Podcast: Explaining Depression To Happy People
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About The Not Crazy Podcast Hosts
Gabe Howard is an award-winning writer and speaker who lives with bipolar disorder. He is the author of the popular book, Mental Illness is an Asshole and other Observations, available from Amazon; signed copies are also available directly from Gabe Howard. To learn more, please visit his website, gabehoward.com.
Jackie Zimmerman has been in the patient advocacy game for over a decade and has established herself as an authority on chronic illness, patient-centric healthcare, and patient community building.
Computer Generated Transcript for ‘Explaining Depression To Happy People’ Episode
Editor’s Note: Please be mindful that this transcript has been computer-generated and therefore may contain inaccuracies and grammar errors. Thank you.
Announcer: Welcome to Not Crazy. Here are your hosts, Gabe and Jackie.
Gabe: Welcome to Not Crazy. I would like to introduce Jackie Zimmerman. She may have depression, but she also rides a bike 30 miles one way and then inexplicably has to walk back.
Jackie: And I’d like to introduce you to my co-host, Gabe Howard, who lives with bipolar and also gave a speech in Tennessee this week.
Gabe: Today, we’re going to talk about how to describe depression to people who are happy.
Jackie: And also people who don’t believe us.
Gabe: And I don’t believe us. Like, they just they simply do not believe that depression is a real medical illness because they liken it to sadness.
Jackie: Right. And you can just get over sadness. You can just be happy, just do that. If you’re depressed, just do that. Just be happy.
Gabe: There’s a few things in life that you should just be able to do. You should just be able to lose weight. You should just be able to make more money and you should just be able to cheer up. Now, we’re a mental health show, so you’re gonna have to find your own solution to the other two problems. But it’s the just cheer up because wouldn’t it be great if medical illnesses work that way, that you’d just be well. You have asthma. Just breathe.
Jackie: Wouldn’t it be great if literally any illness worked that way? I mean, I would say across the board the amount of people who just say, “well, just don’t do that and just be better” is astounding. People think you can just be better. Just be better.
Gabe: I’ve lived with bipolar for a long time, it was the first illness that I was ever diagnosed with. I have. I have a ton, a ton of mental health problems. And I was young, so I hadn’t developed any physical health problems yet. So when all of this like stigma and people not believing me and people calling me a liar and people giving me this God awful advice started to happen. I believe that this was just the stigma of mental illness, that the reason people were being so dismissive, giving me advice and being so helpful. And I’m making air quotes, was because people just didn’t respect people with mental illness. And then I started meeting great advocates like you. And you described how people did the same thing about your physical illness, where they would just walk up with no medical degree whatsoever and tell you exactly how to treat your fill in “very serious physical problem” here.
Jackie: Well, because everybody knows someone who knows someone who’s had the thing, who fixed it with this other non FDA compliant thing that will work for everybody. So you should just do that thing.
Gabe: I’ve been around for so long that I now remember different versions of this is the thing that’s going to cure us all. When I first started, aroma therapy is going to fix us all. And then that morphed into essential oils. Essential oils are going to fix us all. And now it’s cannabis oil. Cannabis oil is going to fix us all. And I’m now just kind of sitting here like just a little giddy, seeing if I can predict in like three or four years.
Jackie: Have you been in-taking the cannabis oil?!
Gabe: I mean it. Listen. And here’s what’s sad, right? Cannabis oil could have some benefits. This is going to shock people. Aroma therapy has benefits as well.
Jackie: No…Yes, of course it does.
Gabe: But, yeah. But the benefits aren’t it cures fill in the blank.
Gabe: Listen, your room not smelling like shit makes you feel better. I’m sorry. That’s just I don’t mean it so crassly, but yeah, if you’re sitting alone in a stinky room all alone, you’re probably going to feel bad.
Jackie: Yes, I would agree. Yes. I mean, well, I mean, I think it’s worth stating we’re kind of talking right now about people who are naysayers or non-believers we’ll say of maybe they don’t believe you actually have depression or don’t believe depression is a real thing. But when we started talking about this show topic idea of explaining depression to happy people, we weren’t talking about necessarily the naysayers. We were talking about people who just have no idea that depression exists in the world. Gabe and I are married. I was going to say Gabe and I are married. We’re not married to each other. Gabe and I are married to happy…
Gabe: Well, you know, you jumped on that quick. You’re like, we’re not married to each other. I don’t. I don’t want anybody to accidentally get it. Are you going to say something like that “There’s nothing wrong with that?” I mean, can’t you at least give me a Seinfeld reference in there?
