With my sort-of abundance of down time at work, I peruse a lot of blogs and websites. A lot of the blogs I read are written with women in mind (like Jezebel, although I don’t read Jezebel). I’m not going to name them, because I think the subject matter of this post is a little bit sensitive, and I’m not trying to insult anyone.
I’ve noticed lately on many of these blogs that women (and I don’t mean to be sexist – maybe it happens with men too? But I haven’t seen it) often talk about being depressed. Which is nice in a way – a lot of people suffer from depression, whether it’s the serious clinical sort, or a milder version. It’s nice to know you’re not alone and that other people have the same struggles you do.
My problem is the drama with which a lot of these posts/articles are written. I wish I had a nickel for every time I read something like, “My Cat Saved My Life,” or something similar, about how someone was in the throes of depression but the fact that their cat/dog/fish needed them was enough to convince them that life is worth living. If you’re really that depressed, will a dog or cat really be the thing that pulls you back from the edge? I don’t have a pet, so maybe I just don’t know, but if it were really that simple, then depression would be cured. It feels like an insult to people who are truly, clinically, biologically depressed to have these drama queens trivialize something that is quite serious. Am I saying that these people are not really depressed, but maybe just overly self-indulgent and mopey? Yes, perhaps that is what I’m saying.
I am not very sympathetic to depression. That makes me sound like an asshole, and a lot of times, I am. I think I have depressive tendencies. I think that, biologically speaking, it runs in my family – I see it in my Mom and one of my uncles. But I learned a long time ago how to mitigate it by staying active (yay, endorphins!) and pep talking myself off the ledge when needed. I have been told that I’m very strong mentally, and that I often judge other people based on that, which isn’t really fair. Maybe it isn’t. But I think a lot of people are probably like me, and just need to put some energy into pulling themselves out of a funk instead of wallowing in it. There are people who legitimately need help and are incapable of pulling themselves out of it. The rest of us carrying on for no good reason truly belittles what those other people are going through.
I had the amazing benefit of having had my incredible grandfather as a part of my life for over 35 years. He was almost 97 when he died, and pretty much to the end, he would bounce around with a laugh and a smile. This sounds like I’m over-exaggerating and simplifying his existence, but his motto was, “Always laugh!” Seriously, he said this to us constantly, not just when we were little, but up until the end. He never let anything bother him, and he always looked at life through very rose-colored glasses. We credit that to being the reason that he lived so long. It’s hard not to let that philosophy rub off on you. Why mope around all the time when you can just be happy? It’s not really that difficult. In fact, it’s far easier to be happy than it is to be pissed off or sad about something.
One of my favorite pieces of advice from my grandfather came somewhere in the year or two before he died. I was home for a visit, and he was over for dinner. We were hanging around talking, and he’d had maybe a glass or two of red wine. He turned and looked at me, and out of the crystal clear blue, said this: “You know how sometimes in life, you think something is bad and you get upset? Well you should cheer up, because it’s not that bad!” At that point, I’d had a few glasses of wine myself, so I think I just smiled and nodded and said, “OK!” or something similarly non-committal. I don’t think I knew what he was talking about at first. He’d said it to me as though we’d been in the middle of a conversation, not as though it was the complete non sequitur that it was. I reflected on it later, and have reflected on it many times since, and have deemed it to be sort of brilliant. Whatever it is that’s bumming you out, cheer up!! It’s not so bad.
My family does this thing I can’t stand, where they often minimize anything you’re upset about by pointing out everyone in the world who has it worse off than you do. It’s annoying because it can really invalidate your feelings when you have every right to feel sad or angry. But the one benefit of this skewed family philosophy is that it can give you a huge dose of perspective. A few years ago when I was in the hospital with an ITP flare up, they put me on the Cancer floor. It was kind of depressing, but more than that, it made me grateful that what I was dealing with was small potatoes compared to what these other people were going through.
I’m not trying to trivialize depression. I think it is a very serious thing. But I also think people are starting to throw the concept around a little bit loosely these days, which doesn’t help anyone. Do not let depression be confused with being in a crappy mood because it’s dark out at 5 PM or because life isn’t going 100% your way. You are not depressed, you just need some perspective. And perhaps a pet (apparently, they are life saving).