Brute Reason

Ruining your fun since 2009! =D
APRIL 1, 2012 11:41PM

The “Right” Way to Be Depressed

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CNN did a great thing today. They published a first-person account by one of their editors, Stephanie Gallman, about her experience of being diagnosed with depression, and of telling her friends and family about it.

Initially when I saw this article, I was overjoyed. It’s good to see mainstream media outlets publishing articles about depression that are personal rather than scientific in nature, and I’m relieved that more people are willing to publicly state the fact that they have depression.

But then I actually started reading it:

In August, after several months of seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist, I was diagnosed with depression.

The news came as a shock.

“I’m not depressed,” I said defiantly, shaking my head when the doctor deducted that must be what was ailing me.

“I hate depressed people.”

She laughed at my strange reaction, but I was serious. I don’t want to be in that category of people. Everything they take in and spew out just breathes negativity, and they are difficult to be around. I despise these people.

Gee, thanks, Stephanie. We despise you too.

She goes on to describe how, at her doctor’s urging, she finally realized that the symptoms of depression really did describe her experience. When her doctor suggests antidepressants, she’s not too excited about the idea but seems to at least consider it.

Then she discusses dropping the “D-bomb” to friends and family. Her favorite response from them, apparently, is surprise:

A lot of the people reacted to the D-bomb the same way I did — “You’re depressed?! You?  Stephanie Gallman? But you’re one of the happiest people that I know! You Hula-Hoop in Walmart!” (I really do Hula-Hoop in Walmart — every time I go.)

These are the people I wanted to reach out and hug; they made me feel like I hadn’t turned into Debbie Downer.

It’s true, to the outside world, I do appear happy. And I realize this is hard to grasp, even for me, but I am happy most of the time. I am fully aware of how blessed my life is and express gratitude for it daily. I have worked hard not to let what’s going on with me on the inside affect the way I present myself on the outside.

It’s hard not to notice how much this smacks of a certain self-congratulatory relief, of “doing” depression the right way. This woman is clearly such a considerate person, for not letting her depression affect how she presents herself!

Gallman’s gratitude for her blessed life strikes a chord with me, as it will with many other people with depression, because of how damn often we’re told to “count our blessings” and “be grateful for what we have.” There’s nothing worse, apparently, then being ungrateful.

That said, there are definitely some great things about the article. Gallman talks about her anger at being told to “do more of the things that you enjoy” rather than taking antidepressants. “Bite me,” she writes. “These patronizing (“The Secret”? Are you serious?) prescriptions infuriated me, as if the reason I wasn’t happy is because I hadn’t tried hard enough.”

She also makes a great point about the need for more openness surrounding mental illness. One of the responses she often received when she dropped the “D-bomb” was stories about friends and family members who had also suffered from depression:

I was dumbfounded. I wanted to scream like Adam Sandler in “The Wedding Singer”: “Gee, you know that information … really would’ve been more useful to me yesterday!” Why isn’t anyone talking about these illnesses that affect our most important body part — our brain?

Indeed, why aren’t more people taking about these common, devastating illnesses?

Unfortunately for Gallman, one answer is that it’s because of people like her.

Specifically, it’s because of the people who call us “Debbie Downers,” who tell us that we’re “spewing negativity,” who blame us for our own illness just like Gallman (tragically) blamed herself.

The problem with Gallman’s narrative is that we’re not all as “blessed” as she is. Her theory that she may be to blame for her own depression because she withdrew from friends may be applicable to her own life (though I doubt it), but it’s not very applicable to those depression sufferers who may not have a strong support network like she does. She writes, “No surprise, the wonderful people in my life have all been very kind and sympathetic, offering words of comfort and support.” Well…good for her. Not everybody has that.

Furthermore, not everybody is an accomplished adult who has a dream job as an editor at CNN. Gallman’s habits of eating well and exercising healthfully, which she is proud enough of to mention in this article, are not available as options to everybody. It’s clear that she has a full enough life that she’s able to throw herself into other things and avoid that terrible label of “unhappy.” Her optimistic personality, another trait of which she is very proud, is something that psychologists generally agree is inborn and possibly genetic–not something that all of us are so lucky to have.

After reading this article, I was struck by the pervasiveness of the message hidden between its lines–that there is a “right” way to be depressed. Gallman plays this role well. She does not embrace her diagnosis, nor her doctor’s suggested treatment; after all, doing so would imply that she “wants” to be a victim. She steadfastedly counts her blessings every day and reaches out to her supportive friends and family. She eats well and exercises. She is absolutely not to blame for her depression because she does everything “right.”

And most of all, she sees her depressive side as something shameful and ugly, just a foil to her sunny personality.

What about those of us who don’t have a sunny personality?

I feel for Gallman, not just because of her struggle with depression, but because of how indelibly she has internalized the idea of depression and unhappiness in general as something Wrong and Bad. There’s no room in this article for the scandalous idea that depression, while being difficult and unpleasant, is something that a person can make peace with–the way they might make peace with having asthma or diabetes.

There’s also no room in this article for sympathy for those who don’t play the role of Optimistic Depression Sufferer as well as Gallman does. No sympathy for those who don’t identify themselves as happy people at all.

