BY RACHEL WONG
No one can possibly be happy 24/7. If anyone is offended by this opinion, then I apologize. But the truth is, there are always things in life that will inevitably bother us. And at the end of the day, as the optimists of the world will tell us, it is how we react to these things that really matters. We have the capability to make our own decisions and to choose how much we are going to let things affect us.
People with depression aren’t pessimists all the time, though we surely aren’t optimists. We see the world through foggy, rainy lenses, but we still have this small inkling of hope for a better tomorrow. Though it may not be evident in the way that we act or present ourselves, it’s there – hidden way below the surface. We know that our behaviour can bring other people down and we know that others generally just want to help. But people with depression are also very solitary. For whatever reason, we think it’s a great idea to be left alone with our emotions. Occasionally, we come out of our shells and we talk to people that make us feel good about ourselves, and other times we might actually feel happy.
But when people with depression open up to family and friends, we don’t expect psychiatric wisdom or diagnoses that you’ve gathered from WebMD. We just want someone to actively listen to us. We need someone to give us an affirmative nod and let us know that we’re being supported.
Because the weird and twisted thing is: we want to be happy too. Not like an overnight, 180-degree turn from sad to happy. We just want to feel better about ourselves and the world around us.
Sometimes, the friendships and the people we seek refuge in impede on that process. I know it’s difficult to be friends with someone who is depressed – I hate this part of myself too. But when we’re already down, it doesn’t help either of us if you continually keep us there.
I had a conversation with a relatively newer friend the other day. While I never openly said that I had depression, I was surprised to hear what she had to say about people who just felt “down in general”. She’s a really cheerful person, which is hard to keep up with sometimes. But when I was telling her how I was feeling not so great about myself that day – not in a sick way, but more of an emotional way – she said to me the words that I hate hearing the most:
“Well, some people have it a lot worse than you.”
Along with “I don’t think we should see each other anymore,” and “(insert name here) just passed away,” listening to that combination of words is like dying a thousand times to me.
Okay, that’s melodramatic. But let me explain to you why that phrase, and all the assumptions attached to it, hurts those who suffer from any kind of mental illness.
For one thing, I know damn well that I am lucky. I woke up this morning in a bed with duvet covers. I have a room which is inside an insulated house. There are clothes on my back and food for me to eat. I have access to education, the right to vote, and a world of information at my fingertips. If I’m sick, there is adequate healthcare waiting for me. I live in one of the greatest countries in the world (sorry, America). I know that I’m lucky.
I also know that on the flip side, there are millions of people that do not have the basic necessities to live. School and health care are far out of reach. They have dreams, just like I do. But those dreams will never be realized if they don’t have food, water, or shelter.
So thank you, I know that people have it a lot worse than I do.
But here’s the thing: because of that particular comment, my feelings of sadness have just turned into guilt. I now feel guilty for whining about feeling down today or for the suicidal thoughts that kept me up the night before. Yes, I know fully well that “feeling down” is nowhere close to feeling hungry because there is no more food left in the cupboard and the food bank has a massive shortage. Those are actual problems that people face. Those are physical, life or death issues that demonstrate the mass inequality that exists in our world today. And here I am, crying about my mental health.
All sufferings are valid, legitimate, and important. We can never judge another’s suffering by using the glasses that we have on. For instance, if someone was upset because they had just failed an exam, it would be incredibly insensitive of me to say, “Well that sucks and all but I was trying not to kill myself last night. You should get over yourself.”
“Some people have it a lot worse than you,” has somehow become the go-to filler phrase
when it comes to responding to people’s pain and suffering. But this phrase has the destructive quality of trivializing the other person’s suffering; it makes them feel as if they need to validate their thoughts and emotions.
I am, in no way, trying to equate my mental health struggles with those who are suffering from terminal illness or poverty. But each suffering is unique. Asking people to validate their suffering is like kicking them when they are already down. Be empathetic and open to listening. You may have no idea what someone is going through, but listening without judgement is the first step to learning.
Rachel Wong is a Communications and International Studies student at Simon Fraser University. Aside from Speak Out, Rachel is also a regular contributor for the Student Life Network and SFU’s student newspaper The Peak. She loves going on foodie adventures, kicking back with friends and telling other people’s stories – all while writing her own. Her dream is to read off a teleprompter for a living one day. Rachel hopes to help change the way society looks at mental illness, one word at a time. You can find more of Rachel’s work at http://rchlcwng.blogspot.com.