Recently a friend of mine has been dealt my un-restrained wrath by suggesting that all I needed to do to get better was run. Great. Thanks. I KNEW I was being over dramatic and plain silly with this whole clinical depression malarkey. If only I had kept on running like Forest.
And then the Guardian published a report which said that tests have proved that exercise has no effect on depression. Followed quickly by a reply from a sufferer rubbishing the claim. The truth is both are correct. As a means of treating depression, exercise is useless. However, on a day to day basis, a walk outdoors or gentle exercise will always result in a positive release of endorphins. The routine of a daily walk or run is nothing but a good thing. Fresh air and a space to clear your head are also excellent. When depression is at its worse the sufferer feels physically weak, exhausted and exercise can cause unnecessary stress. The key is to follow your body and your doctor’s advice.
Now my reaction to a well meaning friend may seem extreme. Those who know me well will be well acquainted with the fact that my reactions are always extreme. And often brutal. But in this case I am unremorseful. The worst part of suffering with depression is the lack of understanding of the disease. Nearly everyone has 'helpful' advice on how to tackle it. Most of which is in fact, extremely damaging. The feeling of shame in the sufferer is great. The thought that you've failed yourself by letting yourself get to this state. The feeling that you should have prevented it and it is all your fault you feel this way are the sort of negative thoughts a sufferer uses against themselves so to have them voiced by 'helpful' friends is very damaging. The person succeeds in confirming your worst fears about yourself. That you are weak and pathetic and need to snap out of it.
Now I am lucky as I am well read and very stubborn. I take my advice from experts and experts alone. I have a strong character which very rarely bends to the advice of those around me, sometimes to my detriment. I have taken time to read carefully about my illness and its causes and treatments. So I was able to brush him off with a stern word. Depression is a physical illness and a terrifying one at that because like other serious illnesses, this one takes peoples lives. And in their wake are those left behind trying to make sense of what happened. They always seemed so happy, so normal. This is the scariest aspect of the illness. No one ever has an insight into another persons mind and the words we utter can have a profound effect on them. When a person is diagnosed with Cancer we offer support and practical help but we don't assume to know more than the Doctor who sets the treatment. It should be no different with Depression. The best you can do for a sufferer is read about it, do your research and then listen to the patient. Don't tell them to snap out of it or that running is what stopped you from feeling depressed because first off this is a lie, whether to yourself or the person you are telling it to. It is a lie. If you felt running got you out of a low patch without any medical treatment or counselling then you weren't suffering from clinical depression. Or you're running from the fact that you're still in it.
And to my poor friend reading this and feeling my stern words, this anger is not directed at you. I appreciate you are trying to help in a situation you cannot. The feeling of helplessness of those around me is palpable. I understand it because I feel it myself. But the way to help me and the thousands suffering is to just be there and do your best to understand something even the person suffering cannot understand. It is not a case of mind over matter; it is an actual physical process in the brain that has ceased working. This needs treatment to fix and then it needs therapy to ensure it doesn't happen again. To learn what caused your brain to blow this fuse and how to make sure it doesn't happen again. Most often, depression occurs in people who take on too much, are natural nurturers, accustomed to looking after those around them. They overload themselves and the brain blows a fuse leaving them lost in a sea of blackness. The tendency when recovery happens is to slip back into bad habits of putting yourself last. This will always lead to a relapse. My recovery will be long and life changing and will involve me closing doors I had kept far too open in the past. This will have the effect of changing my relationships which is always hard to accept and maintain. It shall be a long and difficult process. And though running may give me a good routine and a blast of fresh air, it won't make me better. The disease is far more complex than that.
Now, do excuse me, I have a puppy nipping at my heels that needs to be restrained. 'Sit, sit...good boy' *Throws a biscuit reward under her desk and gets on with work as the puppy happily chews away*