Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Depression and "Positive Thinking"

With Robin Williams' death, I've seen a lot of posts remembering the incredible man he was. He was a brilliant actor, a great philanthropist and a fantastic human being.  On top of all the wonderful tributes, there's also a huge amount of misinformation about depression. Chief among them, the belief that depression can be cured by "positive thinking."

I'm a big believer in the power of positive thinking. It's helped me cope with day-to-day stress, anxiety, and more. Yes, positive thinking is important and is helpful in everyday life to maintain a good outlook. But it's not a cure for depression. Here's the thing I've learned about depression: it doesn't care about positive thinking. You could be surrounded by crowds of happy people who love you, telling you happy thoughts, reminding you of how "great" your life is, and it won't make a difference. You can repeat positive mantras every day and plaster your desk with sappy quotes slapped on Thomas Kinkade paintings and it won't "fix" or eliminate your depression.

Depression isn't an "outlook" problem. It isn't a "positivity" problem. It's not "feeling down". And it's definitely not a personal failing or a character flaw. It's a disease. A disease that takes over your brain with a chemical imbalance and just fucks you up. You can't think straight, positivity won't even register in the way people expect it to. You look at these inspirational statements and you intellectually understand them and what they're trying to do but they don't change the fact that you are still struggling with a medical condition every day that the world believes is just an attitude problem. It's like showing a person who is drowning a picture of a lifeboat and saying "Look how positive and hopeful this is! You should stop drowning now!"

You know what helps more than inspirational quotes? Therapy. And meds. And exercise and getting out in the sunshine (which are ironically the hardest of all). And you know what else? For a lot of people, this isn't something that can be cured. It's something that they have to face day in and day out. Every morning they wake up and fight the battle to feel alive.

I've battled depression for over 15 years and I've had to come to grips with the fact that I may never see the end of this. I have good days and I have bad days. Some years it's easier, but it's a constant in my life. I've heard all the reactions from "you just need to cheer up" to "it's all in your head." I've even been told that my suicidal thoughts aren't "real" suicidal thoughts unless I act on them. Because, you know, the fact that therapy and meds have kept me from killing myself invalidates my struggle with this disease. Or something like that.

Robin Williams' death is a tragedy. He was a great man. And I don't want to see people cheapen his life and his struggle and try to boil it down to "needing more positivity".  RIP, Mr. Williams.
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