Misery? Mine, or yours?

24 Jan

Despite my bipolar, I’m a bit of a judgemental prick in my head when it comes to certain “afflictions”. I call it my personal “You ain’t me” trick. I keep it to myself 99% of the time, but occasionally, it comes through.

I have trouble believing depression.

Not big, blow your mind depressions, but the little ones that people talk about having for a week or so out of the year. I have trouble sympathizing for them. I have trouble feeling bad for them. For a lot of people, periodic depression is merely what I would call a bad day. And it’s hard for me to get worked up in a lather over someone having a bad day, as we are all wont to have occasionally, even poor widdle me on 1200 mg of Lithium a day.

It’s terrible isn’t it? I know it is. Me, pithy crusader for the rights of the mentally ill, totally unsympathetic to the ills of others.

But to me, there are two types of mental illness: that which we cannot control, and that which we do to ourselves. I see things like bipolar, DID, ODD, schizophrenia as mental illness we can barely control, needing drugs and therapy to help control it. I see things like ADHD, mild depression, anxiety disorders as problems we do to ourselves.

And I don’t mean you personally. I mean society, our culture. I don’t believe the disorders to be any less real-I just don’t classify them as sicknesses so much as afflictions, outgrowths from our increasingly chaotic world.

Awhile back I stumbled on Misery Creep and found myself nodding my head.

Mr Wessely believes that this “therapy culture” means that people now regard as abnormal things that “previous generations regarded as part and parcel of normal variations in personality and emotion”. So what earlier generations saw as an everyday struggle to make ends meet might now be referred to as stress or workaholism.

It used to be that people had personalities. That people were different, reacted to situations, processed their emotions, or sometimes, didn’t. But no one threw a bunch of labels on them, aside from “cranky old man” or maybe “giddy boy”. We’ve come into this culture of disorder somehow-is it a quest to be special? Does having a disorder make you better, or different? Does having a diagnosis make it easier to make excuses for yourself? Does it make life easier in this modern world, to be able to unplug because “you’re sad” or “you’re distracted”?

Has our quest for stuff ruined what makes us people?

I tend to discount individuals “suffering” from short term minor depression because I question what drives it. What truly drives it. We’re surrounded by stuff, other people have more stuff. We feel inadequate without a proper amount of it. We live in a culture predicated on THINGS, money. Your value becomes linked to what you own, or rather, what owns you.

How much of that truly accounts for people feeling down? This needless quest for things, does that play into ADHD? Or is it a world that moves faster everyday, and requires the short of inattention ADHD is. (Personally, I don’t feel that ADHD is a problem-it’s more akin to an adaptation in my eyes.) Being able to shop, online or off, 24/7-how is that affecting us?

We’re the grand guinea pigs. We’re testing a new society, and blaming our discomfort on brain chemistry that might not be the cause and treating it with drugs that barely, if ever work. But yet, we get better when a doctor tells us we’re defective, and gives us pills of dubious origin or effectiveness. Since after all, if we think we need it, we’ll spend more money won’t we?

What if we started changing how we live, how we eat, who we are? What if we all turned off the televisions, got outside more, played with the kids, slowed down our jobs?

What if?

Would we still see so many “depressed” people? If everyone got up every morning with a goal, a desire, a need, would they still feel sad?

Do we just have too much time on our hands? Has stuff, and convenience, made life an open window through which our brains fly out?


Please note that I am NOT pointing the finger at anyone I may know in any way shape or form. I just think that the argument that our lives are the root of many of our problems is compelling. Not for everyone, but for many. Just like for all the bitching I do about being fat, the fact of the matter is that nothing will change about my weight until I get my ass moving and eat better. Our brains are not the only problem-my brain works better on Lithium, but it works even better with proper sleep, diet and exercise, and some fun thrown in.

(Plus, I have trouble conceiving of mild depression as something that’s a problem. Hell, even when I’m depressed now it’s a cakewalk since I don’t want to off myself constantly. So the problem with me is that I set my bar at a place where comparison really isn’t proper.)

