Someone in a group I belong to recently posed the question “Is it my fault I’m depressed?”.
People immediately began chiming in on both sides of the fence, with the overwhelming majority stating a firm and clear “absolutely not”. I hesitated to answer because I don’t think there is such a clear cut yes or no answer. Life is rarely simply black and white. There are many shades of gray.
I spent many years struggling with my own mental illness. I saw many doctors, took a multitude of medications in all different dosages and combinations. I tried changing my diet, exercising more, busying myself with arts and crafts, talking long nature-filled walks, everything anyone had suggested might work. In my case, nothing helped.
Last year, my newest doctor sent me for a genetic test and we discovered that I had a genetic mutation that prevented my body from breaking down a specific vitamin my brain needed to function properly. That broken-down vitamin is used by the brain to transport the chemicals, whether made naturally or in the form of antidepressants, where they are needed. Because my brain never received that substance, nothing my body made, no pill I took, even had a chance to work.
There is a pill version of that broken-down vitamin on the market. My doctor prescribed it. It took almost a year of fighting my insurance company to get it covered. Now that I have it, there is a noticeable difference. It is not a panacea, my depression is still here, but it is a start. I have a long road ahead of me but at least I am finally on the right track.
It brings to mind a quote from Maya Angelou:
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.”
For years, I tried again and again to get help even though nothing worked. I cannot blame myself for not knowing that, on a genetic level, my body was incapable of making what it needed in order for any treatment to work. But now that I know better, I am doing better.
I do not believe we can blame ourselves when our bodies malfunction. When someone is diabetic, their pancreas is not making the proper amounts of insulin and glucose. People go to a doctor and get treatment so they can live a healthier life. They are not to blame for their organ ceasing to work. With mental illness, the only difference is the organ involved. No one has any control over their brain not working properly.
But everyone does have control over whether or not they get the treatment they need.
I know some people will play devil’s advocate and say a diabetic wouldn’t have gotten diabetes if they hadn’t eaten so much sugar and likewise, someone who is mentally ill may have made poor life choices that put them in their predicament, as well. However, that is not how it works. Millions of people drink soda and other sugary drinks every day, yet not all of them have become diabetics. Likewise, many people struggle with everything from drinking, drugs, bad relationships and dead-end jobs without experiencing depression.
There are many known hereditary and biological causes for mental illness. Many people are predisposed to depression, having been passed through their family line. For others, it can be caused on a genetic level from mutations. In some cases, the onset is caused by an unforeseen tragedy or event that shakes a person to the core. With me, it is a combination of them all.
Living a rough life does not guarantee depression any more than drinking a soda guarantees diabetes. On the contrary, people from all walks of life, all socio-economic backgrounds, different races, religions, sexual orientations, upbringings all struggle with their mental health. A hard life might contribute to a person’s mental illness but it does not cause it, much like drinking sugary drinks are a contributing factor to diabetes. There is a big difference between causation, though, and a contributing factor.
Though we have no control over whether any of our organs are working properly, I believe there is a clear line here where we need to accept personal responsibility. As Maya Angelou said “..when you know better, do better”. Once we realize something is not working correctly in our bodies, it is our responsibility to take steps to fix the problem. We need to do what we can to be healthier, live healthier.
Once a person has realized they are struggling with a mental illness, they need to at least attempt to get help. I understand the frustration all too well when nothing seems to work, but we need to at least try. Again, to quote Maya, “Do the best you can until you know better”. Try therapy, meditation, medication, homeopathic remedies. Something. Anything. Embrace whatever works for you. But at least DO something. Don’t suffer needlessly. Take care of yourself the best you can. Then “..when you know better, do better”.
Nobody asks to be depressed. No one has any control over whether or not they are diagnosed with a mental illness. But you do have control over whether or not you treat your illness and you ARE to blame if you knowingly neglect yourself and your well-being.
Please take care of yourself the best that you can. Get help when you need it. Don’t let the judgment or stigma from anyone else prevent you from taking care of your mental health. It is okay to need help, especially when your body is not working like it should be. There is no shame in having a mental illness. The only shame is in not getting the treatment you need.