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Yes, this again

I’ve been over this before, but it bears repeating, because I see this meme absolutely everywhere. The notion that a person is capable of choosing how to feel. That one can just make the decision to be happy and, ta-da, it will magically be so. It makes some people feel better to say things like this, because it gives them a sense of having control over things… or a sense that they needn’t feel any remorse for the unkind things they do because “no one has the power to hurt you unless you let them.” What it is, actually, is a bunch of blatant victim blaming people pull out when they become uncomfortable with the suffering of others, and want it to just go away and stop bothering them. Human emotions are exceedingly complex, based on environment, stimulus, and above all, neurochemistry, which is a science the surface of which we have barely scratched. I will allow that there are sometimes choice points between a painful stimulus, and our reaction where (if we are fortunate enough to be in a healthy state of mind) we might be able to do damage control, and lessen the pain we will feel as a result. This is some major mind kung fu (call it Cognitive Behavior Therapy, or Rational-Emotive or whatever) that is certainly valuable stuff, but it’s hard as hell to get good at. In the meantime, the terrible depression I am suffering is NOT a FUCKING CHOICE I have made, thank you very much. I do every single damn thing they tell you to do to make it better. I fight it tooth and nail every day. Every time I hear someone say “well, it’s really up to you to decide to feel better” it makes me want to step in front of a bus. Whether you want to admit it or not, words have power, and as humans, we have an obligation to be mindful of what we say to each other.

And for the record, given the hard-wired drives, fears, and desires that our human condition mandates (and also given how predictable and universal so much human behavior seems, if you observe it across time and cultures) I am not even sure how much individual agency we really have in anything we do. I’m not saying that we never make choices, I just think that any given choice before us is drastically limited by countless circumstances that we are mostly not even fully aware of due to our very limited perspective.

Comments

maugorn
Apr. 28th, 2014 05:07 pm (UTC)
For the record, I am REALLY on board with your assessment about the whole cop-out from remorse tactic. I've seen and been on the brunt of that many many times. Fortunately most people aren't hurtful, and are just trying to help, but may be doing so uncluefully.

Having been on both sides of the equation (depressed and trying to help someone) I think that what it comes down to on the part of people who don't get it is a confusion of two points:

- what one feels
vs

- what one does

Whether one feels good or bad is not directly correllated to whether one acts in one's self interest.

Yes, It is ultimately up to us, what we DO. But, that's not always the hard "end of the story".

Someone who has trouble focusing on work because they're depressed is not in the same boat as someone who keeps quitting every job they get and then whines about not having enough money to go out, party *and* pay rent. In the latter case, they really need to stop being a dumbass and learn that there isn't a free lunch. In the former case, there may be causes that have NOTHING to do with their willingness to pull their own weight.

Feelings are real, and they can and do influence our thinking. They can't just be handwaved away or fixed with a "platitude adjustment".

For people trying to be helpful, it's very unproductive to act that the feelings don't count, whether it's the "focusing on the positive" technique or even the "drill seargeant" technique.

If you want to be helpful to someone who's depressed and *you're* not, it *will* help to point out what you see that they can't,and focus on helping them get it done, not how to make them feel.

Maybe DON'T say:
"Everything will get better if you just *believe* and you'll get out of bed and all those things will get done."

Maybe DO say:
"That's the Depression talking. Don't listen to it. Listen to me instead. Come on, get out of bed, and let's get something done rather than letting it win."

And so- assuming you're writing about yourself, I say to you:
"I'm so sorry to hear that you feel bad. Try not to listen to what the Depression tells you. It's lying. Ask me how I know. You CAN do stuff and you DO deserve better. I'll help if you need something I can do."
fenriss
Apr. 28th, 2014 06:47 pm (UTC)
Thanks Maugy. This is very well said, and I especially like the term "platitude adjustment."

I find that I get a little delusional when severely depressed, especially about the nature of the depression itself. The depression tells me lies like "you have always felt this way, and you will always feel this way" or "you feel this way because you've been a bad person, and deserve to suffer." I know rationally that these things aren't true, but there's a small, childlike part of myself that *really* buys it. Fortunately, as the years go by, it slowly gets easier to remember that depression lies. The symptoms of the illness may not precisely get less painful, but at least I can hang onto the knowledge that I have been through this before, and I always come out the other end, back into a place of peace and contentment.
peregrin8
Apr. 30th, 2014 07:27 pm (UTC)
Depression does lie!

Have you heard Andrew Solomon's TED talk? I thought it was great, and you just reminded me of the part where he says, also sometimes, the *truth* lies.

http://www.ted.com/talks/andrew_solomon_depression_the_secret_we_share

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