Doctors aren't perfect…

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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’.
  3. 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.

You can read things not to say 1 The things You Shouldn’t Say , 2 Walk or Don’t Walk and 3 The Doctor is In here: Click here.

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.)

Walk or Don't Walk…

When you live with depression and anxiety life takes on an unusual type of chaos.

For those that know me well, you’ll know that I enjoy watching people. I find other people’s behavioral traits highly amusing. Not in the laugh out loud sense of amusing, which some times does occur. But in the context of an interesting diversion from the junk that usually rattles around in my head unchecked.

So it won’t surprise you when I confess that the behaviour of people who are waiting for pedestrian lights to change can be a fascinating study.

Of course for those of us who wonder about the types and levels of bacteria that live on those big metallic buttons, crossing the road can take on a multi-faceted risk factor. It’s not just getting to the other side that concerns us but the choice between dying as a result of a high-speed vehicle impact or a rapid onset assault of Necrotising Fasciitis (flesh eating bacteria)!

It’s a peril that can keep sufferers of emotional illnesses tucked up safely in their homes, waiting for the day their fears will miraculously vanish.   However, that’s not the point of today’s ramblings. In today’s attempt to reveal another unhelpful suggestion for people living with depression and anxiety I’m drawn to the time old classic: “If you stop dwelling on it, you’ll feel better.”

Did you know there are a variety of ways pedestrian signals can be activated? At pedestrian specific crossings, pressing the button will indicate you want to cross and the lights will change almost immediately.

At a busy intersection with traffic, your push of the button during peak periods will often have no impact. These pedestrian signals only become ‘operational’ in the sense that pushing the button will make a change to the sequence, in non-peak times.

And, in case you didn’t know, at some inner city intersections that big, silver coloured, bacteria attracting button is a prop, strategically placed to help you feel better about having to wait. (Strange but true!) Pressing the button has no effect whatsoever.

This is where you can start to wonder what all this means to someone living with depression and anxiety and how telling someone to stop dwelling on their worries might be asking the impossible!

Sadly, and for a very long time it’s been the general opinion of well-meaning people that depression is a state we think ourselves into. And, whilst worrying and dwelling on problems can be an inherent part of being human, it’s not usually how depression manifests.

For the most part, when life’s events happen they trigger a flood of chemicals to be released into our body’s internal communication network sparking an appropriate response. Metaphorically, in part, it’s like someone who walks up to a pedestrian crossing and presses the button in order to cross the street. The ‘event’ triggers an impulse that ‘turns on’ the correct response allowing you to proceed then, after a reasonable time the signals revert back to ‘normal’.

However, and for the most part, our body’s every day activity is dictated by unseen factors. Who we are and how we see ourselves, when we eat, sleep, poop and reproduce are involuntary activities over which no amount of button pressing will make a difference!

Because as humans we have a capacity for logic and self-awareness we can rely on memory to invoke a duplicate response in order to keep us safe. Memories of a dangerous event will always make us feel scared or nervous, just like memories of happy events will always make us feel happy or content.   However, the feelings will usually lose intensity through time. Our body’s overwhelming desire for homeostasis will usually recognise the memory as a fake ‘event’ and adjust the chemical release accordingly.

At this point, I should probably clarify the difference between sadness and depression. When I drop my ice-cream on the concrete, I’m sad. When, for an extended period of time I’m convinced there is no point in getting out of bed to eat an ice-cream, I’m depressed. (Or perhaps the only reason for getting out of bed is to eat ice-cream!)

So, I drop my ice-cream on the concrete and the event stimulates my internal communication network to respond in an appropriate way. The button’s been pushed, a change in the signals becomes imminent, and I respond to the event with sadness and perhaps disappointment.

Later when I recall the event, sadness chemicals pop up and say “have you dropped your ice-cream again?” Once my body realizes it cannot reconcile the chemicals to a new event, the chemicals are stood down and homeostasis is resumed. My ability to apply logic, tells me to be more careful when eating ice-cream in the future because if I drop it, I’ll feel sad!

Those pedestrian signals at a busy city intersection are unlikely to be controlled by the thousands of events that happen as people stand beside them pressing the button incessantly. That person who stands with their hand on the button – click click click click click, like many of the well-meaning people out there is convinced that more and better clicking will somehow make a difference to the outcome.  This is the “stop dwelling on it” argument that believes continued clicking on a sad memory will somehow ‘activate’ depression!

The most simplistic analogy is that as a woman, no mater how much I think about not having a baby, I cannot stop my reproductive system from working. It’s only if my body was designed with a ‘deviation’ from what’s considered ‘normal’ or with intervention (either chemical or surgical) that my body will do things differently.

Imagine at those busy city intersections, if the incorrect signals were installed. Every time the button was pressed it would cause the signals to change and traffic chaos would take over. This is how it can seem for people living with depression and anxiety. A new ‘event’ either happy or sad makes no difference to whether we’re depressed. Our internal communication network, whether as the result of trauma or being born this way, are produced at levels that are outside ‘normal’ range.

We do not have this illness because we’re always thinking about sad stuff. We think about sad stuff because we’re continually, like everyone else, seeking to contextualise our self-belief that we are useless, hopeless, stupid and lazy.

Next time you’re tempted to tell yourself (or someone else) to stop dwelling on it, think about whether you’re talking to someone who’s depressed or someone who’s sad. Sad is like pedestrian specific signals, if you push the button with a sad event you’ll get an almost immediate change that will naturally return to ‘normal’. If you’re talking to someone who’s depressed, the fact that they’re dwelling on sad events is a symptom, not a cause. They’re pushing the button because they must, not because they want to.

Today, something from Snoop Dogg: When I’m no longer rapping, I want to open up an ice cream parlor and call myself Scoop Dogg.

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.)