Depression – The things you shouldn't say – 1…

When you live with depression and anxiety it seems everyone has an idea.

In the years since I first started experiencing symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder I’ve received more advice, attempted more home remedies and read more inspirational quotes and books than I care to remember.  And for the most part they’ve all been provided by well-meaning and caring people, whose concern is for my happiness.

I’m sure you can imagine my distress when each new idea or concept failed to provide the miraculous cure promised.  Or, how I agonized over not being smart enough to get over it.  Or, how I believed myself to be so pathetic to have not coped with, well errr…., life.

So, at the risk of offending many well-meaning and caring people, I’ve compiled a list of things well-meaning people should never say to a person struggling with emotional health symptoms and why.

They are not a top “insert number here” list and have no particular rank in a predetermined order of significance.  They are simply representative of my experience, the experiences of others I know and the experiences of others I don’t know but have read about in my research.

This week: “There are people much worse of than you.”

Everyone who struggles with depression and anxiety is fully aware of the sad and life altering events that occur in other people’s lives.  The fact that others believe those problems rank higher on a scale formed out of their own experiences, has the potential to suggest we are not entitled to, nor deserve the support we need.   Potentially, what they’ve said is, they care more about those other people and their struggles than they do about you and your trifling “first world problem”, and so should you!

The effect of statements like this will, generally speaking, have us wallowing in our already amplified guilt as we berate ourselves for “not coping” like others do.  We’re depressed, and as a consequence we will naturally seek to affirm a self-belief that we are useless with examples just like this one.   We must be useless, because we should be able to cope with life.  After all, there are all those other people coping with all those other (much worse than yours) problems.

Interestingly, the human body has been designed to operate and respond to pressures in a predetermined manner.  It’s the flood of chemicals at the appropriate time that stimulates a response to our circumstances.   And, there’s no better example than Nellie, our 7-year-old Cocker Spaniel!

Mr Wonderful and I bought Nellie at about the same time we became empty nesters!  It didn’t take long for her to manipulate her way into sleeping on our bed, watching TV from the antique club lounge and generally reigning over all household activities.  Neither did it take long for her to earn the reputation of “six million dollar” dog as she lurched from one medical problem to the next.

She’s had bladder stones removed not surprisingly from her bladder, foreign objects removed from her stomach and intestines after helping herself to the rubbish bins and sticks removed from her jaw after becoming wedged whilst she gnawed happily on tree litter in the back yard.

She’s been diagnosed with a rare autoimmune disorder known as GME (Granulomatous Meningoencephalomyelitis) a disease of the brain and spinal chord, had a nasty but benign tumor excised from her neck and just recently, after helping herself to a kilogram of chocolates (thought to be safely out of her reach), required a 3 day stay in hospital on a ‘nil by mouth’ diet and fluid drip!

But what does this have to do with depression and anxiety?

Nellie’s recent dietary adventure with the bowl of foil wrapped chocolates created a reaction in her body that she could not control.  No matter how many times we told her; it could be a lot worse than this, we could not convince her pancreas to stop producing digestive enzymes.

We even stroked her sympathetically.  We encouraged her to just get on with life. We even told her, that she’s brought this on herself.  But, no matter what we said, her pancreas continued to react to the amount of chocolate she’d eaten.

You know, I’ve known other dogs to eat much more chocolate than Nellie and not have a problem.  But there was Nellie, throwing up mercilessly in her little dog bed in the corner.  So we kept telling her to think about all those other dogs who didn’t have a lovely comfy bed to throw up in.  But no, she just continued to lay there vomiting on herself.

After showing Nellie pictures of other dogs living in miserable conditions (we wondered if she hadn’t understood the language we used) and still not managing to stop her from vomiting, it didn’t take too long for us to realize that Nellie needed a trip to the dog doctor!  So after placing her in the car, while all the time telling her that I had better things to do than run her around, we made it to the clinic where I told Dr Mike she’d done this to herself.

I said to Dr Mike in not too flattering terms, “I’ve tried everything to help her get over it, but all she does is lay there and throw up!  I’ve counted the number of wrappers she’s pooped out, cleaned up her vomit and even cooked her special meals.  No other dog in the world would get treated that well, but she’s still sick!”

Dr Mike was sympathetic.  After all, he knows what it’s like to look after sick dogs.  So after telling me that it wouldn’t matter how many times I encouraged Nellie to think about the dogs that were much worse off than herself (primarily because Nellie is a dog) I could not stop her pancreas from producing the chemicals required to digest what she’d eaten.

