For as long as I can remember, I have been crabby, generally unhappy, annoyed at everyone, and aimed toward perfection. Hmm.. I think of myself as generally optimistic, but my grumpiness would suggest otherwise. Yet I’m not that way to other people. I was surprised once in a writing class by a fellow student who described me in a profile assignment as happy and confident. Me? Confident. Didn’t know I projected confidence. I certainly don’t feel confident. When I ask my friends if I complain too much or why they’re friends with me since I’m such a pain to put up with as far as I can tell, they suggest otherwise. Okay that’s good.
But here’s the thing: I have always had what I call a “tendency toward depression.” I’m not depressed and mopey. I’m not a sad sack. People don’t think of me as a depressed person. But there is this tendency I have to see the glass as half-empty. There is a constant undercurrent of unhappiness even though I think of myself as happy! Whatever decision I make, there was a better one to be made. If flowers are blooming, I see the ones that need to be dead-headed. If I have a success in the garden, I see the ten failures. My husband tells me I can find the cloud in every silver lining. If only it weren’t true! But that’s also funny. I can be funny too; I can make people laugh. I love that.
I have a friend who wakes up happy, everyday. Really? I didn’t know that was possible. I know people who can let things roll off their backs. I know people who don’t revisit decisions over and over again. I think of myself as normal. But these things are not normal to me. Normal to me is multiple running commentaries in my head. Normal to me is fogginess such that I can’t always really focus on what people are saying. Normal to me is rethinking, redoing, revisiting. Normal to me is not waking up happy and ready to go. Normal to me is a cloud over my head even though I see the sun shining and enjoy the birds singing. Normal to me is also a constant state of thinking up new ideas on anything from how to organize the garden or the house to what to write on this blog.
I know I’m not the only one like this and a lot of this is “normal” to a lot of people. But when is depression not normal?
The problem with depression and the kind that I think I suffer is that it feels “beatable”: if only I did yoga, if only I smiled more, if only I exercised, if only I … that’s part of it too. Thinking it’s self-controllable. The fact is it’s not that easy. It’s kind of like swimming upstream as a salmon. If only I lived on the other side! I am fighting constantly against a current that is going the wrong way, yet I am still chugging along like everyone else. Yet this is “normal” to me.
What I am finding is maybe the constant cloud doesn’t have to be. Maybe the convincing myself “I can do it!” is not so true. If a cut was gushing blood, I wouldn’t say, “oh I’ll just think it away and it will stop!” I’d at least get a bandaid. If I had a headache, I wouldn’t say, “oh it will pass”. I’d take something for it.
Why are we so quick to accept eye color, skin color, brainpower, height as genetic but not depression or any mental suffering? It is so easy to say, “ah yes, I suffer from heart disease; it’s in my family; I will take medication”. It is so easy to say, “oh he gets that athletic ability from his father”; or “she gets her creativity from her mother”; or “look at those curls!: just like his father!” It is not so easy to say: “oh that gloominess? that’s from Aunt Clara!” unless you don’t like that person. Who wants to admit depression? Who wants to admit anything about the mind unless it’s positive, like say a high i.q.? It seems so murky. No blood test, no cat scan, no sonogram. Just a general dis-ease, unhappiness, or dissatisfaction, even amidst an array of blessings!
I would argue that depression is inherited as is eye color. I’m not talking about situational depression; I’m talking about life-long general depression: the kind that results in complaining, grumpiness, unhappiness, irritability, and general frustration. Why is it that one sibling in a family can get up and go and another can not? It’s the same reason as why one has a love of reading (or talent in that) and one has a great arm and enthusiasm for baseball. All children are different, individual and unique. Children grow up to be different, individual, and unique adults as well. And strengths and weaknesses are carried right along. We are so willing to accept a talent for baseball, but not a “tendency toward depression”. It signals something “wrong.” But what if it was less stigmatized? What if it was more acceptable to discuss it and to say, “you know you don’t have to be grumpy all the time; you can do something about that” just like, “you know, you can take something for that headache.”
There’s a saying: a happy mom means a happy family. The converse would be true then. And that’s no good. But if the unhappy mom, who wants to be happy because she knows how blessed she is but no matter how she tries is unhappy, could be helped by medication and not have to struggle alone in the same way that a person with heart disease or even a headache does not have to struggle but can take medication, why is that not “normal”? Why don’t we see that as ok?