassing aspect of him, 24/7, and something he cannot get away from.

In the same way, for example, that I am a Christian. It is not something that just impacts me some of the time - it is not just about what I do on Sundays. My faith is an integral part of me every day, in all I do. I cannot escape it for a while, and I do not expect to ever grow out of it: even if I do, its reality over so much of my life is permanent. And the same is true of my depression, in a more negative way. It is permanent, it is always an aspect of my life, and I do not expect to leave it behind permanently. So I am a depressive. I am a Christian. I am a parent. None of these totally defines me, but they are quite fundamentally part of who I am. Rewording it does not help.

3. You cannot recognise a depressive. It is easy to assume that the grumpy, miserable person at work is most likely to be depressed. You may well be wrong - they might just be a grumpy, miserable person with poor social skills (in my business, that is quite likely). If you want to find the depressed person at work, look for the lively one, the chatty one, the one who is always joking. They are as likely to be suffering from depression at any particular time. Many people manage their illness well, and are not obviously "depressed", but that does not mean that they are not suffering. Very many depressives cannot talk about their feelings, their illness, how they are at any particular time. Just because someone appears fine, or says they are fine, doesn't mean diddly squat.

4. Sometimes, depression means that I feel miserable. Sometimes, it means that I have to struggle to get out of bed in the morning. Other times, it means that I am out of bed easily in the morning, because I haven't slept well, and am awake early. Always, it means that the basics of life are a struggle. Always, every day. Much of the time, I have coping mechanisms and the medication help to enable me to get through the day. But "getting through the day" does not mean that I am not struggling through it all. The fact that I am high functioning" means that I can achieve some things that others cannot - working and studying for a PhD at the same time. But that does not mean that getting up and going out for a walk is not a huge burden at times.

5. Suicidal thoughts and feelings are a constant companion. Now before you call the doctor, this does not mean that I am suicidal all of the time. It means that the nagging thoughts and ideas are always there. Sometimes, in all honesty, they are welcome thoughts, because life seems to be too much. But mostly, they are annoying distractions making me struggle even more with life. I live with thoughts in my mind that many others would find extremely upsetting. I am numb to them, but it doesn't mean they are not still distracting, tempting. It is just another thing that some of us have to deal with constantly.

6. Yes, it is a real illness. Just because you cannot see anything wrong, doesn't mean it is "all in my mind". Well it is, but not in the sense of being made up. I realise that there is nothing physical that you can see, but that does not mean that it is not real. It is real, and it is disabling, because it breaks my ability to think straight and clearly. This impacts my ability to do anything. People who assume it is not a "real" illness tend to be people who don't suffer from mental illness. Just because it is not visible, just because it is not clearly and fully understood does not mean it is not real.

7. I am sorry if you don't like this, but there is no cure for many mental illnesses. There are treatments, and these are effective and important. Treatments help us to cope with life with a mental illness, and sometimes they enable us to live and cope while the brain cures itself. There are forms of treatment like CBT can change our way of thinking, but these are also life-long treatments - the fact that they are not pills does not really make a difference.

I have said it before, but God does not heal most mental illnesses most of the time. This is not to either deny that He might on occasions, but that the answers to mental illness are not to be prayed about and that is it. Prayer does help, mainly because events do cause problems, and prayer for help through these times helps and is important. I would LOVE God to cure me of my depression. However, I don't expect it, because it is far more complex, it is intimately engaged with who I am. God made me like this, and to take it away would change who I am - the good as well as the bad.

8. "You would feel better if you lost some weight". Or whatever. Yes, I know. Of course, the reason I have a weight problem is that I eat when I am depressed. So going on a diet might make me feel better in the longer term, but in the shorter term, I will struggle to cope. For others, it is the same story, but sometimes with other problems. We do have a tendency to do things that are not good for us, and we know about it. The think is, if I ate less, and my depression was better, I would be better.

9. I am not dangerous. Well, I could be if I hear too much rubbish about mental health problems and the people who suffer from them. There are some important statistics to understand: some one in three people suffer from mental health problems. This means that one could expect one in three people involved in violent crime would have mental health problems. In fact, there are all sorts of reasons why this figures is higher, but connection does not imply causality - or not necessarily in the direction indicated.

In truth, people with mental health problems are often involved in crimes and violent crimes especially, mainly because the support services for those with mental health issues often end up failing the suffering. But the idea that people with mental health problems are inherently dangerous is wrong. We are not, as a whole. Of course, there is a strong argument that some of the most psychotic, violent crimes are indications of mental health problems. But that is not an indication that people with mental health are inherently dangerous.

 So this is what I live with every day. This and more, and I fight through it, and live a reasonably normal life. So, of course, when I can do no more, I am just lazy, using my illness as an excuse. Sigh.

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