Why do some people not believe depression is a real illness?
As someone who has battled on and off with depression for about twenty years now, I am increasingly frustrated by the amount of people who seem to doubt depression is a real illness. I frequently encounter people who seem to be of the opinion that 'no-one suffered from depression in the old days, so why is it suddenly a real illness? ' Much of the time this kind of attitude comes from the older generations, i.e. the 65 plus age group, but there also appears to be quite a major problem with convincing non-sufferers in the 30-65 age group.
I find it very annoying to overhear conversations where the topic ofdepression is being discussed, usually by people who don't know I am a victim of depression myself. These conversations largely seem to consist of opinions that include, 'there is no such thing as depression, those people just don't want to work ' or 'if he/she is so depressed how come I see them laughing and socialising '.
To hear these kinds of comments leaves me seething with frustration, and I have been known to chip in and point out that depression is very real, and even someone who appears to be laughing and smiling a lot can be suffering from depression, or even anxiety and depression (as I do). Sometimes these people have the good grace to be embarrassed that their opinions (based on no medical knowledge), have been overheard by an actual depression sufferer, but other times it leads to a whole debate on the subject of whether it is real or not, often resulting in my going home in tears, or at least ending up in floods of tears when I get home.
I have even had to debate the issue of my own depression with an actual Doctor / GP who was covering for my normal Doctor whilst he was away. Obviously my normal Doctor knows my case in depth, and the circumstances that have lead to where I am with the condition now, (so much so he said I should write a book on all I had been through in my life), but the Doctor I had to see whilst he was away was incredibly reluctant to renew my long term medical certificate, clearly failing to comprehend what I was going through. I tried to explain how I feel nauseous, stressed and panicky if I go into the town here, and how I can't handle the volume of people and simply want to get what needs to be done finished, and get out of there as soon as possible. His response was "well I feel like that in town myself". I could have screamed, "this is not just a case of I don't like town and want to go home, it is far more than that", but he was just dismissive of my description, clearly thinking I was just another government sponger, looking for social security benefits for staying at home. I tried to point out my memory is so bad I forget the names (and even faces) of people I have been introduced to minutes earlier, but he said it was not surprising because by staying home I wasn't exercising my brain so it was getting lazy. Hell, if he knew how much I use my brain growing vegetables and writing on the Internet he could not say it doesn't get exercised (sadly although this is stuff I can relax and enjoy because it is low pressure and keeps me in an environment I am comfortable in, it doesn't pay the bills). Eventually, and under sufferance, he signed me off work for a further month so that I could see my normal Doctor upon his return, but what I didn't notice was he ticked the box on the medical certificate stating I would benefit from an appointment with a 'Return to Work Liaison Officer'. This caused me a later problem that my own Doctor had to sort out upon his return by issuing me with a backdated medical certificate so I could receive my health benefits.
In my entire life I had never claimed any benefits until my first Husband died suddenly from Bowel Cancer two weeks after he was diagnosed back in 2001. At that point I took about a month of incapacity benefit before going on to job seekers allowance for a further few weeks. I then took a very low paid live in position and came off benefits (in spite of the fact I was only taking home £50 per week).
Throughout my life I had paid into the Social Security system by working in various jobs, and this never changed on any long term basis until I had a particularly bad onset of anxiety and depression back in 2008. Call it what you want, a 'straw that broke the camel's back ' or whatever you prefer, but this one was the one that I just couldn't face going back to work from. I had just left one job at the time and was due to begin a new position, but as the start date approached I began to get more and more panicky, even physically sick at the prospect (very unusual for me based on previous job changes). I described all my symptoms to a medically knowledgeable friend of ours who works in the local hospital, and he quickly pointed out I was clearly exhibiting standard signs of depression. I then went away and did my research and realised he was right, and I was actually exhibiting far more symptoms of depression than I realised previously e.g. memory loss, a need for excessive sleep, mood swings, low libido, panic attacks, being overly emotional often at inappropriate times etc. I have written on such symptoms in more depth if you click here.
One of the worst symptoms I currently experience is the need for excessive amounts of sleep. This is a well known symptom of depression, yet I still receive criticism and sarcastic comments from acquaintances who may hear that I didn't get out of bed until 15.00 - 16.00pm in the afternoon, (maybe via my Husband in conversation, or if they have called me on the phone and I have clearly just been awoken by the phone call). They look at me like I am just a lazy 'good for nothing ' who lets my Husband go out to work, claims benefits and then sleeps in bed all day. What they don't appreciate is that firstly the quality of sleep a depressed individual gets is usually awful, frequently filled with disturbing dreams or nightmares, and that secondly, if the depressed person wakes up for any reason in the night, it might take them several hours to get back to sleep because they can't stop thinking , and I mean thinking over and over things they are anxious about, problems they have had in their lives or are currently having etc. The result of this is that they might sleep from say 23.00pm until 03.00am, then wake up until 06.00am, before finally getting back to sleep (poor quality sleep let's not forget), until maybe 14.00pm in the afternoon. Total sleep achieved, (of low quality), about 12 hours, still leaving the depression sufferer exhausted. Most nights I need to have at least twelve hours actual sleep, and because I am often up very late (well into the early hours), I am not usually getting out of bed until mid to late afternoon, (at least in the winter). During the summer months I am better because I spend time outside gardening which I find very therapeutic and relaxing. In the winter I just want to hibernate, escape from the depression and wake up when the sun is shining again.
I suppose what actually prompted me to write this article tonight was a simple conversation in a local bar the other night. It was the first time I had met this man, but he was an old acquaintance of my Husband's so I chatted to him with relative ease. The usual question came up from him "and what do you do for a living? ". I briefly explained that I stay at home now mainly due to some health problems. This prompted him to ask "what kind of health problems?" I suppose I could have answered "none of your business" or "it's personal", but not me, being a very open person I gritted my teeth and tried to very briefly give him the 5 minute version of the condition I have and how it manifests itself in my case. I wish I hadn't tried, I just got the usual "well I feel like that about going into town too" response. I sighed and then tried to explain why what I go through is not the same as just 'not liking going into town', and how I have a load of emotional baggage behind me that obviously lead to my suffering from anxiety and depression. I saw the disbelief on his face, and then a brief interruption took place from his friend on a different subject, before this chap quickly made excuses about how he was going home now, clearly to avoid the conversation going further on a subject he had already formed an incorrect opinion on.
I have begun to realise that somewhere along the way I have put myself on the defensive, feeling a need to prove my depression is genuine, that there are good reasons for it, and why the condition is very real. I know there are many tens of thousands of people out there suffering from either depression, anxiety, or both in combination, and I am sure a huge percentage have also been frustrated by the members of society who seem to think it is simply an excuse used by people to avoid work, or to justify sleeping for so many hours as opposed to them simply 'being lazy '.
Without looking for sympathy at all here, I would just like to share here some of what has happened in my life that without doubt built up to the anxiety and depression problems I experience today, and why my own doctor said I should write a book:
1) I had a Father who was 56 when I was born. He suffered from serious health problems that meant he was bad tempered, sicklyand out of touch with the realities of the ages both my Sister and I were. He was in and out of hospital constantly, playing on his illness in order to avoid doing anything in the home. Arguments were a daily event in our household and our Mother was frequently in tears and completely stressed as a result. I used to listen to the arguments all the time and even wrote down notes to show my Mum what had been said in any rows that took place between my Grandmother (who lived with us) and my Father when my Mum was out, (in spite of the fact I was only about 7 or 8 at the time). He died when I was 16, and I was totally relieved.
2) I was a well mannered and polite child, therefore suffered from being a huge target for bullying at school. I was always very underweight which didn't help, and whilst I got on well with my teachers I simply failed completely to fit in with my fellow pupils. Essentially I was an outcast and an object of ridicule much of the time. My nails were bitten down to nothing for most of my life, and I have only managed to grow them properly now I am in my forties.
3) When I did leave school I was a very naïve late developer, and at the point I started wearing make-up and socialising I was targeted by a serial adulterer called Steve 'LG' (name slightly disguised due to him still living locally to me), who suddenly paid me the kind of attention I had never received before in my life. As a much older man he probably symbolised some kind of Father figure to me (as I never really felt I had truly had a Father with my own being the way he was when alive). I was then 17 and this man was 35, I soon lost my virginity to him, and this complicated my life to such a degree that I was beaten up a number of times by other girls in our crowd, ultimately deciding to leave my home in Guernsey and move to the UK mainland for a fresh start (not least of which because he had dumped me and allowed me to take all the blame for the affair, breaking my heart terribly in the process).