I can’t help but that that this might be the biggest answer to what ails so many these days.

23 Responses to “Misery? Mine, or yours?”

  1. karriew January 24, 2008 at 5:58 pm #

    I think you raise an interesting and valid point with regard to too much stuff and some people having too much time on their hands to craft imaginary mental health or other problems.

    You would die laughing at some of the conversations I overhear here in pretensious land. Niles Crane, anyone?

    When I look back at my life befoe becoming a wife and mother, I had those kinds of episodic mini-depressions you mentioned. I never considered myself depressed, because a good weekend alone, half of it spent in bed, always cured me. I’m not sure that I’m clinically depressed now because I was fine on the trip forgetting to take my meds most of the time, but now that I’m home the collective crap and stress is just too much to manage.

  2. Eden January 24, 2008 at 6:29 pm #

    This makes me think of a scene on “Designing Women.” Julia is explaining to Berniece’s niece Phyllis, “We don’t hide our crazy people up the attic. We bring ’em right down to the living’ room and show ’em off. You see, Phyllis, no one in the South asks you if you have crazy people in your family. They just ask you which side they’re on.” To which Phyllis smugly says, “And which side our yours on, Ms Sugarbaker?” And Julia proudly replies, “Both.”

  3. marcelarhodus January 24, 2008 at 6:31 pm #

    (…) “We’ve come into this culture of disorder somehow-is it a quest to be special? Does having a disorder make you better, or different? Does having a diagnosis make it easier to make excuses for yourself? Does it make life easier in this modern world, to be able to unplug because “you’re sad” or “you’re distracted”?” (…)

    That right there is the answer. I totally agree with you. I do believe that for “mild” depression, ADHD and others like that we do create a lot of the problem and instead of working on fixing it, people just want to pop a pill.

    One of my husband’s nephew is diagnosed as ADHD and has been on medication for 5 of his 10 years of life, yet this kid when he was off the medication before he was “diagonsed” was a perfectly normal if somewhat bratty child, he watched too much t.v., did not have enough discipline at home and was a bit too pampered, but a perfectly normal, active, sweet little boy. My husband and I believe he was put on medication to make it easier to “deal” with, he’s somewhat drugged all the time. It’s just so sad.

    Same with another person close to us, she goes to therapy and is on antidepressants, and quite honestly her problem is that she likes to be the victim and does not have the guts to get up from her butt and take a hold on her life. She prefers to use the “excuse” of being depressed to “emotionally blackmail” people around her.

    People want a quick fix, and they want to be considered specially cause they have a certain “handicap”, be treated nicerly in their eyes cause they have a reason for their problems, and in their eyes “being a medical” condition is a reason to pity them and do more for them.

    and like you say, this is nothing to do with real mental conditions.

    I do believe tihs society is over medicated and over treated with therapy.

    we all have crappy days, and yes we all have crappy weeks… and it’s ok to now and then, sit down and cry yourself and want others to pat you and say it’ll be ok…. but after those 5 min of “compassion”, get up and get going and fix whatever it is you need to fix.
    I see so many wives around me be close to suicide (seriously) due to being alone so much with their kids and being (at least in their minds) isolated. But those same wives don’t make an effort to leave the house and build a community for themselves, they want to get it without having to lift a finger. They complain about being locked, yet they don’t make any attempts to go out (of course, the language, the different culture are the perfect excuses).

    (…) “What if we started changing how we live, how we eat, who we are? What if we all turned off the televisions, got outside more, played with the kids, slowed down our jobs?” (…)

    that right there is a solution to many things that now are medicated.

  4. daisybones January 24, 2008 at 6:45 pm #

    I really, really agree. Great, spot-on post.

  5. thordora January 24, 2008 at 7:08 pm #

    OMFG Eden I LURVE Designing Women! How I miss early nineties TV!

