It seems to me that there has been a steady and persistent flow of interviews and profiles of famous people and/or public figures dealing with depression of late.
I concede that this might not actually be the case – the flow may have ‘always’ been there, or it might be that I notice it more than others since I have some significant connections with the subject matter. You know, the way that new parents see pushchairs everywhere that others miss, or that owning a particular car makes you notice just how many of them there are in your home-town.
Anyway, as so often the case, I have been party to conversations and observed others about the helpfulness of such things, or otherwise.
I have no conclusions.
On the one hand, it is categorically and inarguably a good thing that the stigma of depression and other mental health issues is challenged. So, hearing about how people who seem to get on with it despite such struggles can be a great encouragement to those who suffer themselves, and an education to those who don’t. Articles from such national treasures as Stephen Fry or (perhaps) surprising sources such as Angelina Jolie can shine a little light of hope on a dark existence.
When I am in a good, strong, safe place, it is encouraging to see how many creative, successful and apparently together people I share a common bond with. The black dog at these times is something you own, not are owned by – I can train him to sit in a locked room and be quiet.
Churches, community groups, employers, governmental officials, the military, schools and everyone and everywhere else need to acknowledge that there are – for whatever reason(s) loads of us around. Sometimes coping, often hiding in plain sight, impressively successful, painfully broken, just… here.
On the other hand, nibbled aggressively as it is by the black dog, it needs to be noted that stories of others coping can do just the opposite.
When the barking is at top volume, ‘success’ stories can make the sufferer resentful of the care the other is receiving, the apparent blasé dismissal of symptoms, the way they have managed to pull their socks up, or have them yanked up by someone else. These stories can re-affirm the gut-wrenching fear that everyone else can cope, but.. not… me.
When I am in a bad, broken, frightening place, all I can hear is the dog barking and biting. All I can feel is – well, sometimes nothing at all actually. At these times the dog will not be trained, or contained, and it seems like he never will be again.
Such stories can also lead those who do not suffer first-hand to conclude that – if so-and-so can deal with it, and still make life a raging, profitable and enjoyable success, then what are you whining about?
As one commentator notes on the Huffington Post’s “43 Inspiring Celebs Who Lived With Depression” (where the Angelina Jolie link originates):
“I find some of these celebrities so-called ‘solutions’ trite,
condescending and unrealistic for those of us struggling to live in the real world.
A celebrity can afford the best of therapists… a personal nutritionist, personal trainer, personal masseuse, a personal assistant to run their lives, while they recover… can take time off to any high end resort/retreat to rest, rejuvenate and find themselves… Doesn’t have to worry about money, security or paying their bills, even if they are not working.
The rest of us are barely making it day to day. Mentally, spiritually, and financially”.
This is not to dismiss the reality and intensity of depression just because you happen to have financial and other resources to throw at it – famous people can lose the same battles that ‘normal’ people do (I could list some here, but it’s just too sad).
It needs to be noted that the majority of those who battle with depression – and those trying to care for them – have limited resources and bills to pay.
The very nature of depression is that it is incredibly isolating and sometimes overbearingly compels the sufferer to think that they are beyond saving, irredeemable and a massive burden to everyone who they come into contact with.
I know this is not true – some of my very best friends also own/have contact with a black dog, and even in their darkest hours I have considered it an honour and privilege to know them and be there for them if I can.
But, when the black dog is biting, I also ‘know’ it is true that I am burden, barely tolerated. Thankfully, so far, I have not lost the biggest battle, and my friends love me anyway.
As always, here is one of the most helpful things to watch if you suffer, know someone who does, or just want to get some kind of glimpse as to what it can be like: