My dad was fond of the expression “Take a long walk off a short pier.” As a kid, it just seemed funny. Reminded me of pirates and silly songs. Now, I get its spectrum of meaning. Take a hike. Beat it. Scram. Get out of here. You’re full of shit. Whatever. Go away. Go far away.
I came across a new meme this evening. Set atop the most bucolic scene. Blue sky. Mountains in the distance. Green grass. Reflections on a lake. And then the words. “Take a walk, not a pill.”
I have a confession to make. I loathe the website from which this meme originated. Yet I “liked” it on Facebook at one time, so I continue to get its crappy articles. Yes, I’ve thought about “unliking” it. But I am hooked, in a train wreck sort of way. The site frequently lambasts the use of antidepressants, anti-anxiety and ADD/ADHD medications. And this is not scholarly, peer-reviewed material. At least not the articles I’ve read. There’s little in the way of reliable research, unbiased evidence or logical reasoning. There’s a void of compelling narrative, i.e. stories from those who’ve actually lived it.
Per my estimation (which means little, I am aware), these pieces lack value with respect to medicine, science, psychology or philosophy. Beyond highlighting the extent to which our culture continues to shame and stigmatize mental illness and the use of medication. Medication that may be necessary. To treat these real diseases.
Only we don’t treat these real diseases like other real diseases. Instead, we attach scathing moral judgment to them. We make those suffering feel as though they are inherently flawed and then, to add insult to injury, label people even more fucked up for taking pills. We create an environment of fear, reducing the likelihood that persons will seek help. We force those who already feel like garbage to endure the wrath and scorn of an ignorant society. We make them feel less than. For having a disease. Which they might be able to manage and recover from. Perhaps with the assistance of a pill. Or pills. Yet they aren’t supposed to take pills. Because that means they are weak. Supporters of Big Pharma. Losers who lack will power and motivation. And around and around we go. But hell yeah, a walk. Go for a walk. A walk will fix that real disease of the brain.
This is an issue close to me. Clearly. I have many, many words. And earlier this evening, I typed up a direct response to “Take a walk, not a pill.” I will tell you right now that I didn’t post it. Mainly because I am trying to stay away from the “comments” on Facebook. The “trolls”? Disturbing and frightening. And I can be a little too… quick… to fire off an inflammatory message. (Or, incidentally, a really weird text. Did that the other day and I am pretty sure I will not hear from that guy again. Gulp.) Here it is, nonetheless…
This is a shaming, irresponsible, overly simplistic, and damaging message. It merely contributes to the stigma around mental illness in our culture.
Now, taking a walk is not a bad idea per se. Most of us could use more walking. Less sitting. It is certainly a lovely way to connect with nature, perhaps other human beings as well. Trouble is, how does one take a walk when one cannot get out of bed? When the depression is so overwhelming that all energy is devoted, necessarily, to those obligations and responsibilities that absolutely must be met?
A certain population of depressed persons might recover with a combination of talk therapy, time, exercise and dietary changes. Then there are those who feel markedly improved after acupuncture or reiki. This is all wonderful stuff. Healing stuff. I envy those for whom these measures work. Yank them out of the sack. Keep them on their feet. Deliver them to a place of balance, calm, gratitude, grace, effectiveness (personally, professionally, socially, etc.), and joy. Only I happen to be among the others for whom these paths alone are simply not enough. How do I know this? Because I’ve lived with depression for over twenty years.
I am a huge advocate of individual and group therapy. I’ve been through CBT and DBT. I have learned to discern healthy from harmful coping strategies. I can identify my emotions. I know what to do when crawling out of my skin in distress. I can take it down many notches and sit and breathe. And because life will ever present challenges, and because, no matter how hard I try, I can be nothing more than perfectly imperfect, I continue to see a psychiatrist. Together, we pull me apart and try to piece me back together, into a whole, functioning (dare I even say competent, at times), and capable-of-happy individual. (It’s a work in progress.)
But my doc doesn’t make house calls. Which means I have to heave myself out the safe, warm cocoon that is my bed, squeeze into appropriate attire, and drive to his office. And based upon over two decades of trial and error, I can write–with an assurance I need not offer anyone, yet society and fucked-up memes like this compel me to provide–that SSRIs and SNRIs have made the difference. As in the difference between lying in bed and taking a walk.
I don’t intend to suggest that antidepressants are magical beans. Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, Effexor, Cymbalta, Celexa, Lexapro, and friends are not “happy pills.” I take Wellbutrin. Wellbutrin renders me capable of jumpstarting my own day. Leaving my house. Facing my fears (which I don’t do well, but I try). Wanting to participate in life (which I don’t always do right, but I keep on). Things most people do every day, without hours of deliberation.
SSRIs, SNRIs, MAOIs–these drugs help treat diseases of the brain. Imbalances. For someone like me. Someone who cannot “pull herself up by her bootstraps” or exercise her way out of feeling empty and worthless and purposeless. I need a pill. So I can get out from under. Not to travel to some land of lollipops and unicorns. I want to function. I want to be where the non-depressed folks live. Not high. Not numb. Just me. But a me who can rise, put on shoes, and sit in traffic so that I can talk about the things that continue to trouble me. Even on Wellbutrin. I still cry. Often. I still laugh. How much depends on the company I keep. And I make better decisions about that when I am not sinking, hiding, and wishing away the sunlight so I can justify going back to sleep.
Through a ton of hard work (therapy), support from loved ones, and Wellbutrin, I not only WANT to go for a walk, I CAN go for walk. Two distinct things, desire and ability. I doubt anyone wants to be paralyzed with depression. Because despite the common misperception, it’s pain. It’s the kind of pain that renders me incapable of getting out of bed. Even though I long to walk around the lake. Kick the autumn leaves. Be with my friends. To not be alone.
Depression is the loneliest, most desolate space I have ever been. I do not believe I can capture it for someone who’s not visited. And for that, I am grateful. I am genuinely glad most of my loved ones can’t see it. I even extend that gratitude to the asshat who wrote this appalling meme. To have no concept of what depression feels like? What a blessing.
I’ve been through enough to know that I do not need to “see what happens” if I go off Wellbutrin. I am a-okay with “better living through chemistry.” Only here I am, defending my choices and frittering away hours, deeply bothered by baseless, insensitive, and inane words.
Fuck. Enough with the pointless shaming, endless judgment and bullshit rhetoric already. Actually, I highly encourage whomever makes the editorial calls for your website to go for a stroll. A long, long walk. Off a short pier. And while he or she is at it, get educated. Learn about empathy. Try on compassion. Maybe love. Those things that are actually useful. That’s how you speak to people. Use the online platform to help change how we view mental illness. Foster environments–online and offline-where suffering individuals feel safe and supported. Not ridiculed or damned. How about that?
As for me, I will continue to take my Wellbutrin AND go for a walk.
P.s. This meme’s either/or proposition is fucking stupid.
Upon a reread, I am glad I did not post that comment. Sheesh. Kind of goes beyond advocacy into something sardonic. I guess I have more than words; I have some nasty claws. It’s about the meme, but it’s not about the meme. If that makes sense to anyone else. What I did write is this: “Really? This is awful. Way to invalidate mental illness and further encourage societal stigma around the use of antidepressants. Dislike.” Watered down, safe from trolls, no f-bombs. Maybe that’s lame. I don’t know.
I’ve also been thinking about an old friend. A woman I knew for a brief but intense month of my life, who took her own last week. It’s impossibly sad and awful. She was really funny. She reminded me a lot of my mom. Maybe that’s why we connected, even if just briefly. She touched many. She was adored. And so tonight, I send out all the light and love in my heart to her, and to her family and friends.