  6. Marcy January 24, 2008 at 9:54 pm #

    I see your point.

    On the other hand, when I first went into therapy, it was not because I wanted to play victim or get pills or make excuses, it was because I wanted a little expert help on working through some of my issues.

    I think it’s possible to consider a lot of this stuff “normal life” and still take it seriously enough to work on it.

  7. Gwen January 24, 2008 at 10:26 pm #

    First, I know several adults with ADHD who would argue with your diagnosis of their condition, since they truly believe it hinders them in ways they aren’t always able to control. FWIW (not trying to be ornery or anything).

    I wonder if the human race is in the throes of an evolutionary leap. We have changed our physical environment very quickly, and it’s possible our brains just need some time to catch up.

  8. Jennifer January 25, 2008 at 12:31 am #

    I’ve felt like that for a long time actually. Especially given that my mother was a freaking nutbar/psycho hypochondriac, it makes me question EVERYTHING, most especially about myself, which means that I went on anti-depressants about a year too late.

    I have serious reservations with the staggering number of diagnosises that the education system hands out. Pair that with the fact that schools get additional funding for having “special needs” children enrolled, it’s a system that literally pays people to look for something to diagnose kids with.

    Speaking of labels, I’m asthmatic, and I am about to go get tested to see if I can remove that label of asthma. HA!

  9. charlotteotter January 25, 2008 at 2:12 am #

    I agree! Over-medication is definitely a result of people’s inability to adapt to a changing society. I have a great personal example: back in South Africa, where there has been nothing but ongoing social change for the last 14 years (good change), my entire family have been prescribed anti-depressants – my mother, my father, my brother, my MIL, three-quarters of my friends and probably many more who just haven’t admitted it yet.

    I would support Marcy in saying there is a role for therapy, though. I think therapy can be a brilliant way to address and work through issues that are holding you back, but just popping a pill for some un-named anxiety – without also having therapy – seems irresponsible to me.

  10. Hannah January 25, 2008 at 8:50 am #

    Yes, I agree that overmedication and the therapy culture are huge problems. Of course they are. Drug companies spend twice as much on marketing as they do on research. That tells you something right there.

    However, I do have to defend ADHD. Do I think it is very often misdiagnosed? You betcha. Do I feel bad for small children who don’t need drugs, they just need discipline and consistency? Absolutely. But having a father who struggles every single day with ADHD has convinced me that it can be a valid diagnosis. And unless he is super-vigilant, it does interfere with his functionality and quality of life. I had a roommate in university who was bipolar. Her in a manic phase reminded me very much of my dad – poor impulse control, too much energy, no focus, risky behaviors, the whole thing. The difference being that he was like that ALL THE TIME. Intensive therapy and yes, making changes to try and be healthier and reduce stress have helped, and he is generally a calmer and productive person now. But the fact remains that it was a real problem, and needed medical intervention to help him solve it, and that the lack of sympathy he got from friends and colleagues while he was trying to work through this did not help – because so many people now use ADHD has a convenient crutch to explain away their own poor parenting skills that it has become a joke.

    Same I think with other forms of depression. Going through a depression that lasts for only a few weeks sounds easy, unless it’s happening to you… because you don’t know when it will end.

    I’m not trying to troll you here, or hijack your blog with a long comment, this just touched a bit of a nerve with me. Again, I agree that trying to resolve issues just by drugging them into submission is flat-out wrong. I just think that in the discussion it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that for some people, these are real conditions that require real treatment.

  11. Netter January 25, 2008 at 10:00 am #

    I can’t speak to ADHD, but I can address the mild depression thing, at least from my perspective. That’s what used to happen to me. I’d be “blue” for a week or so, mildly pissy and cranky and then I’d get better. Of course, the PPD has made me realize I wasn’t Depressed. If I’m just stressed and bummed out about something, but not wanting to step in front of a bus or having obsessive and obtrusive thoughts, I know I don’t need pills. I need to exercise, sleep more, eat better. Do the things we all know we’re supposed to do but that our modern lifestyles deem unimportant.