Jackie: No, I was going to say Gabe and I are married to happy people.
Gabe: We are.
Jackie: We have found some strangely similar qualities in our spouses. They’re both just pleasantly positive people, almost to like a barf degree where they’re just too like, so happy that I can’t relate on a level. I’ve never been, even before, depression struck me pretty rough. I have never been this happy in my life, and that’s just like the base level of where my husband lives. He’s just thrilled all the time to be alive.
Gabe: This is what disgusts me, of course, about my wife as well. I have this joke where I say that my wife is so optimistic that if our house was engulfed in flames, if it caught fire and was burning to the ground, my wife would be so happy that we get to have s’mores. This is the level of sunshine and optimism that lives within her. I don’t understand that at all. Just thinking about my house catching on fire has pissed me off for the rest of the day.
Jackie: I actually had a house fire and I can I can tell you for certain it’s the worst. So Kendall could be thrilled with the idea of s’mores at a house fire. Having lived through a house fire, I wasn’t in the house, but my house burned down.
Gabe: I think that there is good in an opposites attracting about certain things. You know, obviously if you have opposite values that can cause some problems. But in my marriage and speaking only for me, I am very pessimistic and obviously I have depression and anxiety. And so that means that that I worry a lot and then I often see things is very bleak. My wife is on the other side of that spectrum. She’s very optimistic. She tends to see things as very positive and sees the good and beauty in people. The reality is, is both of us are wrong. She needs to understand that sometimes people are out to get you. That’s how you safeguard yourself. It’s why we buy insurance. It’s why we lock our doors at night. It’s why we write contracts and sign them, etc. I’m not I’m not trying to throw my wife under the bus and say, oh, no, you need to hate everybody and constantly be on guard.
Jackie: There’s some practicality to paranoia at times, like sometimes it’s a built in safety mechanism a little bit in life to, you know, not get eaten by tigers and things.
Gabe: Right. Right, because tigers are in Michigan? You have tigers roaming your streets?
Jackie: I mean, I was talking about like prehistoric times, but you know what I mean, like the paranoia is an instinct. You know, whether or not it’s right anymore, it has derailed into fear and depression and all these terrifying things, but it has served a purpose.
Gabe: I love that your paranoia and depression, you can trace back to prehistoric times. Like that’s how ingrained it is.
Jackie: It’s deep rooted, it is in there.
Gabe: I think that part of the problem when it comes to people giving advice on depression is that they’re not mean spirited. I don’t think these people are being mean. I don’t think they’re malicious, angry assholes that are attacking us. Their life experience has taught them that when they feel sad, going for a walk, doing yoga, hanging out with friends, going to a movie, taking a deep breath or even using aromatherapy or essential oil lotion works for them because they don’t have a medical condition. They don’t understand that sadness and depression are not even remotely the same thing.
Jackie: No, and I think that they are uneducated and ignorant.
Gabe: They dumb. Just say they dumb.
Jackie: I mean, they are. I was going to say it like ignorant to a fault. Put it in a nice way. Meaning like they’re trying to help. They are trying to help. It’s not helpful. And it’s actually kind of the opposite where it can be a little bit harmful to not get people with depression, treatment and help. But I understand what they’re trying to say. You’re right. This worked for me so it can work for you. But there is a difference. Depression is not sadness. They’re not the same thing. You can be sad for a period of time. And it’s not going to turn into depression. It’s not going to…
Gabe: They certainly could.
Jackie: It could. Most of the time, though, like when you’re sad, it’s an isolated symptom of something that’s happening in your life. It doesn’t always mean that is depression.
Gabe: And this is what we really need to get people to understand. I have depression. Bipolar disorder is depression and mania and everything in between, which means that Gabe has major depression. Gabe has been depressed. But listen, I’m going to blow everybody’s mind. I can also just be sad. So if I am…
Gabe: Sad, your advice of go for a walk, watch a movie, reconnect with your wife, take a break is good advice if I am sad.
