The just get on/deal with it fallacy

Posted by Arjen Lentz on May 18th, 2011

I was recently told this – it’s quite common to hear it generically and it ranks high on the list of “very unhelpful things to say to a person with depression”, but I hadn’t had it tossed at me personally in recent times.

The reason it’s utterly unhelpful is that it presumes that a person can just “snap out of it”, “stop whinging” or whatever, and that completely disregards the medical background of the situation. It’s just not how it works. To put it bluntly, it’s essentially denying the existence of depression as a medical condition. And while individuals are entitled to their own opinions, I reckon there’s been enough medical research and experience amassed to safely conclude that depression exists – so I prefer to not get drawn into discussions on that baseline, or be put in a situation where that gets questioned.

I consider myself quite lucky. I’ve always been able to get up in the morning. I don’t necessarily feel so good and my ability to do things during the day may be affected, but I get up. I know that others don’t. Because they just can’t. While that may be very difficult to comprehend for someone who has never been in that situation, a little bit of understanding, compassion and empathy helps.

This is just one example. I’ll soon scribble another post reflecting on what might go on in my head and outside on a day that things are not working so well.

Awareness in the community is important, which is an important reason for BlueHackers’ existence – but those with depression can also take a useful lesson from all this though, because for many of us depression is cyclical – it’s not at the same level all the time, and there are very good periods. There can be obvious negative triggers such as stress, illness, bad diet, lack of sleep (I’ve written about that earlier) some of which you have influence over, and others that we may not know about or can’t directly influence.

If you manage to put things in place during good times, it’ll give you a kind of buffer in bad times. A habit is easier to keep up than it is to get started, that is, change often requires more effort than maintaining the status quo, even though the status quo might be you going for a daily walk. That may seem a bit contradictory at first, but we’re primarily talking about mental energy here, not physical. Now imagine, if you were some able to keep doing that daily walk, that alone may not prevent bad episodes but is quite likely to lower the severity and duration and overall keep you in better shape – in this case literally as well, since it is exercise! But think of a habit of going to bed at a set time, reading a book or doing some relaxation… same applies.

Mind you, I’m not perfect with this – I can be a complete slacker, but every time looking back I can see the results both of doing (some of) this and of not doing it. It makes a big difference for me. So, there we have a possibly useful strategy derived  indirectly from an otherwise useless (or even harmful) comment. Naturally, your milage may vary, everybody is different. But perhaps it’s something you can try, starting at the right time. And if you have experience with it already, perhaps you can write a comment!

Filed under: Written Reflections

 

6 Responses to “The just get on/deal with it fallacy”

  1. m Says:

    I’d like to see an article of “helpful things to say to a hacker with depression.”

  2. Leon Says:

    Depression in the medical sense can get kind of complicated – & as with cancer, many of the medications aimed at dealing with that have problems of their own.

    “We are one” is demonstrably false. We are _not_ all identical. A twig or a marble does not have the same rights as a back-street thug or as a fireman. We are, however, part of an incredibly cross-connected network of people, situations & actions.

    Bearing this in mind, it doesn’t take long to discover that some things contribute to depressive behaviour (whether medical or non-medical in nature) & while being medically depressive is *not* something you can wave a star-fitted black rod at to cause to vanish, there are quite a few things one can do to remove complications, contributing factors, etc.

    A very simple initial thing is to improve your physical health.

    Details can go one forever, but there are some very simple first steps: drink *lots* of water (maybe double what you think you need), make as much of your food/drink raw as possible (fruit smoothies, salads, etc), get some aerobic exercise (not necessarily a gym: walking, carrying stuff, energetically cleaning house all count).

    Another very simple thing is mental: realise that you do not have much (if any) control over what happens to you… but that you do control (almost entirely) how you respond to what happens.

    What that means in practice is that when something happens, it will have consequences. Rather than dwell on a particular consequence which upsets you, go to the trouble of finding (identifying) beneficial consequences.

    Depression (medical or not) has little if anything to do with intelligence, so apply your undamaged intelligence to identifying those encouraging factors.

    They won’t always be so obvious, which is where intelligence is generally required. Some of the benefits might be quite indirect, or cloaked behind something which at first glance appears dismal. You can find them anyway.

  3. KrisB Says:

    *wavy hand*

    I express interest in writing that article this week for you m!

  4. Dic Hubris Says:

    This article reminds me strongly of a fictional little conversation I wrote between someone with depression, and someone who doesn’t understand.

    http://dhubris.livejournal.com/14447.html

    While physical health and certain mental attitudes can certainly help, suggesting these to someone mired down in their depression is not always helpful. Where you may see it has offering helpful suggestings to “fix the problem” it will often be seen through the negative lense of depression as just pointing out yet more ways in which they are inadequate, increasing the feeling of helplessness. “Vicious cycle” may be a cliché, but it doesn’t mean it is untrue.

    “Often we don’t really need advice or guidance from each other. Sometimes we just need a friend to deposit courage into our soul.”
    — Mike Foster

  5. Loki Says:

    So my problem is, how you differentiate between someone who *won’t* get out of bed, and someone who *can’t*?

  6. arjen Says:

    There would generally be other aspects that make it possible to assess that. But it can be difficult as people are complicated.

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