When you break a leg, you have difficulty walking. You may use crutches or a cane, and you may be able to manage ok, but you don’t go as far or as quickly as you would have before.
Depression can be like breaking your leg. I had difficulty thinking clearly, problem solving was exhausting, if not impossible, and I certainly couldn’t do it as quickly or easily as I would have before.
When you have cancer, you may feel like your life now revolves around the diagnosis. With possible surgery, various treatments options, pain management and doctors visits. There is a lot to figure out.
Depression and anxiety can be like cancer, I felt like my life revolved around them for a while. There are so many self help books, treatment options and of course personal opinions on how to ‘get over it’. And if you ignore just ignore the cancer and pretend it is not there. We all know it will eventually get much worse and more difficult to treat, just like depression. But I often hear of people trying to manage these things alone. Although there are medical professionals available to most of us, in some form, we rather do it ourselves then jump through the hoops to get help.
Now, I know some people may disagree and say depression and anxiety aren’t like cancer, they won’t kill you. Well, to them I say ‘yes they can’. It can literally make you feel hopeless and want to end the pain so badly that you commit suicide. Or forces you to self medicate with drugs, alcohol or high risk behaviours, which can also kill you. Or they simply takes over your life is such a way that you are no longer truly living.
So why would we want to manage any of these things alone? We don’t expect people with a broken leg to manage it themselves? You go to the hospital, get an e-ray, have a cast put on and go of follow-up appointments. We don’t expect someone with cancer to read some books on the subject and the various treatment options and expect them to get better. We don’t advise them to just focus on the positive, practice better self-care, change their diet or question if they really have a problem or are they just making a mountain out of a mole hill? We don’t judge them for trying to get on with their life as normally as possible, like going out with friends. We don’t think they are weak because they demanded to see the best doctors if they feel they were not getting the right care for their situation.
But this is exactly the kind of advice many of us get from well meaning people when we share the fact that we are dealing with a serious mental health issue, whether or not there is a clinical diagnosis.
“But don’t we all get sad? Don’t you know it will just pass if you let it?”
“Maybe its hormones? Sounds just like pre-menopause.”
“Why not just take a holiday and shake it off? You just need to take better care of yourself”
“But you looked great when I saw you out last week, what happened?”
And I could go on…
So what can we say?
“Please get professional help, this sounds serious and you shouldn’t have to figure it out alone.”
“I have never experienced this, so I don’t know what to say, but I care about you. What can I do?”
“I’m sorry to hear you are going through this, I hope you are getting the support you need.”
So the next time you are talking about mental health issues, imagine you are talking about cancer or a broken leg and see if you choose your words differently.
I’d love to know so please leave a comment.