What’s more, he said Nellie’s pancreas may never be able to resume normal pancreatic enzyme production.  And no matter how many times we tell her or ourselves that there are dogs much worse off than she, her pancreas will continue to flood her body with unhealthy levels of digestive enzymes!  She now has a clinical condition known as Pancreatitis and will require a lifetime of dietary and lifestyle changes!!

The fact that other dogs have eaten more chocolate than Nellie without making themselves sick, doesn’t mean Nellie isn’t as smart as other dogs or that she’s just focusing on being sick.  It means that all dogs have different biological features.  There are dogs that have eaten less chocolate than Nellie and died!

All people are different too.  Just because a shared experience will affect two people differently doesn’t mean that one is wrong and the other right.  A person suffering from depression has, in many cases, a biological chemical imbalance.  It will not matter how much better off they are than the rest of the world, they will not be capable of sustaining what others might think is a reasonable amount of  “happiness”.   And, because by nature we seek to verify our “state of health”, (if we think we have the flu we will take our temperature, expect a cough or sneezing to develop etc.) we will look for evidence that confirms we are as useless, incapable or hopeless as we feel.

If you’re human (or perhaps a Cocker Spaniel), you’ve no doubt had experiences that worked out badly and left you and/or others bewildered and disorientated.  These are the experiences that depression seeks out above all others in order to keep us safe from doing something else that might go wrong, again.

Telling someone who is depressed to think of all those other people suffering through all those dreadful things, is like telling a diabetic to think of all those other people with much worse illnesses, in order to be cured.  Or telling a Cocker Spaniel that other dogs live in much worse conditions, in order to stop her pancreas from over producing digestive enzymes.

The truth is, that while depression (and other emotional illnesses) may have a trigger (like eating too much chocolate!), it’s our neurology and biochemistry that will determine how the illness manifests, not our experiences or thinking.

From Charles Schultz:  Jogging is very beneficial. It’s good for your legs and your feet. It’s also very good for the ground. It makes it feel needed.

Deb Shugg is an awarded business woman, 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.)

Is stranger danger a myth?

When you live with depression and anxiety stuff can quickly get complicated.

Today I was talking with an older woman who has been teaching Philosophy and Psychology for over 30 years. She is a delight. And every word she speaks is intended to help me better understand the questions I ask.

I’m not necessarily a brilliant mind. In fact, if I were to define myself, I’d say I’m simply someone who likes questions. And so does my friend!

My acquaintance with this woman might be considered a matter of fate. We enjoy the coffee at the same establishment. And whilst most days our paths will cross, we don’t always speak. What, with her head in a book and mine behind a screen, sometimes we simply exchange a smile of acknowledgement. Our relationship doesn’t necessarily need words.

Today however, we did get ourselves involved in an exchange of thoughts. And, after considering a number of issues, we got caught on the topic of mobile phone use! Happily my friend announces she has never owned a mobile phone, and can’t think of why any important matter would not have you preoccupied to the point of waiting at home for ‘that’ call. For me, my mobile phone is something I can use to distract me when my mind can’t be engaged. I call people from my car (hands free) to help pass the time while I’m driving. I use it to keep me awake during lengthy meetings or moments when boredom is causing my mood to alter unhelpfully.

My mobile phone is a self-indulgent accessory. A socially acceptable toy!

But it’s not my use of a mobile phone that crept into my serious mind. The conversation led me to wonder about why, our culture believes a mobile phone is so important for avoiding, averting or reporting a disaster. Have we convinced ourselves that each of us is so vulnerable, that there is an imminent threat of danger?

But my questions go deeper than that. I was led to a long ago conversation with someone whose religious beliefs meant that television and other electronic media and equipment were banned from homes. These clearly ‘ridiculous’ and ‘old world’ elements of religion made me roll my eyes with a degree of derision. How silly to believe that television interfered with their ability to love God.

My love of questions however, led me to ask that so often unasked question; why?

The answer was incredibly simple and wasn’t even supported by endless nondescript theology that often accompanies such restrictive beliefs. The reason – because these technologies invite ‘matters’ into homes that are unwelcome and potentially dangerous. These people don’t want to be exposed to the things that could be harmful. Consequently, if these technologies could be utilised only for their benefit, they would most assuredly be welcomed.