4) Once on the mainland I was doing well and met a man I fell in love with (even though I had believed I would never love again) called Steve Sandley. He was a driving instructor with his own business called 'Domino Driving School' based in Tonbridge in Kent. He seemed like the cure to my broken heart, but not so. Steve ended up being a man that beat me up on a regular basis, and I was too weak to dump him, too scared of another broken heart. I still have the scar on my chin where he stabbed me in the mouth with a kitchen fork (although luckily the other injuries such as the cracked rib where he kicked me etc have long since healed). This same man got engaged to me, but then arranged to marry his ex-girlfriend behind my back (a fact I found out three weeks before their wedding). He claimed not to want to go through with it, but that he was doing so because of pressure from his parents (whom he still lived with), and who wanted him to marry her because she had his young child (should I add here that his Mother had punched me in the face when she found out he was seeing me, even though this man was 29 years old and living at home as an adult). He went through with the wedding, but carried on seeing me for a further eighteen months, still beating me up in frenzies of jealousy on an ever increasing basis until I finally built up enough strength of my own to dump him, in spite of him crying and begging me to allow him to move in with me the same night.
5) I then went on to meet my future Husband. He was wonderful, but was in the process of splitting with his own wife who he had caught out in an affair with their eldest son's best friend. For this reason (and to avoid complicating the divorce in her favour) he broke off our brief liaison (and as a consequence broke my heart in the process). I went on to eventually meet a fellow bus driver who I ultimately got engaged to and lived with for two years (along with his younger daughter who was 14 at the time). Things did not go too well with this man (John Winder) and he ended up having an affair behind my back with a long lost ex-fiancée of his own (which only came to light when we agreed to split up). He then turned nasty because she wouldn't agree to him and I remaining friends, so he went along with what she wanted and essentially refused to even talk to me any more (even though he had slept with me the night before I moved out of the flat we shared in Bromley in Kent).
6) After then moving into my own place I met up with my future Husband to be again (Dave), the divorce now long gone and his ex-Wife Ann having moved in with their son's best friend. Dave (Pearce) and I got together, I moved in with him and was very happy apart from problems with his sons (now aged approx 17 and 18) the elder of which was arrogant and resentful of me, the youngest being a pathological liar who was always in trouble. Dave and I got married and were mostly happy, but did have some problems with the sons that were considerable and caused some major rows between us. The eldest son Neal was told to move out by his Father due to his constant arrogance and nastiness towards me, the youngest son Andy was locked up for two years for arson, and then ended up living with us when he was released. His lies caused more rows, and for a while our marriage was under serious threat as a result.
7) I found out that I had major fertility problems when we decided to try for a baby, so after an operation to try to remove some of the endometriosis and an ovarian cyst I was suffering with, I was dismayed to come home after a week in hospital after just one visit from Dave (which was as a result of a row over his younger Son's laziness around the house), to be told by Dave he wanted to end our marriage. I was shocked and devastated, the doctors had said I needed looking after for about 6 weeks when I got home, but instead, on day one he was telling me he no longer loved me. It took some talking on my part to convince Dave to give us six months without Andy (the younger Son) living with us to see if it made a difference to the pressure we were under that was causing the rows.
Dave managed to get Andy into a bedsit of his own and our relationship immediately improved. We were much happier for several months until Dave began to suffer what appeared to be abdominal pains, accompanied by all the symptoms of Diverticulitis or Diverticulosis. He went to his Doctor who referred him for a colonoscopy, but when he attended the appointment he found it too painful to go through with (I explain this in more detail on the Bowel Cancer article). Subsequently within weeks the pain one Sunday became so bad I was forced to call an ambulance. The next day I was told it was terminal Bowel Cancer, two weeks later I was holding Dave's hand when he died. His surviving eldest son, ex-Wife and ex-Brother-in-law treated me appallingly after Dave died, confiscating our only car (a white Mercedes taxi that had belonged to my Husband, but that for financial reasons Dave had registered in his ex-Wife's name during a time she worked with us), and stealing a very expensive camcorder I had bought for Dave as a present and then innocently loaned to Neal (the older Son) after Dave died (he then refused to return it, also telling me his Dad had been having an affair behind my back when he died, although whether this is true or not I will never know).
8) Some months later I returned to Guernsey, and to cut a long story short I met up with the first true love of my life (the same man I lost my virginity to and described in number 3 above). I was lonely, vulnerable, and he fed me all the lines and gave me the 'love' I needed right then, persuading me to move to Tenerife with him so he could sing on the bar circuit. To my families horror I agreed, and this too went sour. I found myself engaged to and living with a control freak, and one who obviously expected me to still be the naïve teenager he had first got involved with back in 1987. Little did he expect the far tougher woman I had become, refusing to knuckle down and simply hand over my meagre pension to him each month, or only talk to the people he approved of, not use the Internet without his consent etc. He too turned violent, and not only against me, but also against a rescue poodle dog we had adopted out there that he tried to strangle one night (I re-homed the dog immediately to protect it, but it broke my heart to say goodbye to my furry ally). Steve LG then went on to stab a mutual friend of ours in the abdomen, and all because of a row Steve LG caused by claiming that him and the friend's fiancé were making plans to 'get together' (even though this was a lie). Ultimately Steve LG and I split up too, and he abandoned me in Tenerife from where it took me a number of months to get back to Guernsey due to having so much to sort out before I could possibly leave.
