“I wish I had cancer – not depression”
The woman sitting opposite me was wringing her hands so hard it seemed she might twist them off the ends of her arms altogether. Her face was white, bloodless. Her eyes were dark and unseeing, with only a view of the torment within.
“I wish I had breast cancer,” she said. I was momentarily speechless. I privately dread breast cancer. Now in my mid-40s, the number of friends and relatives hit by this disease is growing steadily.
Yet cancer was looking like a better option from where the client was sitting. She was a professional in the NHS. There was no hint of ignorance or disrespect for those who suffer from breast cancer. She knew what she was wishing for.
“If I had cancer, at least I could talk to my friends about it,” she continued. “They would understand and rally round. As it is, even I don’t understand what is wrong with me.”
Depression is a frightening and alarming experience. Sufferers can find themselves suddenly feeling completely disabled. For some, just getting out of bed can become overwhelmingly difficult. For others, a daily routine may still be possible but all enjoyment and meaning is abruptly lost from life.
Often there is no obvious cause or trigger, no easy way to explain these feelings to a loved one or even to ourselves. Depression therefore tends to bring with it isolation, confusion, shame and self-blame.
“I wish I had a broken leg,” said another client. “Then people could see what was wrong. My parents think I am just being lazy. I can’t tell them I am depressed, everybody is depressed these days – it means nothing.”
The use of the word “depression” has proliferated both in everyday speech and in the medical world, where it has become a blanket diagnosis for a wide variety of very personal feelings and experiences.
Depression tends to be treated with medication as though it is some sort of infection which has to be eradicated rather than a complex experience which needs to be understood.
The idea of trying to explore and make sense of our inner world, and all that is going on for us, is being replaced by simplistic beliefs that we need to adjust the chemicals in our brains or clear out all our unhelpful thoughts.
In truth, we are all affected on many levels by the different events in our lives, sometimes much more than we might appreciate. Taking the time to understand our reactions and to make sense of our feelings can not only be crucial for our mental health, but can prove to be an opportunity to grow and unfold.