Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Depression and Lies

Last Friday my therapist said this;

"I hate depression because it is a bunch of lies."

He was very passionate when he spoke.

I thought about what he said and remembered what I thought of myself when I was depressed and suicidal and came to him for the first time. I thought this way as recently as last November. Six months ago.

1. I am no good
2. I am a failure
3. The future is dark
4. The future cannot be changed
5. I am stuck
6. The suffering is more than I can bear
7. I am broken and cannot be fixed

In our sessions I have accused my therapist of brainwashing me and telling me lies. He was very disturbed to viewed as a brainwasher. In fact, he looked this word up in the dictionary. It is a habit of his to look up all words that he is uncertain of (I think my vocabulary exceeds his) or that the patient insists on using that might have a negative connotation. He reads out loud the dictionary's definition of the word and you must determine, right there and then, whether it is a word that you wish to continue to flout in his presence, or else, you must take it back as being inaccurate. This way he closely examines the truth or fallacy of what comes out of your mouth. As a medical doctor looks up information on the medication he prescribes, my therapist looks up additional information about the words that come out of your mouth. It is clever. It is eccentric. The dictionary is ever close at hand, on the floor, by his feet.

The official definition of brainwashing was so, may I say evil, that I no longer use the word in my therapist's presence. Oh, he has thrown it back on me, having been wounded by it he doesn't forget the insult, but I hold my peace. If he does not like to see himself in this light I will not press the matter. As I said last Friday to my therapist "I have the desire to tease you, but not the desire to disrespect you." This includes not wishing to hurt his feelings.

However, the essence of my claim is still true. I am being influenced by him and guided by him. I am impressionable; this is a fault and a strength. It is a fault in that I can be mislead when I think that an authority figure is telling me some truth. I bow to authority. I love to be in awe of people, especially people in power. When, twenty years ago, a doctor told me that a patient "was perfectly happy being locked up in isolation, he has made for himself a little nest and adapted to it" I believed this to be true. When a fellow patient in the hospital protested that the continuing isolation in a tiny locked room was inhumane and cruel, and lobbied to free the poor soul and let him mingle for several hours every day with his fellow patients, I realized the error of my ways and was astonished how easily I trusted in the doctors. I had been a sap, a follower, and had little in my bones of a revolutionary nature. Then years later, when I was told that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and a leader who was prone to use them, I let this political lie be the reason to support going to war. Again, I did not question the wisdom of those in power. What little space I have in my head that allows me to think for myself is precious to me, because, it is such little space.

But my impressionability is a strength in that I am open to the world around me and allow change to happen. Just yesterday, I visited Wal-Mart and twice I saw people that made me say the small prayer, "But for the grace of God there go I". There was a lady with a beard, shaved of course, but obvious in its disfigurement of her looks, and a lady being pushed in a wheelchair. My looks, while not beautiful, at least do not gather pitying or curious looks. And although I am having some difficulty with my knee, at least, I am not confined to a wheelchair. There is great hope that something in my knee will heal or be fixed, and I will walk with ease once again. I saw two people with disabilities that I am glad I do not have.

I was happy that the lady in the wheelchair, who was young, was being pushed by a handsome man, and I imagined, that the two knew domestic bliss. I was also happy to see an interracial couple pushing a carriage with a baby in it. The man was dark chocolate brown, and the girl was fair. The baby was obviously their own, having a complexion that favored the mother, but hair that was very kinky, and showing in texture, that it was a mix of both African and Caucasian blood. I thought about the social obsticals that this couple must occasionally face, and I cheered them on, hoping that they had a love that makes them persevere, even though, they look so very different on the outside. Now they have a baby that really cements them together. If it weren't for my impressionability, such scenes would pass me by without internal remark. I would be more blind to the world and more hard in considering it, if I weren't so impressionable. I know I can be a fool, but occasionally, the world does give me visions.

Knowing that I am impressionable, when I first came to see my therapist, where I saw tragedy of a mental illness, he saw courage in the midst of a mental illness. And he has steadily been working, hard, to change my point of view. He has succeeded in altering me slightly. For instance, I now notice that in my peer support group I elaborate on a participant's "courage" and say that I view the little steps that a sick person makes to link himself to the world at large as being "victorious"over the illness. It is all well and good to be supportive of others who are down, and yet, I am confused. I know signs of illness and disability, and yet, here I am, chirping positive feedback instead of feeling the depths of despair over situations that are far from normal or healthy. It is like I have been granted double vision. I see the hell of things but find myself voicing affirmations. The clown is crying even as he stands on his head, balances a little dog on one foot, and makes you smile and laugh.

I know that my therapist is not depressed, although I do not know if he experiences sadness. To my perception he is a very happy person. It seems like he is a Peter Pan, a boy who has never grown up and who flies through the air. He certainly has the point of view that a happy person has who is wedded to his joy - depression "lies". And I know that I am no longer depressed, my mood is somewhat elevated, and that I no longer usually think the gloomy thoughts that in the beginning of this post I made a list of. But I have not completely turned my back on my list and in it I can see the glimmers of truth. Depression does not teach lies. Depression is truth without hope. And I've just read, in a book, scientific evidence that supports my belief.

