As a psychotherapist, my work week is pretty much a qualitative study of humanity. One of my favourite parts of the job is learning about people and the patterns that can be found. For instance, I’ve noticed sometimes people will say they’re depressed, but they’re using the wrong word because what they mean is they’re grieving (i.e. there’s been a loss), it’s a temporary low because of the weather or something simple, or they’re feeling sad that day. If I can have a grumpy day without having anything that should make me grumpy, it makes sense that people can also have a sad day once in awhile without any real reason besides waking up on the wrong side of the bed (there’s a reason that expression was made). There’s another time when people misuse the term depression – a more dangerous time: A lot of people who claim to have “depression” or “anxiety” feel exactly the way they should be feeling because their body is trying to tell them to change something. Last fall I realized a number of people said they had depression, but when they told me their lifestyle I was like “What do you expect to feel when you live like that? I’d be miserable, too.” If you live an unhealthy lifestyle, your body will get angry at you and try to tell you to smarten up – our body wants to protect itself physically and emotionally, and it will hurt you in a small way to get your attention in order to prevent being hurt in a bigger way. In these cases, it’s not depression; it’s the natural repercussion of doing something wrong. What’s worse is well-intentioned people (e.g. parents and educators) placate to the cries of people with unhealthy habits and enable their bad behavior, which perpetuates the problem when a lot of people really just need to live better and sometimes what they really need is a kick in the pants to get moving (yes, I just said that). The truth is sometimes people need to fall on their face to recognize they need to smarten up.
Please note: I’m not saying depression and anxiety aren’t a real thing; they definitely are, but if we throw these labels around all willy-nilly (I love that term) we discredit those who are actually suffering from them. If anything, I’m showing people who genuinely have real depression and anxiety the respect they deserve by telling others not to tarnish the struggle by saying they have depression or anxiety when they feel exactly the way they should based on how bad they live.
Here’s a simple way to look at this: There are good choices and there are bad choices. If you make bad choices, bad things will happen because they should. These things are called repercussions, and repercussions are supposed to make us feel bad, so we will be afraid of doing that bad thing again. That’s the essence of discipline: If you do that bad thing, I will punish you, so you won’t want to do it again. For instance, if my two year old daughter drinks from the toilet – she doesn’t dunk her head in there or use a straw; she uses a teacup to dip in it like a lady – I need to punish her so she won’t keep doing that (and then laugh in private because that’s pretty gross/funny).
Repercussions are the natural result of disrespect. For instance, fire is hot enough to cook, and that means if I don’t respect it and I stick my hand in it, I’ll get burned. In that case, I shouldn’t feel sorry for myself for the pain I feel. That’s how life is supposed to work – learn and carry on. What’s unfair is when people who make good choices have to support people who knowingly make bad choices and never learn. There should always be room for grace, but there’s point where we need to let people face the repercussions of their decisions, so they’ll hopefully one day learn – helping is different than enabling.
I’m assuming the idea that putting your hand in fire being a bad idea is pretty easy to get (it’s kind of a no-brainer), but at the same time, people screw this idea up all the time. For instance, if you eat fast food every day, you should feel like garbage because you’re eating garbage. Your body is supposed to be angry at you because it needs nutrients. If you lay around all day, or watch TV for more than three hours in a row, you should feel gross because that’s very unhealthy. If you overspend and carry a lot of debt, you should be stressed because you overspent and your body is trying to tell you to smarten up with your spending. If you cheat on your partner or do something illegal, you should feel anxious about getting caught because your body is telling you to stop and make things right. If you claim you’re an introvert and never push yourself to talk to people, it’ll become harder to talk to people, which means you’ll be more tempted to hide and make talking to people even harder in the future. At a certain point, not talking to people isn’t being introverted; that’s you being very unhealthy and making things worse for yourself. It’s like people who over drink or smoke too much pot to avoid facing reality; the more you hide, the harder it will be for you to face the real world, and the harder it is to face the real world, the more tempted you’ll be to do the activity you need to hide. Addiction isn’t that complicated – you’re trying to bury pain instead of facing it, and until you confront it and try to heal, you’re going to be stuck. You can’t properly heal if you never pull out the knife stuck in your back physically or emotionally.
A common thing I hear is people will say they have depression because they don’t want to get up in the morning. Um, it’s normal to hate getting up (I’m clearly not a morning person). As physics teaches, an object at rest, wants to stay at rest while an object in motion, wants to stay in motion. There’s a reason we have the saying, “If you want something done, give it to a busy person.” People in motion are more likely to stay in motion. That’s why it can be hard to go to bed at night – that’s normal. But either way, having a hard time getting up or going to bed, isn’t an excuse not do them. Our body might want to protect itself, but sometimes it needs the brain to push it to do the thing it needs – it’s strange.
Life is not that complicated, but our culture seems to be so overly mental health driven that we’re actually damaging people: (enabler) “You have anxiety? Then don’t worry about doing this thing that will actually help your anxiety in the long run because I don’t want you to have to push yourself.” We need to start listening to our body and not running away at the slightest sign of struggle. Instead of “I need to get rid of this feeling,” we need to be trying to figure out what it is our body needs. Instead of just claiming depression, we need to consider, “Do I feel this way because I should feel this way?” For instance, if someone feels like their life is a waste, we should be ask, “Why do you think you feel this way?” Sometimes we feel like our life is a waste because it really is a waste – so do something to change that! Other times, our body is trying to tell us something and we misconstrue the message like “I don’t feel happy, so I should get divorced.” Ehn! Wrong interpretation (sometimes)! Work on the marriage (most times)! Divorce doesn’t make you happier; it shrinks your bank account and adds a load of stress, and means you’re breaking a vow you made in front of family and friend, “for better or worse.” Our body will get our attention, but we need to be careful how we hear isn’t blinded by bias.
As a culture, we need to stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start doing things to get better. We also need to listen to our body instead of being angry at it for making us uncomfortable – there’s a reason. If you deal with the reason, you won’t be uncomfortable. It’s that simple. Sometimes we need help to know how to feel better, so do some research and/or see a therapist. We have more control of our lives than we often realize.
This week may you do the little things that make your life better.
Rev Chad David, ChadDavid.ca, learning to love dumb people (like me)