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My Blog

On Depression and Compassion

I have previously written about the connection between creativity and depression when I wrote about my own experience with depression a few years ago. I found that was utterly incapable of being creative or in any way productive during that time.  During that period of my life, it was a good day if I made it out of bed and didn’t spend the entire day weeping. I am usually a happy, extroverted person – most people would probably not think I ever suffer from depression, but as one of those creative types, I can tell you I am as capable of it as anyone else.
I suppose as depression goes, I am fortunate in that I don’t suffer from clinical depression, but have had what is known as situational depression. One of the differences between the two is that clinical depression is usually marked by a chemical imbalance in the brain, whereas situational depression is caused by life events that become overwhelming. They can both have the same effects on a person’s psyche.
I don’t talk about my own experience with depression very much – it isn’t exactly one of my peak experiences, and it was incredibly painful. I am sharing about it now in light of reading the sheer volume of commentary in social media and traditional media on the death of Robin Williams. I am feeling blessed that the great majority of my friends have been compassionate and loving in their responses to Williams’ suicide, as opposed to this Fox News commentator who called Williams and coward, and others who called him “selfish.” I have been saddened and angered that my friends who suffer from this horrible illness – clinical depression – have had to be subjected to these kinds of comments. There was a point in my life – before I went through my own depression – that I might have said something similar, so I feel compelled now to try to be part of the solution, rather than the problem.
One thing I have learned in my years on this earth is that pain is pain. What do I mean by that? I have said this in response to friends who make comments like, “Oh well, my problem/pain/situation/experience is not as bad as this person’s, and so it is somehow less relevant.”  Pain is pain.  Our culture does not seem to want to acknowledge that pain is part of life, and American culture in particular seems to want to tell us to man up, put on our big girl panties, get over it, and any other number of dismissive statements, which absolutely do not help the person in pain. I also realize that my writing a blog in response to this attitude is not going to reach everyone who feels that way. However, if through sharing my own experience I can help a few people to understand, then I feel I will have done some good.
Compassion is a trait sadly lacking in our culture.  In a time when we are beset by responses to the shooting of Michael Brown by a white police officer, violence in the Gaza Strip, floods across the East Coast, and many other news headlines I can’t even think of at the moment, it is easier to look aside, make careless jokes, and behave as though these things are not our problem. I am struck by our own president’s words regarding Michael Brown, and I believe they could be a palliative for all the problems besetting us at this time, “I know the events of the past few days have prompted strong passions, but as details unfold, I urge everyone in Ferguson, Missouri, and across the country, to remember this young man through reflection and understanding. We should comfort each other and talk with one another in a way that heals, not in a way that wounds. Along with our prayers, that's what Michael and his family, and our broader American community, deserve.”
Even if you have not experienced depression, or perhaps especially if you have not, remember that compassion is the best response to another’s pain, and that with compassion, we can ALL find healing. And hope.

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