A question; an answer; a question

“What have you got to be depressed about?”

The question is a tenacious one.

What have I got to be depressed about?

I was born into one of the most privileged, advanced, secure societies in humanity’s history.

I now live in the world’s most economically unequal country; but it’s OK. I have a house, running water a toilet and health care. That puts me on the plus side of the inequality equation.

What have I got to be depressed about?

I know people who live in the middle of a gang war. I know people who have to walk through the region’s most crime-affected areas after dark in the rain to get to a toilet. A toilet of sorts, by the standards of most of us who will read this.

What have I got to be depressed about?

Unlike many in my community, I have never been threatened with being forcibly removed from the family home and relocated to places with inadequate drainage, exposed to the worst of the wind and the rain.

In the grip of a depressive episode I could, should, would feel guilty.

That makes sense, seems right, makes sense of the universe, doesn’t it?

If your leg is in plaster people ask why. You explain. They understand and make allowances.

I’ve never broken my leg, never had a part of my body visibly in plaster.

My chronic arthritic spinal condition is invisible. The reasons for it can be guessed at but not explained. The pain ebbs and flows like a temperamental tide.

I’ve been told I’m too young to have a ‘bad back’. That I need to see a chiropractor/exercise more/take different exercise/apply ice/apply heat/sleep more/sleep less/sleep on a harder bed/sleep on a softer bed … (delete as appropriate).

None of these will work. At least not as a fully as the advice-givers expect. I have the same condition as the captain of the Australian cricket team and a former English captain in the same sport. My symptoms are more advanced than both because I am older and a roll of the biological dice has deemed it thus.

The invisible needs explanation to be understood. If it can’t be understood, it must be curable in familiar ways. What works for me must work for you, surely. Ignorance leads to empty advice, kindly meant but building up over time to frustration and snapped responses.

It’s the same with depression. You can’t see it, so when you or someone you know is depressed you feel you must have a peg to hang it on, a circumstance to explain it, something that can be altered to alter the condition.

As with the arthritic pain, sometimes that may be true. A plane ride leads to 48 hours of pain; a circumstance of life can lead to a depressive episode. Counselling may help; changing something may help.

Sometimes. Sometimes not, though. Sometimes my back or neck or joint pain flares for no known biological reason. Sometimes I may experience an episode of depression for no other reason than fluctuation of chemicals I don’t understand.

The cruel trick is that in both cases I can feel guilty. I look at those in plaster, I look at my gender and age and think I should be able to do more than biology allows. So I feel guilty even if everyone around me is terribly nice and supportive. I look around at the need, pain and suffering of the city in which I live and I see people with real reasons to plough to a stop with depression, but they keep going. So I feel soft, guilty, pathetic. What have I got to be in pain about? What have I got to be depressed about?

And most of the time,  these are the questions of healing as well as doubt.

What have I got to be in pain about, depressed about?

Nothing. Sometimes, I just am in pain. I just am depressed. Others may understand or they may not. They may be helpful or they may make it worse, like the unsought advice.

But He knows. As mysteriously as I may have been made, He does know. He sees the heart and serotonin. He sees the mis-firing immune system causing waves of pain.

Did Jesus get ill? Did he feel sickness and pain creeping up on him; not on the cross … I mean bent over the carpenter’s bench, getting out of bed. Not from sin, just from existing. He did feel pain on the cross – does that mean he felt pain of the sort I do? Were the chemicals in his brain prone to unpredictability, or was He perfectly ordered, perfectly centered?

Did He? Does He? Unanswerable speculation or healthy questions?

I don’t know.

But it’s a good place to take the creeping guilt, the nagging sense I should be different.

What have I got to be depressed about. As a British comedian has recently said, you might as well ask “What have you got to have a broken leg for”.

Dave Meldrum, 05/08/2013
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