Monday, January 17, 2005

Depression is Boring

If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ve noticed that I’m trying to do my part to break the social stigma of mental illness. Talking and writing about it is the first step. I’ve written page after page of facts and my own personal experiences with Bipolar and Major Depressive disorders, and will continue to do so.

But Chronic Major Depressive Disorder is not exactly the best inspiration for fictional expression. It’s interesting to a certain extent, but not what one would call entertaining. I mean, it’s not one of those terminal illnesses that one can overcome through courage. You won’t see a TV movie of the week about it, unless it’s about someone who survived suicide and went on to save the world or something equally noteworthy. I dare not even imagine a telethon to raise money for a cure. At least ADD is funny (see Theresa’s posts).

I’ve been thinking about writing a play, one that takes a different approach than previous plays. One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest comes to mind, but that certainly did nothing to break stigma, especially about what they called shock treatment. It’s now called Electro Convulsive Therapy and the procedure happens to be more effective and less harmful than pharmaceutical treatments for depression, schizophrenia, and other illnesses. Ordinary People was an excellent story about a family dealing with their son’s suicide attempts, but it certainly was not very uplifting.

I loved Girl Interrupted, the movie and especially the book (I know the book was good because I read almost the whole thing in one sitting and at the end said, “Damn, I wish I’d written that!” ). The story of mental illness was told with insightful albeit morbid humor, but left me feeling pretty spooked by the heroine’s experiences. Not exactly what I’m looking for in a plot.

All these stories show the tragedy and pain of Major Depressive Disorder and other mental illnesses and I’m not saying that those stories shouldn’t be told. But I maintain that those people who live with mental illness on a daily basis are true heroes and deserve to be written about in a positive way.

You can’t imagine unless you have MDD or Schizophrenia, etc., how hard it is to go through each day, even when the symptoms are “in remission.” It’s like you lug around this huge mask that I call the Happy Face. You have to do this so that others will not know how lousy you feel inside and you won’t have to answer such questions as, “What’s wrong, honey, you look tired/sad/upset?” When you’re well, the Happy Face is made out of paper—it doesn’t weigh much or take too much energy to carry. As your symptoms increase and you must work harder to hide your pain, the Happy Face gets heavier—it changes from paper to wood to metal and ultimately to stone. It becomes more difficult, exhausting, and even impossible to carry around.

Yet there are thousands upon thousands of people who carry around the Happy Face, even if they don’t realize that’s what they’re doing. So many people suffer without needing to, whose illness is undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, who think (or are told) they are lazy or stupid or somehow less capable than they should be. That’s what I want to write about. My purpose is not to shock or horrify or make people uncomfortable, but rather to increase awareness of the actual truth of mental illness: that mental illnesses are simply physical maladies of the brain rather than of the organs below our necks.

So, readers, what do you think? Would you go see a play or film about Depression that isn’t depressing? Or one about a guy with Bipolar Disorder who lives a normal life? How about a play about a woman who has Schizophrenia but nobody she works with knows about it? I’d love some feedback about what kinds of messages you think need to be passed on to the public that would help to change negative opinions and erase social stigma in an interesting way.


--Lu

4 Comments:

At 10:22 AM, Blogger theresa said...

Lu, the goal for me is that nobody remembers that I have MDD, including myself. My ordinary personality is cheerful, quirky, and passionate about everything. So, the few times a year when I have days that I cry for no reason at all, and I want to die because the emotional pain is too great, and everything feels completely hopeless, I'd rather keep out of the public view. I'm fortunate that meds work for me. They don't numb my emotions, and they manage my symptoms most of the time. That doesn't seem particularly interesting, but it might be important for people to know.

 
At 11:10 AM, Blogger Chick said...

I find it so interesting how many people carry around things like this...everyday & hide it from themselves & everyone around them. I haven't experienced mental illness inside myself, but I know very little in life is unchanging (so, who knows what the future may bring).

This is one of the reasons I enjoy reading blogs. You get a very personal view inside someone else's brain & sometimes it totally knocks you out.

 
At 12:56 PM, Blogger John Q. Public said...

Lu, your writing of MDD was the thing that first brought me to 2HotChiks, please don't stop writing about depression. I wear my Happy Face (that's what I call it, also!) every damn day. My only wish is that I can write about MDD as you do - I just can't get my thoughts in order to put them down. If I tried, the post would be some disjointed, it would border on unreadable by anyone who doesn't suffer from this.

 
At 1:49 PM, Blogger Lu said...

T:
It's very easy to forget what MDD feels like when you're feeling better. That's one of the toughest things about Bipolar Disorder, too--when you're manic, you're sure you've never been depressed, and when you're depressed you can't imagine how you ever got your housework done.
How sad it is that we feel we can't share our pain with others as freely as we share our joy. Thanks for your comment, sweetie, and rest assured that I'll revisit this issue in a future post.

Chick:
I'm so glad you're healthy and I hope you remain so. You seem like you'd be a good friend to someone with mental illness--empathetic and kind. Thanks for commenting.

Joe:
Thank you for opening up--makes me feel so much better to know there are readers like you. About the writing: remember how therapeutic writing can be, regardless of what form it takes. Also remember that paranoia is a symptom of depression and that your posts are likely much better than you think they are! I'll keep trying if you do!

--Lu

 

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