  12. thordora January 25, 2008 at 10:02 am #

    See, I guess that’s where I question things. Is it (ADHD) a condition that needs treating, or is it our culture, mindset and behaviours that need changing?

    I was initially diagnosed with ADHD because a doctor took a poor history, and didn’t keep seeing me long enough to watch the other end of the spectrum hit. I thought I had ADHD for a few years, until I really hit bottom with things.

    And lo, bipolar, which is diagnosed as ADHD a LOT because the symptoms are incredibly similar when manic.

    How much of ADHD is the expectation that people WILL not pay attention, WILL engage in risky behaviours? How much is it that we’re expecting people who, 100 years ago, would have been doing things, physical exertion, who are now sitting still for hours on end?

    I believe ADHD happens. I just have my doubts that speed is the best way to treat it for many people. Many of the books I read while believing I had ADHD repeatedly mentioned lifestyle changes and alterations to my routines as ways to help what was going on. (They didn’t help since, well, I didn’t have ADHD)

    Depression-I’ll still contend that many mild cases can be resolved with lifestyle changes. Even I’m better if I get out once in awhile. While there are cases that MAY be helped with some medications, we are far too free with drugs, and far to free with placing a label on something that might be life.

    I agree with marcy and charlotte about therapy though. I think EVERYONE can benefit from a few sessions.

    And I’m not being an arsehole. I just think we’re all too quick to judge a bad week or month as being a “problem” instead of just the way life is.

  13. thordora January 25, 2008 at 10:29 am #

    The other thing that gets me is that people yell and scream and moan about vaccines, most of which protect you from life threatening diseases. They won’t take them, won’t give them to their kids.

    And yet in many cases, there are no qualms in giving drugs that can have a profound effect on a person’s brain.

    I just don’t get it.

  14. Gwen January 25, 2008 at 11:04 am #

    I think drug therapy without talk therapy *is* problematic. I am concerned about the number of children who get labels slapped on them. And I do agree that being “blue” is not the same as being Depressed. After my sister had two consecutive miscarriages, she was really really sad. All her counselors wanted to put her on drugs, and she was like, “But I’m supposed to feel sad!” At the same time, though, when I started taking stuff for PPD, her own attitude of suck it up-ness didn’t exactly help. So it’s complicated.

  15. thordora January 25, 2008 at 11:16 am #

    PPD IS a problem with chemicals after birth-grief isn’t. (Although after a miscarriage, I’m not sure what happens hormonallly)

    Having anyone say “suck it” is so totally unhelpful, and not what I’m suggesting. But we really need to examine our motives in popping a pill while we get paranoid about our food supplies, clean air and water. I wonder if there have been any studies similar to the ones finding hormones affecting fish from birth control pills….

    I guess I mainly just don’t understand-people today are highly vigilant when it comes to everything but their brain. I needed the drugs, and I resisted them for so long, and resent them now. So I guess I don’t understand the willingness to take a pill without everything else.

    And maybe we don’t know what “blue” is anymore, instead blowing every little piece of pain into a grand terror of insanity.

    Or maybe my new dosage is making me a bitch today. 😛

  16. allyo January 25, 2008 at 12:55 pm #

    It’s a fine line. I’m someone you’d probably shake your head at, by these standards. I’ve been getting out bed most every day for years and years, and yet after a lot of therapy and a couple of false starts/stops on drugs, I’ve realized that a) that “mild” depression has severely impacted my personal relationships for over a decade, and b) without that little hit of Z AND my many supplements, I fall right back down into that hole.

    I just find it interesting that your last post was about reclaiming the crazy, to which I nodded along. I’m happy to talk to anyone about mild, pervasive depression, because I think it’s often ignored because after all, you’re functioning. And FWIW, mine started as the temporary blues, and because I was so busy telling myself it was nothing, it took me far too long to see what it had become.

