Two? Three? weeks later, I am finally mentally prepared to discuss -- at least a little bit -- the Matt Walsh depression blog, along with the idea in general of giving advice to people with depression.
When it first surfaced, I couldn't read the whole thing. Eventually (on a pretty good day) I managed to make it through, and I knew I had to respond. Except it turned out responding was way worse than reading it. I tried twice to write something about it. Both times, I had to stop halfway through in tears and was far from functional the rest of the day. It was... well, pretty triggering.
I had to unfollow people who reposted it on Facebook because nope nope nope, I couldn't deal with that. But then it launched into other people offering their own takes on what depressed people should and shouldn't do, and so I just stopped looking at Facebook, hoping the trend would die down soon and it would become a safer place for me again.
It did, and it has, and I've breathed and thought and now I just want to make one simple point for people to keep in mind when dealing with depression.
Walsh says in his post that he has dealt with depression. A lot of people have claimed that's a lie. I am not a fan of dismissing people's personal experiences, and I certainly don't know him in real life, so I don't really have any reason to think he is lying. Plenty of people struggle with depression that you wouldn't suspect. What I can emphatically say, though, is that his depression must have been drastically different from mine.
Mine comes with a built-in layer of All The Guilt.
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And while obviously not all depression is the same, I've talked to enough people whose depression includes extreme guilt that I'm pretty sure it's not just me, and it's worth taking into consideration the fact that if you're talking to someone who is depressed, there's a decent chance that they're feeling extremely guilty. For everything.
Let me add another thought to that: Depression guilt is not rational.
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This is in no way just "not being able to take criticism" or an immature response from an oversized ego or "taking things too personally". I try very hard to learn from my mistakes and do things better the next time. I truly value criticism. But depression guilt is very skilled at latching onto anything negative anyone has ever said about anything I was connected to and somehow turning that into self-hatred and guilt and fear.
So. With this in mind.
Walsh wrote a follow-up post to his blog in which one of his main points to his critics was along the lines of, "You're twisting my words! People shouldn't be upset about things I never said!" And while I agree criticism should be accurate, he's missing the much bigger picture: He wrote, at least in part, to a depressed demographic, and depression twists your words, too.
I have never been suicidal, and Walsh made a big deal of saying that he was talking about suicide in his post, not depression... but depression guilt made everything Walsh said apply to me too.
Statements like "The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope" became "If I can't find beauty in something now, it's because I'm refusing to."
Statements like "The willingness to saddle your family with the pain and misery and anger that will now plague them for the rest of their lives" became "If you don't hurry up and get rid of your depression fast, you're hurting your family because you may not be dead but if you cared about anyone you'd clearly be doing more to fix yourself."
Statements like "In suicide you obliterate yourself and shackle your loved ones with guilt and grief" became "Every bad decision I make because of depression is going to hurt everyone I love forever."
Are these rational conclusions? Not particularly. But that's what depression does.
For what it's worth, I do agree with Walsh's main point that suicide shouldn't be glorified. It's a tragic tragic thing. But you can't give people hope by giving them guilt. It doesn't work that way. Some people are motivated through harsh criticism, through showing the awfulness of what they do and think. But with depression, all of that can sound awfully similar to the nasty self-loathing thoughts running through your mind 24/7 anyway, and it's not always possible to distinguish between the two.
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Well, I am a fan of gracious speech in general -- we need more of it -- but, no, I don't think you can't be direct or say anything negative. I'm not a fan of silencing people. But it does mean that if you are writing specifically to people with depression, you shouldn't be surprised when your words get filtered through the lens of depression.
His follow-up post addressing objections included this line:
We live in a culture where rational discussion has become nearly impossible[.]And my instant thought was, "Does he not realize he is discussing a mental illness?!"
Sure, there are plenty of people out there who think irrationally without any excuse, and yes, this is a sensitive subject where even people without active, current depression may respond without fully reading... but excuses like this also blame people like me, who are fighting against irrational self-hatred, irrational self-loathing, irrational guilt and fear and anxiety and apathy every single day for weeks on end.
He either 1) didn't know that depression makes things seem worse than they are, or 2) didn't actually think anyone with depression was going to read this blog. He wrote that blog to and about people with real depression, and then he got offended when people with depression (among others) responded to the accusing tone of his blog rather than the actual words.
This frustration that "oh my gosh, people get emotional about depression, what's up with that?" indicates to me once again that whatever experience Walsh has had with depression, it was nothing like mine is today. Maybe his depression really didn't have an ounce of guilt in it. Or maybe he felt like he could just logic-and-joy his way out of the guilt. If that's the case, well, that's nice for him, but I'm pretty sure that's not how it works for most of us.
So what does this mean for me?
All right. All that being said, this is the main thought I want to pass on.
|© 2007 Richard Gillin, Flickr | CC-BY-SA | via Wylio|
In my own writings about depression, I try to be very careful not to say "This will make things better!" Because sometimes it doesn't. And I don't want someone to read my blogs about dealing with depression and feel worse about it. I always try to frame it in terms of "Sometimes this is helpful for me" and encourage people to share their own stories because mine are in no way definitive.
I think sometimes people get frustrated when they see depression (not frustrated at depressed people, frustrated by the disease itself) because it feels like it should be something that just a little more self-control can fix, like controlling your temper or just doing things you're scared of. That can lead to very dogmatic statements meant to be encouraging, with those people having no idea that they're instilling even more guilt into the people they're trying to help.
If you find something you think might help a friend with depression, here's my brief take on it: you can totally reach out to them and show that you care -- it might be very encouraging -- but make sure they know they're not obligated to try it and it's not obligated to work. If you're not sure, you can even ask them first: "Is it OK if I shared a thought with you, or would that not be helpful?" Above all, let them know they're loved and valued, even if this is something they deal with for a long time.
I don't feel like I'm doing a very good job pulling these thoughts together, but in conclusion, let me say this. I advocate for love and compassion in dealing with people all the time, but just... please be extra compassionate in dealing with a subject like this. This is not a time for tough love.
And I did want to throw out a quick thank you to all my wonderfully kind and compassionate friends -- even those who have never dealt with depression themselves -- who thoughtfully listen and pray and love and care.