A few days ago I was chatting with a woman and her 4-week-old son. After offering an appropriate amount of cooing over her wee babe, I asked her, “How are YOU doing?” She replied that she was doing really well and was so happy. Then, unprompted and unknowing of my own personal history, she said this:
“I’m not one of those moms who ‘gets sad’. I don’t really think that stuff is real, you know? I mean, I don’t have anything to be sad about. Babies should make people happy.”
Well just slap me in the face and then punch me in the gut, why don’t ya?
Now, I’ve heard opinions like this before. And yet it still threw me off-guard and took all my strength to even answer coherently. I couldn’t just ignore her comments, so I smiled and said something along the lines of “I’m so glad you’re doing so well! It’s not like that for everyone. I struggled with depression after my son was born, and it’s definitely not fun. It’s wonderful you’re feeling so happy!” Or something like that.
She then proceeded to ask me accusatory questions such as “But you must have been sad about SOMETHING. Did something happen to you, like did someone die?” and “How could you just ‘not care’ about things?”
You guys, I’m open about my experiences. I write about it. One might say I’m a quiet type of advocate. But this one short conversation with a stranger floored me, even though I’m currently in what you might call a “good place” regarding my depression! It brought back feelings of guilt, shame, and self-doubt, because all the questions she asked me, I had once asked myself, over and over again.
I think most of us have met a person like this: The Skeptic. This is someone who truly does not believe that depression is a real thing. The Skeptic believes that a mother with post-partum depression is being lazy, selfish, or just looking for attention. The Skeptic believes that a person can just choose to be happy, therefore a person is choosing to be depressed. The Skeptic believes that someone battling depression has too much time on his hands, that if the depressed person would just work more or start doing something productive, his depression would go away. The Skeptic believes that antidepressant medication is a type of “get high” drug, and that taking such medication is unnecessary and is a form of cheating.
The Skeptic is the biggest danger to someone struggling with depression.
In those brief few minutes while I was talking to that Skeptic Mom, I was sharply reminded of why it took me so long to get help in the first place. There was a tangible fear that all of my family and friends would be Skeptics, a fear that if I confided in someone, they’d tell me I was being silly, selfish or a bad Christian. There was a palpable sense of shame because I knew there wasn’t any logical reason for me to feel the way I did. Due to my fear of Skeptics, I didn’t share my experiences, which led me to believe I was the only one struggling.
The Skeptic is not just someone who’s never struggled with depression. I’ve met many people who, praise God, have never experienced depression and therefore can’t fully understand it. But these people are still compassionate and sympathetic, and offer support, whereas the Skeptic offers only criticism and disbelief.
Thankfully, I believe the number of Skeptics out there is slowly decreasing due to a rise in mental-health awareness. We are gradually moving away from The Yellow Wallpaper type of response to female mental illness, but based on the number of women I’ve personally met who have told me “I suffered from depression but I was too scared to tell anyone,” I do believe we have a long way to go.
So what’s the best way to combat The Skeptic? Some of them are persuaded by science; articles that have fancy words like pathophysiology , corticotropin-releasing hormone, serotonin, dopamine and noradrenaline might go a long way in helping the Skeptic be less skeptical. But I find that a personal testimony can be even better than science, especially if you’re in a place mentally to be able to share your experience objectively. (If I had come across the Skeptic Mom when I was in the midst of a low phase, I would not have engaged in the conversation, I would’ve just left the room and started crying on the way home.)
If you have Skeptics in your life who are trying to convince you that depression is not real, please, please know that they are wrong. And if you have no one else to talk to, seek a professional therapist, join an online support group or therapy session, or write to me! You have nothing to be ashamed of, you aren’t alone, and you can FIGHT this. Sending love your way. XO