Monday, August 31, 2009

“Just Snap Out Of It”

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 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…


  1. so true...very nice post...well written.....:)

  2. It's a great post, and very well said!

    When I was reading this, I was also thinking about one specific comment that drives me crazy - "You are too stressed out" (with variations, "you need a vacation/a less stressful job/to be more easy-going"). It has the same issue for me - it does not acknowledge that I am genuinely physically ill, and implies that if I could just change my circumstances, I would be fine.

    In some way, it's harder for me because I have an "unlabelled" illness, chronic back pain, and literally everyone knows someone who has back pain but is fine with massage/swimming/relaxation. So I experience this a lot, trying to justify myself, prove that I cannot easily be cured with standard measures, that this is something real, and difficult, despite my very best efforts to find a solution.

  3. Very important post and important topic. I agree that invisible illnesses are all treated as if they are "in our heads" and it would be more important to put some emphasis on creating awareness of the reality of these illnesses (including depression of course!).

    Thanks for taking this on!

  4. I was initially drawn to your current post by the title "Just Snap Out of It," which resonated with me because that's the exact phrase my ex-husband would spew at me when he announced that he wanted a divorce. But that's a completely different story for another blog ... :)
    I so enjoy your blog because so much of what you write could be written by me. If I have one more well-meaning friend suggest that I abandon all of the treatments I'm trying for my chronic dizziness, I'm sure to scream! They simply forget just how bad I was "before" treatment; granted, I'm far from "cured" now, but am definitely more functional with my current protocols. I also can relate to your understanding how exhausting it is to be on guard all the time. I'd never thought of it in those terms, but I've certainly lived it. For far too long & without an end in sight ...
    I also related to Mary's comment about people's implication that stress plays a much bigger role in our symptoms than I believe is true. Simply "calming down" is not going to cure us (unfortunately), & they should realize that by suggesting it they are causing us stress.
    I've been trying to focus on more positive things lately, however it seems this comment is almost totally negative. So I'll end with a positive point: thanks for sharing your experiences with the rest of us -- it's so nice to realize others are going through similar circumstances and we're in this together. :)

  5. Leslie, Great blog! Can you tell us more about the 'airline approved' bag for meds and the mask you used on your trip. I haven't traveled for eons but plan to do so soon.

    what is an 'airline approved' bag? Was the mask to protect against the swine flu or for other reasons?

    Thanks so much for your wonderful blog.

  6. Thanks, Mary, Maureen, and Alicia. I'm glad this topic resonated with all of you, and I appreciate the positive responses.

  7. Faith, as far as the bags go, they are made by Hefty and are called "Travel Bags." You can find them in the travel size items section of Target/Meijer/CVS, etc. They are quart sized, plastic, zip top bags, which is what TSA requires bottles containing liquids and medications to be housed in. The masks are known as N-95s. They are thicker than the surgical masks that most people are most familiar with. I did not end up wearing them, but because I am so susceptible, my doctor suggested I have them to wear if there was someone close to me coughing on the plane. So it didn't really have anything to do with swine flu. Hope this helps!

  8. You're welcome, Faith. By the way, I got the N-95 masks at Home Depot.

  9. Leslie,

    Your post sure touched a nerve!

    I think the "Just Get Over It" ads serve a purpose. But there's a larger issue they don't address: We are all doing our best.

    I'm not going to get into a explanation of why I've come to that conclusion - I'll just say here that for me it's a given.

    So the appropriate thing to say to anyone, whatever emotional or physical illness they have, is not "I'm going to motivate you to get better with this not very subtle criticism." Rather, it's "How can I help and support you?"

  10. I've been reading your blog for a while and I after reading this post I am convinced that you are never happy with anything and that everything rubs you the wrong way; yes you've been given a raw deal; and those of us with chronic illness have but at some point you have got to accept it and move on and stop playing the victim

  11. Tom, thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    And anonymous, if I've ever given the impression that everyone has to agree with my view of things, you are misinformed. You are absolutely entitled to your own opinion, even if you don't agree with me.