While traveling through rural Michigan by train to visit a friend, I saw a billboard that made me stop and think. The billboard read, “You never hear, ‘Snap out of it, it’s just diabetes.’ So why do some say that about depression?”
After doing a bit of detective work, I discovered that this billboard is a part of a public service announcement from www.DepressionIsReal.org. Another reads, “You’d never say, ‘It’s just cancer, get over it.’” Heart disease is also an illness used as a comparison. The television spot suggests that heart disease is like depression because the symptoms can be ignored; it’s like diabetes because it’s biological, and like cancer, it can be fatal.
In theory, the purpose of this ad is useful – trying to gain the same kind of attention toward depression that other illnesses get. But to my mind, this falls on its face.
Now why do I say that? I say that because of what the ad fails to acknowledge. I find it interesting that what isn’t mentioned is that all of these illnesses; diabetes, heart disease, cancer (sometimes), and depression are invisible. To me, that is the crux of what makes many chronic illnesses questionable. But you don’t look sick. It’s all in your head isn’t a comment reserved for depression.
I think we have all encountered people who have suggested that we could get well if we simply put our mind to it, or those who suggest that we’d be fine if we only stopped taking our medication and exercised more, etc. I have, in fact, basically had people tell me something to the effect of I have a friend who has lupus and she’s perfectly healthy. Aside from the fact that this is a complete oxymoron, the implicit message there is that I should be perfectly healthy, too, even though I have lupus. So I think that to say that people that have “recognized” illnesses are somehow not asked to account for them is absolutely, positively untrue. In fact, I think people that have chronic health problems are asked to account even more, to prove that we are actually sick, and not just attention hogs or drama queens/kings.
This ad also resonates with me because it has been discussed a lot that sometimes there can seem to be a competition in the chronic illness community as to who has it worse. I completely agree that depression deserves the recognition that this ad is trying to garner, but I do worry that it could be taken the wrong way, and sends the wrong message, even with the most well meaning of intentions.
I think I’ve come to realize that the reason why this ad rubs me the wrong way, and also, why I’ve felt pretty down on myself lately, is because I think I have unconsciously bought into this “just snap out of it” mentality. I’ve tried to ignore the recent issues that have cropped up, to no avail. The problems have gotten worse, and now I have several appointments looming ahead of me, with uncertain outcome.
And the reason I’ve let these things go is because it’s hard to be on guard all the time. In fact, it’s exhausting. To have to question every hiccup, every irregularity, to have to wonder if this new symptom is just a fluke, or the beginning of the next stage of an illness, or the beginning of a new illness...When, according to medical definition, your body has gone terribly awry, the new “normal” becomes exactly the opposite. The new “normal” is where everything is abnormal.
So, if even we tell ourselves to snap out of it, of course the healthy people in our lives are going to be wont to do it, too. It’s easy to play that game. Oh, you’ll feel better if you don’t concentrate so much on being sick all the time. Really, is that true? Because in my experience, it is far worse to go in the other direction. Once you’ve let your guard down, it’s easy to leave it down, and to leave the world of illness behind, unfortunately to the detriment of your own health. One of my friends made a good point, though: If it’s not something normal if you were healthy, then you, of all people, should definitely have it checked out. And while this is sound advice, it’s intimidating, too.
I guess the point of all of this is that even when illness is staring us in the face, even when it’s written in two and a half feet tall letters, it doesn’t means it’s done right. And all of these reminders don’t make it any easier to deal with. I know it’s there, I know I’m sick, because my body keeps reminding me…