Jackie: Right. Well.
Gabe: Questionable advice if I’m depressed. In fact, it’s awful. It’s awful.
Jackie: Don’t get me wrong. Even on my worst days when I am super depressed, if I go outside, breathe the fresh air, maybe feel some sunshine on my face. It does help my mood. Does it actually help my depression? No. There are benefits to it, but it does not fix depression. A walk outside breeze in your hair, sun on your face doesn’t fix depression.
Gabe: Isn’t that kind of the thing that just makes this illness mean when you are suffering from depression and you can’t get out of bed? It is beneficial. You see benefit when somebody you love helps you get up, get dressed and walked you around the block, you see benefit. But in their mind, they’ve given it too much credit. They’re like, oh, hey, she’s fixed now. I got her out of bed. It’s sort of a little bit like seeing somebody’s house on fire and you’re like, Oh, I got them out of the house. So I’m done now. And you don’t bother to do anything else.
Jackie: I brought a bucket of water. I helped.
Gabe: Well right.
Jackie: You know.
Gabe: The example that I always use is if you need ten thousand dollars and somebody gives you a hundred dollars, you are better off. You are a hundred dollars closer to your goal. But listen, if you need ten thousand dollars. Yeah. You don’t really feel like you’ve been helped all that much. I like that analogy because obviously you would always be kind to somebody who gave you $100 toward your ten thousand dollar goal, but you would also roll your eyes at them if they walked around telling everybody that they solved all of your financial problems.
Jackie: I was talking to Adam about this topic and I said to him, what do you know about depression? You are happy. What do you know? And he said that it makes everything harder. And he went into more detail and he said, you know, it’s harder to get out of bed. It’s harder to go to work. It’s harder to cook dinner. Everything is just harder. So if you go back to the idea of somebody like helping you take a walk, right? Yeah. It is so much harder to leave the fucking house and you’re depressed. Like, I don’t want to leave the house ever even when I’m not depressed. I don’t. I like my bubble. I don’t I don’t want to leave. I don’t want to be in the world really that much. So when I’m depressed or it’s cold or it’s raining. I am not leaving the house even when I know it’ll be good for me. So when Adam said today, it makes everything harder. I said, that’s right. But I don’t think you understand the part that is, for me, the most important part is that my depression talks to me. Right. It tells me things. And it most of often it tells me that I’m a piece of shit and I’m not worthy of things and nobody likes me and everything is awful.
Gabe: And just to clarify, when you say your depression talks to you like that’s an analogy, you don’t mean that you have psychosis or you’re hallucinating, or that you have delusions.
Jackie: No. No.
Gabe: Etc.. But but yeah, that’s an I think that’s an excellent analogy, because when I am depressed, I am convinced that I am garbage and that is reinforced by my feelings, my heavy limbs, my inability to do anything. And sometimes my depression gets help from the people around me that say things to me like, well, if you would just get up and clean your house…
Gabe: And go to work, you’d feel so much better. Oh, great. Now I’m depressed and it’s my fault.
Jackie: Fake it till you make it. Like, no, that it takes energy to fake it. And I don’t have energy when I’m depressed, so I don’t want to do that.
Gabe: We’ll be right back after these words from our sponsor.
Announcer: This episode is sponsored by BetterHelp.com. Secure, convenient, and affordable online counseling. Our counselors are licensed, accredited professionals. Anything you share is confidential. Schedule secure video or phone sessions, plus chat and text with your therapist whenever you feel it’s needed. A month of online therapy often costs less than a single traditional face to face session. Go to BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral and experience seven days of free therapy to see if online counseling is right for you. BetterHelp.com/PsychCentral.
Jackie: And we’re back talking about how to explain depression to annoyingly happy people.
Gabe: One of the things that I try to explain to people is that depression has physical symptoms.
