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When Major Depression Meets the Know-It-All


The world is full of know-it-alls.

These are the people who give you unasked-for financial advice, who tell you should try another haircut “for your long face” and who interrupt your stories with “Well, this is what I’d do blah blah blah.”

When we are mentally healthy, these people are a mild annoyance: we smile, nod and pretend to listen. When we are mentally compromised, though, it’s a different story.

During a particularly low time, I had to listen to an acquaintance’s meandering story about how she had a horrible sinus infection, but “just pushed through it” and made her trip to Italy. Another told me a variation of this “persevere and overcome” theme: in college 20 years earlier, she was inconsolably depressed by a C on a chemistry test — so she “worked really, really hard,” until she turned that grade into an A. Their message was transparent: if I would apply a little elbow grease, I could triumph too.

And this is why the unasked-for advice of the know-it-all is not just ignorant — it is dangerous.

Take my already-sick brain and feed it less-than-facts, and that brain might start to believe them. Surrounded by such ideas, I began to hate myself for my weakness, sure I wasn’t trying hard enough to get well. The relentless lethargy I felt, which kept me cocooned in my bed for most of each day, wasn’t a symptom of my depression: it was pure laziness. I needed to focus and learn to find the lost joy in tennis, gardening and art again. I needed to remind myself how lucky I was to be alive, instead of dwelling on death thoughts. I needed to stop crying.

Except, depression doesn’t work that way. We aren’t merely sluggish or sad or bore. Misguided pep talks, inspirational memes, a better attitude — none of these will fix us.

I am six months well, and I can easily understand that again. A broken mind cannot always remember, but a healthy mind accepts that clinical depression is not a flaw or an inadequacy. We know that we were sick — and that we may be deeply, painfully and profoundly sick again.

My hope is that if and when that time comes, and when they start suggesting a little more time on the treadmill or a “glass-half-full” outlook, I will be able to smile, nod and pretend to listen. Because there will always be know-it-alls.

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Thinkstock photo via DeanDrobot


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