“Bewitched, bothered, and bewildered am I” wrote US songwriter Lorenz Hart about the feeling of infatuation. It’s blissful and euphoric, as we all know. But it’s also addicting, messy and blinding. Without careful monitoring, its wild wind can rage through your life leaving you much like the lyrics of a country song: without a wife, […]
What is it about the pain of depression that we are afraid to call it pain?
I mean, when a close friend goes in for a hip replacement or is diagnosed with breast cancer, we hold them in prayer and love. We encourage them to cry as we hold their hands. But when it comes to mental pain–that familiar wish to be dead, and the dread of waking up in the morning–we don’t want to say anything for fear that we’d be whining.
I mean, look at Haiti, Somalia, and Afghanistan. That’s pain.
I’m guilty of this discrepancy too. I’m guilty of it today. The last week has been one of those stretches where the beast has me by the ankles as I try my best to meet all my deadlines and remember which days the kids wear a PE uniform. There have been few moments that I haven’t been begging God for a little help.
When I’m in one of these funks, I automatically think of Haiti or the third-world country most in the news and try to zip it. Because their pain should make mine go away, right? Think about that. Does it really work that way? If my husband suffers a fever of 104, I must make myself believe that my fever of 102 feels great! And then there’s this … Maybe his threshold for pain makes his fever feel more like 99 while my ultrasensitive disposition makes anything over 98.6 feel like burning coals to me.
An anonymous Beyond Blue reader recently wrote me a touching email. She said:
Like you, I have a loving husband, wonderful children and a good life but yet I get these overriding feelings that I can’t cope with life and I want to die. For years I’ve hidden my feelings from most people as I am aware that many people still don’t understand depression. It makes me feel so guilty feeling like this when there are thousands of people far worse off than me, the people in Haiti, and my friend who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer. Now they are reasons to be depressed. So then I beat myself up for being so selfish and self-absorbed and that leads me to feeling even more worthless.
I so appreciate this reader’s naming pain for pain’s sake.
Why should depressives feel forced to throw a party for pain–spinach dip included–when it pops in for a surprise visit? Why should we have to hide our devastation?
I know I am labeled a whiner by some people for posts like this one. But I also know these honest blogs are the ones many of you appreciate because you feel that way too. Like me, you are too embarrassed or ashamed to call pain what it is. Because no crumbled village, tumor, or broken bone can be faulted. Just a power failure in the prefrontal cortex of the brain, and some neurotransmitters with no GPA systems … getting lost from one neuron to the next.
Keep in mind these words from Peter Kramer’s powerful essay in the New York Times Magazine entitled “There’s Nothing Deep About Depression”:
Depression is not a perspective. It is a disease. Resisting that claim, we may ask: Seeing cruelty, suffering and death — shouldn’t a person be depressed? There are circumstances, like the Holocaust, in which depression might seem justified for every victim or observer. Awareness of the ubiquity of horror is the modern condition, our condition.
But then, depression is not universal, even in terrible times. Though prone to mood disorder, the great Italian writer Primo Levi was not depressed in his months at Auschwitz. I have treated a handful of patients who survived horrors arising from war or political repression. They came to depression years after enduring extreme privation. Typically, such a person will say: ”I don’t understand it. I went through — ” and here he will name one of the shameful events of our time. ”I lived through that, and in all those months, I never felt this.” This refers to the relentless bleakness of depression, the self as hollow shell. To see the worst things a person can see is one experience; to suffer mood disorder is another. It is depression — and not resistance to it or recovery from it — that diminishes the self.
Alas, I hope you all know that Beyond Blue is a safe place to name your pain and in doing so, to try and pick up the pieces … with the help and support of others.