Gabe: You know? Depression is a mental illness. It is a mental health issue. But just because it’s a mental health issue, just because it’s a mental illness doesn’t mean that it’s devoid of physical symptoms. Feeling tired, your limbs being heavy, having trouble breathing, feeling dizzy, not having the energy to stand up, feeling like you’re going to collapse or fail or not being able to stay awake. And then there’s the physical symptoms that are sort of adjacent. Right. Like what? I’m really, really depressed. I’m not making healthy foods.
Gabe: I’m eating garbage, food. Or I’m not eating at all. I’m not taking a shower. And depending on how bad the depression is, I’ve got myself convinced that ending my life is reasonable. Which means I’m literally, literally fighting for my life. And to think that that has no physical sensations is nonsense.
Gabe: But we go all the way back to. We’re gonna pick on little old Adam for a moment. How could he possibly know that? How could he?
Jackie: When your outlook is rainbows, most of the time you can’t fathom that idea. When I explain depression to him, or even when I explain depression to a lot of people in my life, I do use that analogy, and I say “my depression” because I can speak for a lot of people, but I know mine the best and mine, it is like having a little voice and I say this for my depression and anxiety because my brain, me, Jackie, I know it’s bullshit. I know that it’s not real and I know that it’s wrong. And I know all of these things are not really threats or they’re not really terrible. But I have that little part of me that will be like my brain goes, you should call somebody right now, like get somebody to come over and hang out with you. And my depression goes, “Nah, they’re probably tired of hearing about it, hearing you complain and they don’t really like you anymore. So they’re not going to pick up.” It’s this little tiny part of you that talks to you and your brain knows it’s bullshit. My conscious brain knows it’s bullshit, but it’s still there and it still matters. And I still can’t turn it off. And when I explain that again to Adam today, he said, “so it’s always says negative stuff?” And I said, yeah. It always says negative stuff. It never says anything good. It always tells me I’m worthless. I’m stupid. Like I’m never going to achieve what I want to achieve, that I should just stay in bed. But if I do, everybody will hate me because I’m not contributing. And then I hate myself. It’s just this downward spiral, because at no point does my depression go, “Just kidding. You’re all right. Everything’s fine.”
Gabe: And then we have to juxtapose that against the idea of suicidality, we have so many problems with understanding suicide in this country, we tend to blame people who die by suicide. We tend to blame people who have attempted suicide. We tend to put a moral value on suicidal thoughts or thinking. Religious organizations have gotten involved and they’ve fractured the debate even more. Then there’s families like, well, my son, daughter, mother, child, husband would never do that to me because they know that they’re loved and they think they’re saying reasonable things. And all of this all of this comes back down to they just don’t think it’s going to happen to them because they don’t understand how serious it is. And more importantly, I don’t think many people realize how common suicide is. Suicide is more common than murder. But we’re all worried about murder, but we’re not worried about suicide. And this is something that we need to worry about.
Jackie: I think that you’re right, Gabe, because when most people think about suicide, they think it’s because people actually want to die. They don’t really understand suicide.
Gabe: Right. And they don’t want to die. They want the pain to stop. And in most cases, they didn’t end up there in a nanosecond. It got worse and worse and worse and it left untreated. The example that I love to use is pinkeye. Every parent in America, upon hearing the phrase pinkeye, immediately groans. They think I’m going to have to tell all my kids’ friends, the whole family’s going to get it. They’re just annoyed by it. The outcome of untreated pinkeye is blindness. That thing, that annoying medical condition that your child has will make them go blind. But nobody is afraid of it because it can be solved with a $4 bottle of whatever the hell is in the $4 bottle. So even though our children and ourselves are catching this really contagious illness that leads to blindness, we all just push it aside because we’re not worried about it.
Jackie: Well, and here’s the really fun part about that whole analogy is while it’s not a one to one analogy, a lot of these things could be assisted, I won’t say cured, with a bottle of pills that may or may not cost more than $4, but assist with depression and anxiety.
Gabe: Absolutely. Treatment is available, but there are many barriers to treatment and there are people ready, willing and able to seek mental health treatment that cannot get it. Either they don’t have health insurance. They’re not being supported by their friends and family member who are actively discouraging them from getting it. They live in rural America, where the nearest psychiatrist is 100 miles away and they don’t have access to a car and there is no public transportation. And on and on and on and on.