9) Coming back home (£12,500 worse off due to losses I made selling on my apartment) I soon met my current husband Richard, and although we had some considerable financial baggage to sort out when we met, he was good for me and we worked well together. By now I had long since accepted I could not get pregnant, therefore had not used any contraception for many years. You can imagine our surprise when I found out I was pregnant then, the problem being we were in masses of debt and my family (Mum and Stepfather) were not exactly over the moon about potentially being Grandparents at the age they were, (or an Auntie in my Sister's case). Both Richard and I struggled to know what to do, and in the end decided on a pregnancy termination (a mistake I will die regretting, as will he).
I lost a job I loved as an additional result because I then retracted a promotion within the company that I had previously accepted, and they suggested that I should not return to work in my old contracted position, and didn't renew my contract. Since then Richard and I decided to try for another baby that we would keep at whatever cost, this was over four years ago now, and since then my internal problems have got worse, and even the IVF clinic Bourne Hall said IVF would really be a waste of money in my case as my ovarian egg reserve is virtually undetectable based on both FSH and AMH blood tests. A natural pregnancy would be a huge miracle now as my internal reproductive organs are so fused with adhesions that the last surgeon to investigate couldn't even find my ovaries. I feel I threw away my last chance to be a Mother, although fortunately for my Husband he already had two son's from a former relationship.
What more can I say, other than I defy anyone to have lived through all of that and still come out of the other side unaffected? Who is to say how such experiences could affect any one individual, and I doubt even certain so called experts can say with complete confidence that this couldn't affect the brain in such a way as to cause depression? Perhaps the excessive stress does damage to our brains that we cannot even imagine (and that a person who has not experienced this level of stress cannot comprehend). What I can say for sure is that I was always a very hard working individual, often working 60+ hour weeks and 13 out of every 14 days. The fact I cannot manage to go to work now is not due to any laziness or imagined depression on my part. I know what I feel and what I think, how I sleep, what makes me cry etc, and I imagine that most other depression sufferers experience the same frustrations I do at those who doubt what they are experiencing is real.
I now have the local Social Security department pressuring me to either see a return to work liaison officer or to see their Psychiatrist (who has only met me once before), in order to determine if I am fit to go back to any form of work rather than them continuing to pay me a paltry sum each week. How can a Psychiatrist judge me on a one hour appointment? The last time I saw her she tried to say it was a problem with a lack of 'self confidence' on my part, which is rubbish, my self confidence is the least of my worries.
I have even experienced problems within my own family in terms of them understanding this condition, my Mother, Step Father and even my Husband sometimes don't understand it, and the comments like, "Well you will need to get a job eventually you know!" and "I know we are short of cash this month so go and get a job then" are testament to this, and often make me feel completely alone in terms of what I am going through.
For those of you reading this who doubt depression is real, I strongly suggest you open your minds to the fact that it is, and try to read much more on the symptoms and signs of depression.
For those of you like me who genuinely suffer from depression and would love to be well again, know that I can confirm that depression is very real, and that in time I hope many more people will read articles like this and question the fact they ever doubted that it could be.
Obviously I wrote this article some years back now, but I felt it was important to update it to say that my local Social Security Department (benefits department) put so much unreasonable pressure on me to return to work, insisting on my attending job seekers appointments alone in town even when we had explained I could not do this without my husband present due to my phobia of going into town alone (he could not be available at the fixed time they had set and they refused to adjust the times or days to make this possible) that we eventually told them to take me off of benefits because whatever they thought, we knew I was not capable of returning to work or fitting in with the job seekers conditions they were trying to force me into. This means we now struggle financially, but at least the stress they were inflicting on me has been removed and they have no further control over me. Their bullying tactics (Guernsey's Social Security Department) caused me a huge amount more stress that could have been avoided if they had been reasonable and made an effort to at least rearrange my weekly job seekers appointments so that my Husband could fit it in with his working hours and come with me, and they had made the effort to find the kind of jobs I had suggested that might have worked out and caused me minimal stress. At time of writing it must be about two years since I last received a single penny in benefits, so we have to survive a very high cost of living (Guernsey is an expensive island to live on) on one wage.