I’m glad that Gallman has shared her story, and I wish more people would do the same–with their real name attached. But I hope that readers who don’t have experience with depression do not assume that Gallman speaks for all of us.

Filed under: psychology Tagged: depression, mental illness, psychology

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I guess add doing depression right in with making sure you love shoes or don't for heaven's sake, get fat. It sounds like another chick lit type piece aimed at the generation that is bringing us the "perfect wedding" the gifted children and now the blessed depression.
Miriam,an excellent work here.Your analysis has gone behind the lines and your thinking made me think..You are so right and I with you on this..that the so called and the trully ones..the successful of life I mean,must say to us the ρeoρle their ρroblems and their way of handling with the.To be right in health and everything is a must for them..A simρle must such one as the must"I must wear clothes before I leave my house in the morning"..Not an ego think..A must..They must be brilliant,sunny,great,admired,ρositive..It is her job... And I believe and admire her when she admits "have worked hard not to let what’s going on with me on the inside affect the way I present myself on the outside".And that is a great attitude.

What she one the other hand forgets is that we do not have her money,to find great doctors or even ρills for our illness,we do not have such loving friends and family(a true wealth this one,if you ask me),we do not have a job environment demanding of us to succeed ..On the contrary we have an environment that considers us to be a burden and not a hero one...
You have made excellent work here..This is what I call constructive criticism..and you are fair on your feelings and thinkings..But you know what I do..I try to "work hard not to let what’s going on with me on the inside affect the way I present myself on the outside".

Because me too..I do not want to be the me I am..the sick one,the miserable one,the victim one,the why me one,the always comρlaining one..I want to be the sρring one,the funny,the lets go to dinner and music,and lets break the wish the say in theate "break a leg"..Break the bad luck,the misery..It is an attitude..not wanting the misery..I have lived in misery..and no..I do not want to live it again..Had my share and worked hard to make me a better living and a decent and sane and useful and caring and loving human being..Do not want to be the diseased one..You know why..cause I do not still consider feelings as deρression as a disease..There is cancer out there,AIDS,ρaralysis...who am I to consider myself sick..Yes,I know that deρression is a serious disease and i only gave my self the right to write cause I am in close terms with such a disease.But I force myself to consider more serious diseases than this one..It is an effort not a solution..Efforts..aren't we all efforts...

Miriam,once again,I want to gongratulate you on your work here...Wish my mind reaches the clarity and wisdom you have and it was so good for me to meet you here.We must be friends.This is an invitation.Sorry for the length of the comment..So liked your character behind your writing ..too many common views here and thank you for sharing.Have a beautiful month..Best regards.
I have recovered from major depression. There is still a lot of prejudice. Drugs are bad, it is really all in your head.
Drugs, exercise, less stress, meditation, positive thinking helped me.
[r] sounds like Gallman is in the "bargaining" phase of grief over the unignorable horror and spirit erosion of depression. I wrestle with depression. Have all my life.

I remember Judy Collins once saying her depression was like a big black dog that she had trained vigilantly over the years to keep still and sit quietly in the corner and keep on a leash. I appreciated her honesty and hate that that may be the case.

Do we ever recover from the trauma that set it into being, depression? Does PTSD which I think a lot more than military vets have (children growing up in alcoholic families, for example.) ever get seriously cured?

Depression fell on me like an avalanche decades ago, Plath bell jar dimensions, and I am still scooping my way out of that avalanche! Glacial progress to keep with the wintry metaphors. depression i suspect is at epidemic proportions in this Stepford country by now. look at the awesome denial of the citizenry in political terms, the lack of moral responsiveness to the murderousness of both our military and health care programs, whether enabled by Dems or Repubs. I know that is not the thrust of this article but to me it is exhibit a of the symptoms. Learned helplessness and denial.

messengers are not treated kindly which is why people do not encourage honest debbie downer talk. the scenario of the "false personality", present a dazzling persona to hide the sadness and despair and con others and maybe yourself rules too many. depression is ferocious. embrace the manic side of manic depression to hide one's depression and to over-focus on the needs of others, God forbid one put oneself first. fuel for codependency or dependency, substance or process.

depression is anger turned inward. i believe that is true. they say that supposed "realists" are really "optimists" and those who see the darkness of reality are called out for being "depressives" but probably are the real "realists" not that I am encouraging people to stay in that basement, but to feel sadness and grief, to visit the basement when there is something down there needing attention. DEPRESSIVES MAY BE THE REAL REALISTS. Again, not that to be tethered to depression is any kind of blessing. We need hope and some illusion. But I think as kids those depressed today were shamed and threatened not to express true and honest honest emotions by significant others who couldn't bear that natural authenticity because they had had their own banned.

And we have the right to dependency needs. I think that is not part of the belief system of people depressed. Lack of unconditional self love cultivated by significant others who also weren't capable of unconditional self love. One self help author says "we treat ourselves like roommates we don't like!"

Perky deniers or minimizers of their depression don't make me angry, they make me feel empathy for them. Been there, done that.

Alice Miller writings really helped me years ago. I am still peeling the layers of my inner onion as to the nature of my own issues. a lifelong marathon of peeling.

if we don't pass "it" back by processing it and fighting the injustice from ourself and others, we pass "it" on, too.

thanks for this miriam! best, libby