Jackie: I do think that we should probably do an episode devoted specifically to that, because that is just as much of a problem as people not identifying that this is a real thing in the first place.
Gabe: Exactly. And let’s focus right in on somebody who’s willing to get help. But the people around them are actively preventing them from doing so. I really just want to say to people that are doing that. Oh, man, you got to live with the outcome of this. I mean, don’t get me wrong. As somebody who has suffered with bipolar disorder, depression, been suicidal and all of this stuff, and that is a hard life. It is a really hard life. But I talk to my family and my mom and dad have told me numerous times that they just feel so bad and they never actively prevented me from getting help, just F.Y.I. But they feel bad because they didn’t realize I was sick. So I can only imagine how badly they would be if they were standing in between me and medical care. So if you’re one of these people that is preventing somebody through your words or lack of support from getting the care that they need, you might want to really take a deep breath and decide if this is the hill that you want to die on.
Jackie: Well, and especially if you’re that person, the person you’re saying these things to already feels like they are more alone than they’ve ever been in their entire life. So if they’re even telling you about what’s going on, it’s the smallest little attempt to outreach and you’re basically just pushing them right back by themselves. They already feel like nobody understands. Nobody’s going to help. And you’re basically confirming that to them. So like Gabe said, rethink that. Maybe look at it from another direction. Maybe it wouldn’t be something that helps you, but it’s something that they need to consider for themselves.
Gabe: The bottom line is when somebody is in the throes of depression, when they’re suffering from depression, when they think they’re worthless, if they’re contemplating suicide, if they are in so much mental, emotional and physical pain that they cannot see straight, it’s not going to be hard to convince them to do what you want. And if the thing that you want them to do is not seek help, it’s not going to be hard to convince them to do that. And I would love to tell you that through your love and your words, you could convince them to be better. But the world doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t. And we know this. So maybe the best thing that you can do is step aside and say, “I support how you feel.” We do this with religion and politics in healthy families. We say, look, we’re going to agree to disagree. I’m not going to stand in your way.
Jackie: So if you’re somebody who’s living with depression right now, Gabe, and you have somebody in your life who is a happy person, and maybe they’re not trying to talk you out of getting treatment or talk you out of doing anything for yourself, they’re just let’s say you’re married to Kendall…
Gabe: Oh, my God. Am I married to Kendall? Yay
Jackie: Let’s just say you’re somebody with depression who knows someone like Kendall, what are your best tips for explaining depression to somebody who is willing to listen but just can’t understand?
Gabe: I believe in brutal honesty. I believe that everybody’s depression, while having similarities, is a little bit different. And everybody has their own analogies. And here’s the nice thing about our families. They get our analogies better than anybody.
Jackie: So true.
Gabe: They just do. Families have shorthands. We have that. You know, my depression is like Christmas 1985 when, you know, grandpa set the Christmas tree on fire and be be brutal. Be honest. Use real words. We talk about this on this show all the time. You know, don’t say I’m having a mental health crisis. Say I feel like I’m going crazy. Don’t say, oh, I feel sad at night. Say that you feel depressed. You feel like you’re in a deep, dark hole that you can’t escape. Use the words that are meaningful to you. And don’t flinch. And to the loved ones hearing this. Don’t flinch back. And if you do flinch, flinch for real. If it makes you want to cry, cry and hug them. You used Kendall. These are the things that helped. Kendall does not understand what it’s like to live with depression. She doesn’t. And she’s never going to. And the thing that helped me the most in my marriage is she just flat out told me that she said, I am never going to understand what it’s like to be depressed. And man, what what a sigh of relief. Now, I suppose I should put an asterix there and say that’s not how medical conditions work. She might know…
Gabe: But I hope that she never has to suffer depression.
Jackie: Well, if, and if she does, given who she is as a person, she very well may approach it differently or it will feel differently. I think who you are before depression greatly affects how your life goes with depression.
Gabe: And to your point, how you deal with your depression is greatly dependent by how the people around you act.
Gabe: If Kendall was constantly telling me to cheer up and get better, I would not cheer up and get better. And I’d resent her. I would resent her. I resent her now for being happy.
Jackie: You probably wouldn’t be married to her.
