(Mis)understanding the melancholy

Wednesday was a peculiar day in the diabetes-blogosphere.  Usually a day for few words and many pictures (hence, the “Wordless Wednesday” theme), it seemed I read post after post about PWD’s dealing with depression and overall mental health challenges.  After reading Allison’s post on D’Mine, I was inspired to write this.

I’m pretty sure I don’t have any depression-related issues myself.  Although I questioned it a bit on Friday after a couple of rough weeks, I’m pretty sure it’s just the run-of-the-mill doldrums.  Honestly, I wouldn’t be able to explain how I would know if my discouragement was something more serious.   How does a person know if they are depressed?  I can only imagine it’s like how you know when you’ve fallen madly head-over-heels in love with someone: it’s hard to describe those feelings, but if it happens, you’ll definitely know.

When I read these blog entries, like the one I mentioned earlier – as well as this one and this one – and then I read the comments that follow, it exemplifies for me just how important it is to respect and care for one’s mental health as well as physical health.  I see the how burdensome and emotionally draining this can be, and even as a mere observer, it tears me up inside to read about such great people going through such difficulty.

Discussing one’s own emotional state, not only with a therapist, but on the Internet where the world can read it, is an incredibly brave thing to do.  It is a glaring indication of strength written amid paragraphs of melancholy.  It compels me to say something in response, something encouraging, but I’m not always strong enough to do that.

I mean, I realize that living with diabetes is tough, but what can I really say?  To say that I understand what the author is going through is like telling my wife that I understand how hard it is to go through the later months of pregnancy (no, she’s not pregnant again).  Sure, I recognize it’s not easy, and I see the effects, but do I really understand?  Can I really relate to how it feels?  No, I cannot.

Sometimes I think I should offer advice, but then I think I shouldn’t.  Sometimes I wonder if I should try to relate, but I don’t want to come across stupid, like as that guy who knows someone who knows someone who’s lost a body part to diabetes (even though he means well by saying it).  Sometimes I want to be compassionate, but not in a cynical Bill Clinton-esque “I feel your pain” kind of way.

Maybe the best way to respond is with the four simple-yet-powerful words made famous by James Taylor: You’ve Got a Friend.

It’s hard for me.  Hard to know what to say.  Hard to express how I’m feeling without sounding disingenuous, without sounding patronizing.  In some of the stories I’ve read, I’ve learned about the feeling of guilt – feeling guilty for living with diabetes while others die from it.  Trust me, sometimes I feel guilty for not having the same mental health anxieties that so many others deal with.

When I extend a helping hand, please don’t be upset if I don’t know just what to do with it.  I’m not a trained professional, I’m just trying to do what seems right and what feels right.  Trying to do unto others as I’d have them do unto me, if the tables were turned.

And so, rather than let it go unsaid, I feel that now is a good time to tell you, my friends with diabetes, that I do care about you and about the emotional toll it inflicts.  If I’ve ever hurt you by saying the wrong thing – or by not saying anything at all – I apologize.  Even in the writing of this post, I’ve tried to be mindful of my audience, trying not to single anybody out or appear to forget who might be reading this.  I hope I’ve done well in that.  All I ever want is to be sincere, honest, and caring.

Yes, it’s hard for me to know how to say the right thing, but that difficulty is trivial compared to the tribulations you deal with and blog about.  Even though I can’t fully relate to what you go through, I see what it’s doing to you and I want offer support.  When I used the words “brave” and “strength” in the fourth paragraph, I meant it.  Stay strong, and be well.   I’m here for you.

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Posted on May 10, 2012, in Diabetes, DOC, Support and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Just wanting to understand is the first step. Thinking you will know if you are clinically depressed is not always try. Sometimes the mild feelings of sadness or boredom with life just grow so slowly that one can slip into true depression without being aware. Life as a depressed person is horrible. The disease is insidious. I know because I’ve been depressed off/on since I was 14. Thanks, Scott, for this post.

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    • I suppose you’re right, maybe you don’t just “know” it, and on second thought I can see how a person can just slowly slip into it. It’s hard for me to understand how someone else can know if you’re depressed; how another person can look inside your mind and understand your thoughts and feelings, possibly more clearly than you can yourself, But I guess that’s what makes depression so difficult to get a handle on, and why finding the right therapist isn’t about finding someone with a prestigious diploma on the wall, but about finding a person with whom you just “click” and who understands you.

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  2. I meant to type is not always true. not try. oops.

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  3. I think that anytime we take the time to respond to someone, it’s good.
    So, not to worry!

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  4. I don’t think that there is ever a right thing to say. You could say the exact same thing to two different people and upset one of them and put a smile on the other’s face. I kind of like the You’ve Got a Friend idea!

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  5. Hi Scott,

    You’ve left several comments on my blog and I’ve always found them supportive. I find it difficult to comment on posts about depression at times. Written word is somewhat abstract, no body language or tone of voice making it even tougher to truly convey what your mindset is when you write a blog post or make a comment. I always try to choose my words carefully and it might take me quite a while to post a comment or reply.

    On my own blog (which you graciously liked to above) it is often a day or more before I reply to comments. Sometimes I don’t reply, for a variety of reasons, But not not replying does not mean that I found the comment offensive.

    I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt because I think the people do choose to post want to help. Sometimes tho… Sometimes I just can’t figure a way to put a good spin on a comment, even after a couple of days. I’ll always respond to those because I want to show why I found the comment offensive and just not helpful.

    Depression and other mental disorders are so varied as to the best way to treat, the underlying “cause”, the stigmas carried along with them that It would be impossible to always make the “right” comment.

    Thanks for this post and you’ve given me an idea for a post I should do to illustrate some of the other things in my life that also contributed to my clinical depression besides diabetes.

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    • You’re right, Scott. Reading someone’s typed words isn’t the same. I admit that I put a lot of thought into the words I write, particularly on some topics more than others, but I can see how those words may appear to be a bit scripted. That’s because they are — I write and proofread and rewrite, making sure the message I’m trying to convey gets across. If you speak to me, I come across much less polished and certainly not rehearsed, but inherent in that spontaneity is the sense of being genuine, You know the look on my face and the first words out of my mouth are how I really feel. It’s about earning trust — and how I earn people’s trust online and how I earn it in real life are completely different. It has to be.

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  6. sometimes it is hard to know what to say. i truly do appreciate all your support and encouragement.

    sometimes the best thing to say is simply to remind people that they aren’t alone. the DOC is such a supportive group, and i am forever grateful for that.

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    • There is something to be said for stating the obvious and for reminding people that they’re not alone, but sometimes I feel like that’s almost a cop-out response; it applies to pretty much anything and requires very little insight into the what a person is actually saying. But, the truth of the matter is that, for some people, it works. Along those lines, I’ll always remember your “Party in my Sharps Container” post. That visualization of the coffee can and the short accompanying text is one of the most powerful blog posts I’ve ever seen in demonstrating that there are others just like us.

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