Is ‘having a hard time saying no to people’ a good weakness for …

  • Are people who have depression just weak?

    Wouldn’t strong people just get over it and win the day?

    Do you have any idea how much strength it takes to keep functioning when you’re suffering from a depressive episode?

    Yes, it’s a rhetorical question. It’s very likely you’ve never suffered from depression or bipolar disorder. Of course you’ve had the blues, as everyone has. You shook yourself, or gave the mirror a pep talk, and went on your way. That’s nice, but it’s nothing at all like depression.

    Look, I get the plain, old blues like anyone else. I go outside and look at the stars, or listen to some great music, or whatever, and feel better. Depression is not the blues.

    I struggle with depression — what Churchill called “the Black Dogs.” I’m dealing with the damned things right now, as it happens. They’re barking in the distance rather than biting at my heels, so I’ve been in far worse states. I’ll get through this. One of the things that frightens me is the thought that I might end up in one of those states again. And that, Mr. OP, is a horrible thing to contemplate.

    Unlike a couple of other answer writers in this thread, I hope you don’t truly understand what I’m talking about, because I really don’t wish clinical depression on anyone. I’m going to try to help you understand. Considering your monumentally insulting question, I doubt you will understand a damned thing, but, perhaps you’ll prove me wrong. Perhaps somebody else here will get it, and make it worth my effort.

    Think about what it might be like to wake up and feel that getting out of bed is more than you can handle. You work through the cognitive techniques you’ve learned over many years of therapy. Bit by bit, you try to identify what it is that makes getting out bed seem so threatening. You isolate them and refute them, and acknowledge that what’s stopping you is your mental state. You force yourself to get up. It’s been easier than usual — it’s taken only half an hour.

    You look down at your contact lens case. You’ve got to open it, but why bother? You remind yourself that not seeing properly is miserable, so you just make a burst of effort and open the damned case. Good! You might as well put the lenses in.

    There’s no coffee in the pot, and it seems like such a pointless thing to make coffee. But damn it all, you remind yourself that it’s one of your little pleasures. You know that it’s easy, and it’ll probably help you feel better. You push ahead and make the coffee.

    Not bad — it’s only been an hour since you woke up.

    Now, I’d like you to think of the concentration it takes do something new: make pastry (good pastry, mind you!) for the first time, replace the shower valve in your bathroom for the first time, try to drive a car with a manual transmission for the first time. It’s mentally tiring, no matter how much you’ve enjoyed the challenge.

    Imagine needing that level of concentration to do every single thing in your morning routine. Nothing’s automatic. Every damned thing requires focus.

    You’ve still got the rest of your day to deal with. You can’t see the point, but people are counting on you. You pull out our cognitive therapy “chap book” and get on with it.

    So, Mr. OP, if you think that makes me weak, there’s not much more I can do to convince you. I’ll give it another shot anyhow.

    When I went into to see my first therapist, after I had a major collapse (a psychotic break, actually), I said much the same thing you said, Mr. OP. I said I felt ashamed because I was weak. I have remembered the reply I got, after many years.

    “Not at all, “ replied the therapist. “You’re one of the strongest patients I’ve had. If you’d been weaker, you would have collapsed before this. You’d have had a lot less of a struggle to pull out of this mess than you’re going to have.”

    I got angry. How in hell, I demanded, is that supposed to help me?

    My therapist got just as angry right back. “You’re too smart for nonsense. You’re going to need that strength to beat this. You can, you know, as long as you’re not too stubborn to bother. If you’re going to be stubborn, then I don’t want to bother, either.”

    Well, I’m still here, many years, two major depressive episodes and countless minor depressive episodes later. I manage my depression, for it’s never completely gone. For the most part, I have joy in my life. If you would still think that I’m a weakling, and that your strength will “win the day,” then I would pity you, Mr. OP.

    I would pity you because if you find yourself facing those damned Black Dogs, you will discover what strength you really have. With the kind of attitude you appear to have, I strongly suspect you would not have enough. I say that, not with a sneer, but with compassion. You can believe this or not, as you choose, but I know what I’m talking about.

    I hope you don’t find out.

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