My eyes didn’t roll at this, I simply wondered why they thought themselves not strong enough to resist ‘evil temptations’ especially within a faith-based model of life. And it’s a question that until my conversation with my friend this morning, I never quite got to pondering. So I’ve begun to think more deeply about the issue and it’s not as simple as condemning a person’s beliefs as superstitious and ‘ridiculous’.

In fact, I was quite challenged by the concept of protecting our homes from bad stuff.
You see, what popped into my mind was all the marketing messages we receive. And to take this conversation back to mobile technology, the way marketers will tell us how good it is for us to have it. We’re bombarded with images of happy people being ‘connected’ through this particular technology. Hardly something harmful! But what we’re not told is that your base level smart phone, without much configuring, can not only help you stay connected with others it can bombard you with unwanted, sexual, violent, adult and disturbing images. (Today on my Facebook newsfeed I was confronted by a cruelty to animals image that really disturbed me.)

We seem capable of convincing ourselves that our children will experience only the benefits of smart phone ownership; connectedness and improved safety. But on reflection, there seems to be a greater means of potential harm than any benefit we’re convinced of. And, if you think that you have applied every safety check to protect your child consider this:

A little while ago, we were excited to have some friends staying with us overnight. There are 5 of them 2 adults, 2 teens and a child. We were having a lovely time sitting outside by the fire, googling funny (and youth appropriate) you tube clips on our Ipads. My Ipad, which has no ‘adult content ’ protections on it (because I’m well, errr an adult) without me even noticing was providing the two teens standing behind me with an education their parents had not intended for them. These images were uninvited (and unwanted) advertising for explicit material intended for adults. Fortunately their mother quickly covered the offending images with a sudden need to point at something else on the screen, an action I only fully understood upon reflection.

For two teens however, I had potentially and unwittingly introduced them to what was available. It might not have been the first time they’d been exposed, but that’s not the point. I didn’t even realize!! I had allowed unwanted images into my home and placed someone else’s children at risk. My home should be a ‘safe’ place for friends and family.

I’m not suggesting that Ipads or smart phones are at fault or that electronic devices should be banned or that I am overtly sensitive to the protection of others. But I am suggesting, the negative side of having unfettered use of these devices, is providing an open door to the stuff of life that most of us, given a choice, would not allow in our homes.

Frankly, I have NEVER read a news article that discussed how wonderful the mobile phone is for children. I’ve listened attentively to the benefits of these devices. The access they provide to information, communication, relationship and safety. But I’ve only ever heard these arguments in the context of some type of harm that has befallen an impressionable, vulnerable and now damaged child. Bullying. Violence. Sexual assault. Grooming. Pornography. Abduction. Sexting. Altered sexual perception.

If you’re a person who drives your child to school to keep them safe or locks the doors at night; If you’re a person who understands the difference between good and bad or between right and wrong and would go to any length to protect your children from ‘bad’ stuff; then the argument that mobile electronic devices will be useful is, to my mind, nothing more advertising spin and manipulation.

I’m not sure that there’s much a reasonable parent wouldn’t do to protect their children from harm. So I wonder, in a world that develops technologically at an ever-increasing speed, how we continue to ensure the safety of our children. To protect them from what we, as reasonable adults, would believe harmful if it walked in our front door. To protect them from perpetrators that creep soundlessly looking for vulnerable, easy targets. To protect them from their own inability to make reasonable, well formed decisions during their season of learning.

We have for decades warned our children of the risk associated with strangers, without ever considering that any random stranger may in fact present a wealth of knowledge and accessibility to learning. We have considered that strangers are the enemy of children when in fact the great danger to children lays within the circle of family and friends that we’ve allowed to walk in our front door.

The things that are wholeheartedly welcomed.

These days, children can text on their cell phone all night long, and no one else is seeing that phone. You don’t know who is calling that child.

From Kamala Harris These days, children can text on their cell phone all night long, and no one else is seeing that phone. You don’t know who is calling that child.

If you need to talk to someone NOW call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Deb Shugg is an awarded businesswoman, wife & mother, author and a sufferer of depression and anxiety.

To contact Deb click here:

Contact Deb

Read more of Deb Shugg’s BLOGs about living with depression and anxiety click here:

Read another depression and anxiety BLOG

If you need help to deal with your symptoms see your doctor.

(Abuse of another person is NEVER okay. If you are being abused or, if you are an abuser please seek help.)