The 6 Ways People Invalidate My Depression
As a person who has major depressive disorder, I’ve noticed almost everyone around me seems to believe they’re very insightful when the topic of my depression arises. Most have not lived with depression, nor any mental illness, yet they are incredibly vocal about ways I can get better. From the bare basics, such as the clutter in my home, to my entire catalog of books standing proudly on their bookcases, someone always thinks they know how to cure my depression.
For the most part, I’m sure these comments come from a place of love, but honestly, they can also be massively invalidating and only further increases my self-directed guilt and anger for not getting better. This is especially dangerous considering one of my co-morbid diagnoses – borderline personality disorder, which feeds on invalidation and is in many ways caused by it.
Here are six ways people have invalidated or patronized my illness:
1. When my mum comes to visit, she believes I’m depressed because I don’t get enough sunlight, or is it because I don’t drink enough water? I can never remember. (Sorry Mum, I know you love me and only want me to “get better,” but those kind of solutions are no good for me.)
2. When that old “friend” who contacts me to arrange a meet up gets disappointed because I’m just “no fun anymore” and tells me that maybe all I really need is a good night out. I try to tell her I’m too ill to leave the house.
“I can’t. I’m housebound now. Have been for years.”
We haven’t spoken since. The truth is, I never really like a “good night out.” I’m an introvert. Instead, I like a good night in with Disney movies, hot chocolate and books.
Oh, and on the topic of books…
3. When the mental health nurse comes to visit and takes it upon herself to pull out all of the so-called “depressing books’”and hands them over to me in silence. No words. Just judgment. I can play this game forever. Just keep staring. Just keep staring. Ah, and then she breaks.
“Samantha, you have a whole load of depressing books in your house. No wonder you’re depressed!” she finally says, eyes crushed together tightly in confusion.
“Actually, I find them really useful. I connect with the characters and they help me not to feel so alone,” I reply.
“Won’t you just try to help yourself, Samantha.”
If this woman knew anything about depression, then she would know I am trying to help myself; I’m trying so hard that even on days when I want to curl up and die, I instead take out a book to try to distract my mind. Yes, maybe the novel does follow a boy with depression, or a housebound woman like myself, but I am connecting with these characters and for a small moment, I am invested in something other than my own existential crisis.
I read all kinds of books: self-help, YA issue books, fantasy and sci-fi. Please do not judge me by a handful of books that are in my personal space.
4. When my doctor asks me if I’m having sex, or have a boyfriend, and if not why not. Yeah, this one bothered me firstly because it’s none of his business, and secondly because he should not automatically assume that I am straight or interested in being involved with someone. My doctor, who has known me since I was a teen, has a full history of my lengthy childhood abuse, and a later rape I suffered in my 20s. He should not be trying to engage with me in such a way, not when I am there to talk about my depression. With his hands now on my knees, he tells me: “Sex will really help you. You should try it. You won’t be so depressed.”
Yes. That really did happen.
5. When my father ignores me, flat out refuses to acknowledge I exist because he “doesn’t know what to say” to me. I’m depressed, I don’t come from a different planet than you. Surely any words would be better than silence. Unless of course those words are “You have nothing to be depressed about, Sam.” Wow, you know what… I really don’t, do I? An abusive, drunken, violent and absent father, sexually abused at 9, lived a secret and “shameful” life with OCD for over 15 years, constantly controlled by BPD emotions, have now been housebound for five years because too much trauma and no treatment has lead me to where I am today. How dare you tell me that I have nothing to be depressed about.
6. When that woman across the street tells me that I have so much to live for and that there are people far worse off than me. Believe me, I know this, and it is for that reason I do struggle so much on a day-to-day basis. I avoid the news because every life lost to another bombing, shooting or whatever tragic incident someone has inflicted upon another human being, I am once again reminded of why this life is so dark and why I do not want to be here.
When I try to explain to people that my depression is far and wide like an ocean, that I cannot see the end to it, just the beginning, they look at me with panic in their eyes. Sure, some want to help, and for those people I’m really grateful. Those are the people who really don’t say much at all, but allow me the space to talk while they listen. Listening is often the best response. For the other people, when I try to explain that my depression has me feeling suicidal, do not tell me that I am ungrateful for life or that I should be thankful for what I have. It isn’t about what I have or do not. I have a house over my head, but that head is full of dark horrors and trauma. It is diseased, and nothing you say or do will have any positive effect on me. In my opinion, all that will is medication and therapy.
Please do not get upset with me when your methods, your “cures” do not work. Your words couldn’t bring back a lost limb, and they are not going to “fix” my “broken” mind.
Please do not ask or criticize me for needing to take antidepressants and anti-psychotics. If you were standing where I’m standing, you might have made the same choice I did. While I’m not completely or even nearly where I want to be on medication, my life was a lot harder without it. Medication took away some of that heavy load that I been carrying around with me for far too many years.
Above all, please, just… listen.
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