Thursday, October 09, 2008

Depression: Will or Wallow? Part III

Update 2016: This article was featured in my book
"Saying NO to Suicide", with added commentary.

What are the attitudes that keep us from willing our way out of Depression instead of wallowing in it?

(cc) laerpelIn my previous articles on this subject (Part I & Part II), I discussed my daughter's own struggles with Depression as well as my own struggles. Today I will focus on the emotionally charged word "wallow".

A reader by the name of Eternal Footman took issue with my use of the word "wallow" in reply to Part II.

Says he:

"I hate the word 'wallow' when used to describe anything having to do with depression so it took me a long time to read your second article (I still haven't read your first)...I won't bore you with the 'wallow' back story now, but I will say that word got thrown at me a lot when I was suffering from undiagnosed depression."

My reader's experience isn't too unlike those shared by most depressives, including my own.

"Don't wallow."
"Snap out of it."
"Get a grip on yourself."
"It's all in your head."

Words have power and when said with unkindness, impatience, or ignorance they have the power to scar. However, it is the tone of voice and intent of the speaker, not the words, that causes the pain. This is why I have chosen to embrace those sentences and give them new meaning devoid of recrimination. I especially like the last one. Of course it's all in my head! That's where my mind is. When I use that sentence on myself, it is never without a sense of wry irony.

My stance on Depression isn't a popular one. There are those who feel that my belief in humor, positive thinking, and will as methods to control Depression are irresponsible. I have been called out on it here and on other websites. They feel that I lead people astray. What can I say to that other than my life experience is not theirs? I find psychmeds harmful and needed to find other solutions to manage my Depression or it would have consumed me. This led me to wonder, if my techniques worked for me perhaps they could work for others as well? I'm happy to report that they do.

What I and others discovered was that our attitudes determined whether we managed our depression or whether our depression managed us. A positive attitude gave us tools to regulate our own mind, but a negative attitude took the tools and boxed them away in the attic.

An important hurdle to overcome is learning how to separate wallowing from Depression. Once you draw a distinction between the two, you will be better able to isolate what you have control over and what you don't.

There seems to be basic mindsets that prevent people from taking this step, however. I'll detail a couple of them here:

Rejecting the idea of will entirely

My blogging friend, Therese, over on Beyond Blue, recently wrote about her frustrations with people who make her feel guilty because she utilizes psychmeds to combat her depression, specifically spiritual leaders:

If I sound angry, it's for a good reason. These attitudes not only perpetuate the stigma of mental illness--they worsen the depression of millions of people around the globe because, in addition to their other symptoms, the depressives now feel responsible and guilty for having brought on the pain themselves. And in trying to overcome it by themselves (with the help of their prayer beads), they stay stuck in the Black Hole, or resort to suicide.

We often disagree on this idea of personal responsibility. I believe that we have more power over our own minds than the pharmaceutical industry wants us to believe. I didn't use prayer beads, but prayer was where I found inspiration to strike out on my own. Through my faith I avoided suicide and found happiness.

On her blog, I am known as "The Secret" guy because I advocate the power of will, or mind, over mood. Never mind that top psychologists have written about this mental process and based a school of psychology around it (Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy). Because there is a group of people who believe the Universe is just sitting around waiting to send us blessings if we'd only think happy enough, my observations are tossed out with the bathwater along with the baby.

These depressives, generally speaking, have been hurt by boneheaded but well-intentioned advice that dismisses the depressive's struggle as one of weakness. People like my reader above and Therese carry the scars of this "advice" well into their adult lives, as do I. The uncomfortable truth is, though, that Depression is a mood disorder, and although it may be a lifelong malady, research has shown it can be regulated and managed by changing how we think. In tandem with psychmeds, many people have found a happier life through CBT, including those who can't or won't use psychmeds.

This idea that with our thoughts we can lift ourselves out of Depression is very hard for some people to accept, especially when will is so difficult to summon when in the throes of Depression.

Believing that there is nothing that can be done about it

This is the attitude I have found to be most prevalent. Depressed people aren't usually in the mindset to think "Hey! I can lick this thing!" Here are some typical words of comfort for depressives from a site that aims to help them:

You may criticize yourself—or be criticized by others—for wallowing in depression. But you did not choose to be depressed, and you cannot simply choose to be depressed no longer. You cannot just make up your mind to be well and heal yourself by some act of will.

I couldn't disagree more. Not only is my and others' personal experience a testimony to the opposite, an attitude like this does nothing to empower the reader. Instead, it says "Don't bother fighting it. It's out of your control." Or perhaps more pointedly, "Hey, you can't help yourself, but we can! Come visit us. We have an easy, painless solution."

It may be true that you or your loved one did not choose to be depressed anymore than a child born blind or deaf elected that path in life, but we always have a choice on how we live our lives. Here's another way to look at it. Depression may be a low sounding note that constantly plays in the background, but you have the choice to hook it up to your stereo and let it fill your world or drown it out with other music.

In my next column I will discuss different ways to find the will to put off wallowing when we catch ourselves sinking into it. In addition, I will address why this process is helpful even if you are on psychmeds. As usual, I love reading your comments and would like to know what you think of this series.

Read more on this topic:
Depression: Will or Wallow? Part I
Depression: Will or Wallow? Part II
Depression: Will or Wallow? Part III

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