I am reading "Lincoln's Melancholy" and on page 135 is a scientific investigation that supports the notion that I am not crazy, but in fact, it may be my therapist who is crazy.

"Previously, depressed people were believed to be drawing conclusions about themselves and their experiences that were unrealistically distorted towards the negative. Yet as this research suggests, one cognitive symptom of depression may be the loss of optimistic, self-enhancing biases that normally protect healthy people against assaults to their self-esteem. In many instances, depressives my simply be judging themselves and the world much more accurately than non-depressed people, and finding it not a pretty place." Abramson and Alloy termed the benefit that depressed people showed in the experiment the "Depressive Realism" or the "Sadder but Wiser" effect.............."We have a tendency to regard people in their ordinary moods as rational information processors, relatively free of systematic bias and distorted judgments.........(while in fact) much research suggests that when they are not depressed people are highly vulnerable to illusions, including unrealistic optimism, overestimation of themselves, and an exaggerated sense of their capacity to control events. The same research indicates that depressed people's perceptions and judgments are often less biased." The psychologist Richard Bentall has taken this research to its extreme conclusion, humorously proposing to classify happiness as a psychiatric disorder - "major affective disorder (pleasant type)."

So I don't know what to believe. A person who is very joyful, and who I know intimately, is my husband. And I know this one fact - he is terrified of 1) facing reality and 2) projecting consequences that are negative into the future. Here is a sample of a conversation I had with my husband several months ago. Obviously I do all the banking in my household and I pay all the bills. He earns all the money, but he wishes for me to do all the management. My words are italicized, his words are bold.

"I want to tell you how much we have in our savings account."

"I don't want to know how much we having in our savings account."

"But you should know."

"I don't care."

"I promise, if I tell you, it isn't as bad as you think. We are doing better than last year."

"I still do not want to know how much we have in our savings account."

Finally I did not care what shock it did to my husband's system, I blurted out the amount to him of how much stood between us and utter poverty. It didn't seem fair that I should shoulder the cares and worries while he floated oblivious.

Just an hour ago I got a phone call from my husband. He called to tell me that he is working overtime every day of this week. He was happy about this fact because, it means, that there will be more money to put into our "Ireland" account. Now overtime to him is all about taking some future dream vacation. It used to be about saving for a car when our car is worn out. Which is the more sensible concern? And yet, I want him to be happy about having to do overtime work. I don't want him going to work with dread for the long hours he will have to put in. And so I'm going to leave the bait and tease alone and not veto the "Ireland" account.

When I think about us going to Ireland, I think about giving him memories that might keep him happy when he goes blind. Yes, he is slowly going blind. And you know what? I have to mix his eye vitamins with my medication because he has proven, that on his own, he neglects to take them. When I take my medication I give him his medication. The one thing that can prevent his eyesight from deteriorating further he will not do without my interference. This little dance with medication occurs because I am thinking about the future, and he will not project negative consequences into the future.

My husband is happy, blissfully happy. But in our relationship I am definitely the realist. So I must ask my therapist, next time I see him, what exactly are the lies that depression tells people, and then judge, whether or not to join him in his fantasy.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Karen,

    You wrote as your Depression List:

    1. I am no good
    2. I am a failure
    3. The future is dark
    4. The future cannot be changed
    5. I am stuck
    6. The suffering is more than I can bear
    7. I am broken and cannot be fixed

    I identify with this list because it is similar to the one I might have made when I was suicidally depressed. But there were also morbid fantasies of suitable ways to die. Those fantasies certainly weren't about realism, though I sincerely felt miserable and the list is a distortion of reality.

    Here's the realistic list:

    1. I am good enough.
    2. I've had both successes and failures, but neither state defines me.
    3. The future has just as much potential for good as for bad, it is not set in stone.
    4. The future depends on the present and can always be changed.
    5. I am freer than I realize.
    6. There's more to my experience than just suffering. I will seek out a broader view, even if that means that I have to sit with the pain.
    7. I am sick, but not broken, and I have the potential to noticeably reduce my suffering.

    Is the glass half full or half empty? If the glass is half full does that make it overly optimistic or just realistic? And if the glass is half empty does that mean it is also not half full? Realistically it is both half full and half empty, but that still leaves you with a healthy portion. The point being that half is better than nothing. Serious depression causes you to feel as if you have just about nothing, maybe a couple of drops of water in the glass, so what's the point? But that's not the truth. The truth is the glass is still half full, but your perceptions have been affected by a serious lack of motivation and an absence of more lasting pleasure along with low self-esteem. What came first? Low self esteem caused by the trauma of acute psychosis or lack of motivation and pleasure caused by an imbalance of neurotransmitters? In my case, the low self-esteem came before the trauma. I had years of training my mind to put myself down and that training might possibly have had an effect on my body. An example of patterns of negativity changing body chemistry, a sort of poor physical/emotional adaptation to an attitude. Can attitudes really hold so much power? I believe they can. So choose wisely.
    (Obviously I'm siding with your therapist...)

    The good thing about being impressionable is it allows you to suspend disbelief for a little while so that you can give both sides a fair chance to make their cases. This ability to stay open is a blessing even if sometimes you get disillusioned.

    Take Care,

    Kate : )


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