When you live with depression and anxiety experts aren’t always what they seem.
In 1996 (or there about) prior to being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, I was desperate for answers to my symptoms.
I wrote in my book A Diary of Secrets that I tried everything from Zen to Yoga to Positive Mantras and everything between. I was so desperate and at the same time unwilling to accept that medication may be my only answer, I struggled on in the hope of finding a miracle.
As with all emotional health illnesses there was no lack of advice from friends and family. Lots of loving and well-meaning people who only wanted for me to feel well again were full of helpful information and tips. One particular friend, who had a relative who’d been greatly helped by a local doctor, suggested that I might benefit from seeing him too.
So I did.
Mr. Wonderful went with me to see Dr. Jones-Smith (not his real name) and we spent some time in his office detailing my anxiety and depression symptoms and how they were debilitating me. We talked about how the world I’d established in terms of career, home, children and finances was crumbling and how I no longer knew what to do. And, his response…
“There’s no use complaining. You’ve obviously overcommitted yourself financially and now you’re paying the price.”
Frankly, I expected Mr. Wonderful to slide across that doctor’s desk and body slam him into the wall behind. But instead we quietly left the doctor sitting behind his big fancy desk with all his big fancy letters in his big fancy frames.
Snot ran down my face and mingled with the endless tears I’d already cried. My head hurt, my eyes stung and my tummy, ready to heave.
This moron who erroneously described himself as a doctor, made an almost unforgivable (all mistakes are forgivable) blunder in the ‘unhelpful things to say to someone with an emotional illness’. The mistake placed him in the Diary’s Hall of Fame for what not to say!
There are a couple of things that perturb me about that advice.
- Mr. Wonderful (not his real name) and I were completely ignorant of the illness I had and were relying on this ‘expert’ to provide a considered medical opinion. Which he was neither qualified or knowledgeable enough to do.
- I already believed Mr Wonderful (still not his real name) was suspicious that I had simply decided I didn’t want to go to work. As a consequence Doctor Stupidhead (his real name)‘s opinion only added to Mr. Wonderful’s suspicion and distress about whether I was just ‘being silly’.
- I was placed in a position that aggravated my symptoms because I tried pushing myself to do the impossible only because I was told my symptoms were a result of my choices. I became more distressed and more frustrated and more scared. Instead of my life being a train wreck, it had become the Hiroshima of mental health.
So why is it that a member of the medical fraternity can make such an error in attempting to assist patients with emotional symptoms? Why do they assume that the circumstances create the illness rather than the other way around?
The main thing that happens as our symptoms begin to manifest is we look for a way to justify our feelings. I’ve said before that when we feel like we have a virus or bacterial infection we immediately begin to wonder about where we got it. We think through all the events in the day, where we went and who breathed on us.
When you start to feel a bit sad you begin to think about what might be making you feel down. You feel anxious and you think about what is making you stressed. When the simple truth is most likely (except in the case of ‘justifiable’ events) that the chemicals produced by your body are not being produced in the correct amounts. This means that there is nothing you can do but wait for your body to recover.
And, when I refer to justifiable events, there are always things that will cause our chemicals to be produced in the quantities required to initiate an appropriate response to our circumstances. For most people, once the chemicals are no longer required our body will revert to “usual” production and processing. It’s a bit like Santa’s workshop. Throughout the year, toy production is performed at a consistent pace but the closer it gets to Christmas the busier things become as Santa and the elves get ready for their 1 annual extravaganza! Then, when all the toys have been delivered, things return to normal for the elves.
We are so wrapped up in something external to ourselves being the cause of all our problems that we forget we are organic beings that are subject to entropy and decay. Our pursuit of reason, overrides our pursuit of contentment and joy. (I should know, I’m a serial reasoner!) As a consequence, we’re more likely to be distressed by our circumstances than content in our achievements.
For me, this is a daily battle. For all intents and purposes I am a high aspiring, high achiever. However when I’m in the agony of my illness, I have no capacity to consider that I am anything but a crazy woman who loves puppies! And, it’s from that perspective that I view the world whilst my body works through whatever it’s dealing with. (Notwithstanding that my capacity to think isn’t affected, it’s only how I see myself.)
Frankly, I’d prefer that there were external reasons for what my body does to me. I could ‘reason’ that once the reason is gone I should feel better. But this is not the case. It’s simply a matter of the right medication, time and being gentle with myself that ultimately brings me back to homeostasis where, I can begin to see myself as others do.
Did I bring this debilitating disease on myself by being a high achiever? Absolutely not! Was that doctor a moron? Yep! And if you ever hear “you brought this on yourself” feel free to ignore it. There’s really only one way to cause an emotional health illness in yourself. Illicit drug use. And even then, it’s arguable that the drug use is a side affect of an existing chemical imbalance.
Frankly, even if it was our own fault, it wouldn’t make any difference. The doctor may as well of told me “I’m not going to treat your type 2 diabetes because its your fault that you ate too many chocolates”! (I don’t have type 2 diabetes, just in case you were wondering!)
So today’s lesson in “unhelpful things to say to someone living with depression and anxiety” is that doctors aren’t always the exerts they might appear and that it’s unlikely someone living with depression and anxiety did anything to bring it on themselves.
From some guy named Al McGuire: Remember, half the doctors in this country graduated in the bottom half of their class.
Deb Shugg is an awarded businesswoman, wife & mother, author and a sufferer of depression and anxiety. To contact Deb click here.
If you need help to deal with your symptoms see your doctor.
If you need to talk to someone NOW call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
(Abuse of another person is NEVER okay. If you are being abused or, if you are an abuser please seek help.)