Gabe: Oh, I know. I run through wives like some people run through shoes.
Jackie: That’s a whole other thing, Gabe.
Gabe: So you don’t have to understand it to be helpful and you don’t have to have the answers to be helpful. And this is really what we see in mental health all the time, which is the people around us. They want to fix it. They want to have the answers. They want to be the hero. They want to have that piece of advice that saves our life.
Gabe: This is nonsense.
Gabe: You can’t do it unless, of course, you’re a top psychiatrist.
Jackie: Well, and to top it off, the rule is if you’re a doctor, you can’t treat your family member even when…
Gabe: Oh, yeah. It’s illegal. We should point that out too.
Jackie: Even when you have the medical knowledge to do it. So if you’re a family member of somebody who’s suffering with depression and you don’t have the medical knowledge to fix it, why on earth would you think that you have anything that can really change the course of their depression, that’s not telling them to go seek somebody who can actually change the course of their depression?
Gabe: There may not be an answer to how to explain to people who have never suffered from depression, what exactly depression feels like, and hey, maybe that’s a good thing when it comes to people knowing each other at all. We only know what we tell each other and what we share and what we’ve experienced together. Jackie, I think you’re fantastic. But at the end of the day, I’m only going to know you as well as 1) You let me and 2) as the time that I am willing to put into it. Depression and our emotions and our feelings is very much the same way. I will learn from you because I will keep an open mind to learning from you. Now, there may be disagreements along the way. There may be arguments and there absolutely, unequivocally will be hurt feelings. And you’ve got to push past all of that and learn because listen. Depression thrives on this. The one thing that I feel that every single person with depression has in common is we feel isolated, misunderstood and lonely. So talk to us, hug us, help us. And if you’re going to try to fix us, maybe really think not.
Jackie: If you’re somebody trying to help someone else with depression, sometimes it’s just your presence. For me, when I’m really depressed, I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about anything. I don’t even want to, like, actually speak out loud. I just want to be like I want to wallow. That’s what I want to do. My depression makes me want to wallow. But if I can wallow with somebody else in the room, I’m already doing better than I was before. And I might not talk to you. And we may not talk about it. We might not speak at all. We might not do anything other than sit in silence. But that’s better than me sitting by myself.
Gabe: And can we all agree, just as maybe a community of people who have suffered from depression in the past or who may be suffering right now, that the happy people are annoying?
Jackie: Oh, my God, they’re so annoying, so annoying.
Gabe: They’re so annoying. But we probably shouldn’t give them advice on how not to be annoying because then we would be just like them.
Jackie: And to be fair, you and I, we married them. Like we chose to love them forever and ever, despite how happy they are.
Gabe: Listen. I get my next divorce for free, so I don’t know about this forever and ever thing of which you speak, but you know, she’s good enough for now.
Jackie: I don’t have a punchcard like you do.
Gabe: Oh, I get so many free, I can loan you some. Hey, Jackie, you know, one of the hallmarks of this show that we’re gonna tell everybody in the first couple of episodes and then they’re gonna have to figure out for themselves is that we always put an outtake at the end of the episode. Did you know that? Did you know that our editor did that?
Jackie: I heard it at the end of one of the old episodes. I don’t know, I had a moment where I thought maybe I like hit play on something that was wrong. And then I realized it was a funny thing. So it was supposed to be there.
Gabe: Yeah, yeah. It was like you falling off your stool, landing face first and breaking your nose. It was hilarious. We laugh at physical illness here on Not Crazy. But stay tuned until after the credits. And listen to what it is. And it will be week after week after week. And don’t think you’re going to cheat and go look at the transcript. We cut it out of there on purpose.
Jackie: Thanks, everyone, for listening today to Not Crazy. And if you’re somebody living with depression and maybe you have one of these like super annoying, happy people in your life, send them this episode. Send them to Not Crazy, send them to Psych Central. Help them understand what your life is like. And until then, subscribe to our podcast, like us on social media, send us an e-mail. Send us hate mail if you want to. But maybe don’t. I don’t know. Have a great week.
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Podcast, N. (2019). Podcast: Explaining Depression To Happy People. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 30, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/podcast-explaining-depression-to-happy-people/