Saturday 9 February 2013

"Cocoon of Silence"

“A little boy was having difficulty lifting a heavy stone.
His father came along just then.
Noting the boy’s failure, he asked, “Are you using all your strength?”
“Yes, I am,” the little boy said impatiently.
“No, you are not,” the father answered.
“I am right here just waiting, and you haven’t asked me to help you.”
- Anonymous

Here I am again – Kristin’s mom. She and I recently had a conversation about why people don’t get help when they are suffering. Since I was one of those who suffered untreated in relative silence for about 35 years, I will bare my soul here a little more.

Here are just some of the reasons depression suffers may not want to get help:

·         They don’t want to admit they are depressed if they are surrounded by family and friends who think depression is a sign of weakness. Sometimes it’s hard to take the leap if you don’t know if there is a safety net to catch you.

·         They might deny they are depressed if they aren’t sad 100% of the time, not realizing that clinical depression has many moods.

·         They may think that if they give it enough time, they will snap out of it. Or, they may try to suppress their feelings of depression not realizing that doesn’t make it go away, it can only make it worse over time.

·         They don’t want to take medication.

·         They may think that psychology and psychiatry are hokus-pokus, or that opening up about their emotions to trained professionals will open a floodgate that they aren’t ready to deal with.

·         They may have religious beliefs that don’t allow for getting outside help for mental issues, or they think prayer alone will help.

·         They may have feelings of extreme self-reliance and pride that they don’t need others to help them. They will look after themselves at all costs.

·         They may feel that depression is their fault and is “in their heads”.

·         They worry they may lose their job if people find out, or that they will have a stigma placed on them.

·         They may feel that the misery they are feeling is their “normal”; that this is the lot they have been dealt in life. They may have had parents who also suffered without getting help.

·         They may not even know they are suffering from depression if they don’t know the signs. They may not realize that sleep problems, weight problems, headaches, stomachaches, backaches, excessive drinking or doing drugs can all be symptoms of untreated depression.

·         They may be seeking help from their family doctor for one of the symptoms such as headaches, backaches, etc. without either them or their doctors realizing they are actually just masking depression.

·         Friends and family are often so involved in their own lives that they don’t see the symptoms and the need to step in and to encourage the depression sufferer to get help.

For me, I felt that admitting something was wrong was admitting weakness. I was supposed to be the strong woman, able to handle anything. I was raised to think that we take care of ourselves and that we can be happy on demand if we make that choice. And, I have to be honest to say that over the years, there was a “comfort” and safety in my unhappiness because it had lasted so long and it was what I knew. I thought that was just part of my personality. I would retreat from the world when I needed to, and being an introvert and shy, that was really easy to do without people getting too suspicious. Another issue was that if I admitted there was something wrong, the status quo of my life would probably change. What would my life be like if I had to make changes?  It was just easier to keep things the same. It takes strength to change things – strength we may not think we have when we are in the abyss.  If we can’t even get out of bed some days, how can we accomplish anything except survival?

I relate this a little bit to people who won’t do anything about serious weight or substance abuse problems: what would life be like without that protective shell around them? How would they deal with the issues in their lives that would be uncovered as part of the process of getting healthy? What would the future hold? Why do people stay in dead-end jobs or unhealthy relationships? There is safety in the known and fear in the unknown.

A big reason it was easy for me to keep my depression suppressed for many years was that I had two kids to raise.  I put all my energy into being the best parent I could be, nurturing others. That was easier than nurturing myself. Why didn’t I think I was worth the effort? I still can’t answer that question. And, I know I can’t get back those years that were blurred by unhappiness. Why didn’t I understand then that by reaching out for help and by being mentally healthy I would have been a much happier and better parent (and spouse)?  My father was treated for depression when he was 90 – at that time he was dealing with my mom’s Alzheimer’s and leaving the home they had lived in for over 20 years. But, in hindsight, he had all the signs of depression throughout the years I knew him: chronic headaches, stomach problems, irritability, regrets, lack of self-esteem, etc. I can’t help but wonder how different his life, and our family’s life, would have been if he had been treated in his younger years. In our defense, we had no idea of the support network of mental health agencies that was out there to help us.

But, in 2013, that is no longer an excuse. Thank you, dear daughter, for being a voice and advocate for the understanding and acceptance of mental health problems. I know somewhere in heaven, your grandfather is very proud.


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