    I get what you’re saying, I do. I don’t believe in automatically medicating every problem. If I had married a fully functional partner maybe my depression wouldn’t have become a permanent, pervasive thing. Hell, if my childhood had been different it might never have materialized. And if I wasn’t trapped in the house every night alone with a 3 year old, I’d likely almost never blow up or feel hopeless. But that’s the situation, and recognizing and treating the depression that may or may not result from it makes my life worth living and makes life a lot easier for those around me.

  17. Jenny January 25, 2008 at 1:18 pm #

    Valid points…all.

    I suffer from mild depression and anxiety and i was hesitant for a long time to get medicated because I thought they were just personality quirks that made me me. That is, until my personality quirks made me consider crazy, crazy actions. Then I realized that sometimes even little depressions can be life threatening if untreated.

  18. thordora January 25, 2008 at 1:21 pm #

    So here’s my question then. What IS making us depressed? Not that I think that past generations didn’t also suffer from these things-but what’s making it so bad now?

    Are we incapable of processing and handling moods, or has something significantly altered our brains?

    Because frankly, if you look around, it’s like EVERYONE is depressed. Which means it’s not a problem-it’s just being human….or is it?

  19. sweetsalty kate January 25, 2008 at 4:13 pm #

    Interesting post, thor… it got me to thinking, it must be hard for you to discern when you’re just having a shitty day and when your bipolar is coming into play. I would imagine that to be really tricky – because everyone has anxiety, and rage, and hormonal fluctuations, and frustration over everything from body image to finances and the adjustment to full-time butt-wiping.

    But when you’re legitimately diagnosed, how do you define what’s normal crap, and what’s not-normal crap? Hmmm.

  20. bipolarlawyercook January 25, 2008 at 6:58 pm #

    Lots of food for thought. I very much agree that slowing down one’s life, decluttering physically and emotionally, can account for much of “minor” depression and anxiety, and that much of it is behavioral, habitual, rather than hormonal. If it’s really affecting your life, I’m all for talk therapy to allow you to develop whatever coping skills get your through the day, but drugs? The fewer, the better. I would LOVE to have merely shitty days.

  21. Julie Pippert January 25, 2008 at 7:59 pm #

    I think there’s a point to that. Two of my big deals is drugs without therapy (can’t stand it) and the idea that happiness is a deserved and expected constant state, sometimes. If we don’t feel chipper all the time, must be something wrong with us, right? I think it’s okay to be down, I think it’s even normal to at times have situational depression (a normal response in cases). I also agree that our lives need some reality checks and balances. And there’s also always worse, more th the story, different causes and so forth. It’s a complex topic.

  22. Caitlin January 26, 2008 at 2:14 pm #

    So here’s my question then. What IS making us depressed? Not that I think that past generations didn’t also suffer from these things-but what’s making it so bad now?

    I have what is probably a mild depression. I feel a lot like I’m being a pain in the ass to everyone by trying to fix what is wrong without the pills. For one, it’s more expensive and time consuming. It also requires support from my family and friends. I’m depressed because I’m stuck with a 3 year old for conversation all day. My husband gets home and doesn’t particularly want to hear about my day and I’m always running a few days behind on news feeds, so he doesn’t want to talk about that either.

    I’m just tired of everyone feeling free to make demands on my

  23. Caitlin January 26, 2008 at 2:17 pm #

    bleh, cat ran across the keyboard there.

    But anyway, I’m tired of people feeling free to make demands on my time and acting like I’m being selfish for expecting them to reciprocate. I have watched sick kids after 15 minutes notice after being woken up at 5am, and kept them nearly 11 hours, yet when I ask “When is a good day for you to watch Paul for an afternoon, so I can do something alone?”, that day doesn’t exist. I feel like I’m the asshole for wanting a break and that makes it hard to break free when it’s constantly reinforced.

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