Are We A Culture That’s Uncomfortable With Depression?
We are a culture of therapy, antidepressants, and self-medicating. In many ways, that is a wonderful thing. I like to think that we are moving in a direction in which admitting that we are not fully happy, and want to feel better, is a social norm. But, sometimes I fear we have even over-corrected. While, in the past, perhaps someone would be ostracized for admitting they go to therapy or take antidepressants, now I wonder if it has become so celebrated and perhaps even trendy to do such things that we don’t even allow the space in between depression and healing to just feel a regular range of emotions. What I mean is that, it seems today, if we are sad, we are told to do something about it. Right now. We are taught to believe that depression and sadness are unnatural, unhealthy, and should be eliminated as swiftly as possible. I worry that it sets us up for unrealistic expectations of the human experience. To be depressed is natural. Chemical depression is, of course, very serious and should be addressed by a professional. But, besides that, part of being alive will mean feeling sad sometimes. We as humans have the curse of self-consciousness, which means sometimes our brains will go places that are a bit dark. And that is okay. But, as a society, have we perhaps created the idea that that is not okay? Are we a culture that is uncomfortable with depression?
If we feel anxious, we are given a pill
So many people are on anti-anxiety medication. But, if I can be honest, many of the individuals I know on this medication have behavioral patterns that have consequences in their lives that would cause anyone anxiety. I will give you an example. I have a friend who is a serial monogamous. She always chooses relationships that move too fast, become very volatile, and leave her in a situation where she is having to move out of her home or even break off and engagement. She also has a lot of anxiety. And she takes pills.
Perhaps we should face our anxiety
Can you see how perhaps my friend’s own behavior brings anxiety into her life? By remaining on these pills, she can avoid the negative feelings that come with these events. So she isn’t encouraged to reflect on her own actions. She isn’t forced to make changes to feel better. This is just one example of possibly thousands, of course. Not everyone is to blame for their own anxiety. But I do feel that those who do have destructive patterns that bring anxiety inducing events into their life, can turn to pills as a way of avoiding these realities.
Depression is also driven away with medication
As stated before, chemical depression should certainly be treated with professional help. But if you are not typically prone to depression, and suddenly feel a bout of it, maybe don’t turn to pills right away. Talk therapy could be very helpful. Sometimes, we are depressed because something is deeply amiss in our lives. We aren’t happy in our jobs. We aren’t happy with our family relationships. These are things we can actually do something about.
Medication isn’t a substitute for true satisfaction
If we just take a happy pill, we won’t change the source of the issue. Happiness could be on the other side of real changes. The type of joy that comes from doing personal work and finding the right job or the right romantic partner. And that is a type of happiness that no pill can provide.
Sadness can be an impetus
Rather than do whatever we can to eliminate the feeling of sadness, perhaps we should be grateful for it. It is telling us something. If it is nagging us and won’t go away, some serious self-reflection could show that we need to make changes. When we medicate ourselves to send the feeling away, we might actually lose contact with an important compass. That feeling may have been trying to point us in a new direction.
We shy away from real conversation
We live in an odd culture where the social norm is to ask someone in passing how they are doing. And another social norm is to say you are doing great or fine when you’re not. If you tell the truth, like perhaps you are depressed or anxious, the person who asked you how you are will shy away from the conversation.
We can’t have a therapy session every hour
I’m not saying that every time you ask someone how she is, and she says “Not well” that you should pause your day, sit down, and talk to her for two hours. The world just cannot function that way. But I am simply pointing out that, the fact that we have turned the words “How are you?” into a casual, rhetorical phrase has created an environment where we feel at large we have to hide our true feelings to make everyone comfortable.
Should “How are you?” be for close friends?
Maybe it would be better if we only asked “How are you?” of those we care deeply about, and at times we can sit down for the full answer. If you go to many European countries, you’ll notice that baristas and servers don’t ask you how you are. In fact, they think the tradition is strange and superficial—I have immigrant parents and they’ve both said they think it’s odd how often Americans ask “How are you?” and walk off. In their country, they only ask that of each other when they really mean it.
We use humor to create distance
How often do you see memes and GIFs about depression or anxiety on social media? People will like it, give it a thumbs up, or type “LOL so true.” It is almost like a cry for help, when we aren’t quite comfortable with crying.
Humor has its boundaries
When someone posts a meme about her depression, nobody comments, “Hey, are you okay? Do you want to talk?” We go as far as acknowledging the post with the like. But that is it. The poster’s depression stays safely on her side of the computer and our interaction is limited to our little thumbs up.
We feel compelled to find the bright side
If someone tells us about something difficult going on in their lives, what is our inclination? It is to find the bright side. Even if they combat every silver lining we point out, we try to find a new one. We just aren’t comfortable with saying “Well, you’re right. That sucks.”
Let’s be French.
I am joking of course and it is a stereotype, but some say the French sensibility is more comfortable with admitting that some things are just sh*tty. There is no good that can come from them. They cannot be changed. So they just say c’est la vie and then move onto a new topic. Maybe we should do the same.
There is comfort in commiseration
Sometimes a situation does suck. We don’t have to find the silver lining. There isn’t one. Sometimes, someone takes comfort in the fact that we simply acknowledge she is having a hard time. We don’t have to lie to her and try to tell her it will be okay or different. Maybe it won’t be. But on the grand scheme of things, things will be okay. So it’s alright if one element of your life is not what you wish it was. Like a judgmental mother. Or a mean boss. Or those last 10 pounds they won’t come off. Sometimes we should say c’est la vie. And change the subject.
Sadness is just one side of the coin
The truth is that, any moment of pure, extreme joy you’ve felt in your life—any moment of total elation—existed because of the sad times. We only fully appreciate those moments of happiness we fight for by fighting for them. We’ll never experience the positive side of the coin if we just dull the other side with medication or avoid it.
This, too, will (probably) pass
I sometimes feel inconsolably depressed. I used to get frustrated with myself when it would occur. I’d think I wasn’t doing a good job at controlling my feelings or perking up. That frustration would only make things worse. I’ve learned to pause and say, “Hey. I’m alive. I think and feel. I can’t be happy all of the time and that’s okay. This feeling will pass. I’ll be happy again. And I’ll be sad again. I don’t need to analyze or medicate it away.” Feeling sad for a few minutes and acknowledging it doesn’t have to mean I’m falling into a deep depression.