A Conversation in the Lunch Room

I was sitting in the lunch room at work with a group of co-workers, flipping through the newspapers. I came to an article on the suicide of Marie Osmond’s son, which led to the whole table discussing the incident. And it was immediately underlined for me how little most people know about mental illness and depression. Here’s a brief list of some of the questions and statements that came up during the discussion, the entirety of which I spent shrinking into myself and trying to be invisible:

  • “Is depression even a real disease?”
  • “People who commit suicide don’t really want to die – evolution wouldn’t let us have suicidal tendencies because it goes against survival.”
  • “It must be because his mom had mental health problems too.” Someone inquired if depression was hereditary and the original speaker replied “No, but being around depressed people can turn you into a depressed person.”
  • “I once knew a bipolar. She married my cousin and my mom got so mad, like you should never marry a bipolar because it’s not a good idea for them to have kids.”

Finally, a young man told a long story about his ex-girlfriend, who had experienced major depression, and how it affected her and the serious limitations it caused her. It was a great illustration of the reality of depression and the changes it can cause in day to day life. It was unfortunately concluded with a “so that’s why you can’t be in a relationship with those people, it’s just too hard.”

We’ve got a long way to go, y’all.

19 Comments

  1. Reading this just made me so furious. If your coworkers weren’t such privileged, ignorant assholes (I mean, “a bipolar.” Seriously?), they might have known that 1 in 10 people in the US have a psychiatric illness (and some studies I’ve read suggest 1 in 4 are diagnosable). Which means that the likelihood of someone with such an illness sitting at the table with them was, well, not only high but a given.

    As for the last coworker you mentioned: the reasons why “those people” are often hard to be in relationships with is because we have to face down (dis)ablist, psychophobic bullshit like this daily from society, our carers and doctors, our families and our boyfriends and girlfriends. While, yes, it can be difficult knowing what to do for a loved one who is having a panic attack or on a “high,” the majority of the trouble is socially caused.

    This is why I reject and rebel against descriptors like “sane.” If this is how sane people behave, I want no part of it.

  2. That is some world-class ignorance right there. I would have flipped out and done some truly regrettable things that would probably only reinforce stereotypes of mentally ill people as READY TO SNAP AT ANY MOMENT.

    The relationship thing stings, as nearly all my relationships have ended because one of us was depressed. Not going to lie—we’re hard to be with. And I wish I could finish this with some snappy comeback but there isn’t one.

  3. And that’s why I don’t tell many people I have major depressive disorder. No one really knows what that means. So when I have to miss work or I’m not doing to well, I just say I’m tired or I have a stomach bug. It’s much easier and people actually believe you.

  4. For a while I’ve been looking for a word that sums up the odd paradox of being shocked yet not at all surprised by disability discrimination (as first discussed on the Ouch messageboard, I think). This is a perfect example of that. Why, in today’s society, are there still people who think like this? And why doesn’t it surprise me more?

    Blah.

  5. god, I am so sick of that crap. I mean, i will not say that my mental illness isn’t hard on my partner, but jesus, ignorant assholes making it harder is the last damn thing i need

  6. @Maevele: Oh yes, it’s definitely hard on my partner and my family (many of whom also have mental issues for extra fun). But yeah, hearing how you’re “those people” and how it’s impossible to have relationships with you and you should just be shunned is so incredibly hurtful — especially if you’ve lost relationships with friends, family and boyfriends/girlfriends/spouses because they couldn’t “deal” with your depression.

  7. thanks for the comments, all – i’m especially touchy about relationship status stuff because i’m convinced (irrationally) that i’m “too broken to be lovable.” while it’s true that disability can complicate a relationship, i work hard to believe that it’s not inevitable, and hearing these things makes it a lot harder. i’m glad to see you all making that distinction – it’s helpful for me to know that others see it the same way.

  8. I truly believe that it’s mainly social conditions and oppression that make relationships with disabled people more tricky than they should be.

    And five years into my fantastic relationship with my fantastic Girl, I also know that some people don’t think that having a disabled partner is in any way odd, difficult or anything other than ordinary life.

  9. That is so awful you had to listen to that. Ugh. Horrible dehumanizing.

    NEWSFLASH TO THE BIGOTS: I HAVE SIX BRANDS OF THE CRAZY BUT I AM STILL A PERSON. A person in a successful long-term relationship, no less.

    Grr.

  10. @ abby jean *offer of hugs from your magical unicorn* 😉

    Hrmm…someone tell me again why so many people are afraid to seek help for depression… It isn’t because there is a social stigma surrounding mental illness or that anyone with such a disability might be perceived as weak/broken/less than a worthy human being, because that doesn’t happen anymore in our enlightened times.

    /lolsob

  11. I think there is a tendency toward belief in this capitalistic culture that most things are under our control and are a matter of will, and working hard, being smart, and especially making money will remedy almost any problem. This feeds into the ignornace about mental illness. So many people still believe that having a mental illness is always within our control. You are right we have a long way to go. I think we have to start finding creative ways to educate the public.

  12. @Iris – Yeah, I tell people that I have a headache or stomach cramps when I have to bow out of an activity because of my anxiety.

    I’m not in a relationship (biromantic asexual here) but the fact that people would say that…. argh. There are no words.

  13. Kim – but why is it our responsibility? I guess one could say if we don’t hear people insult us, we should tell them or leave, but sometimes it’s too hard to do either and you just sit there.

    Like in a religion class – I am the only vocal person who does not identify as Christian. So I hear, “People who don’t believe in g-d (like I do) are into vice” I said something like hey, your way isn’t the only one in class. The next class, someone said something similar. So I took it up with the professor. He didn’t want to restrict people’s discussion. Just stating that I’m a bad person helps discussion how?

    Disability related – mental illness comes up a bit with religion – how it was and is scene (damn puritans) and the prof quoted Freud and likened people practicing religious rituals to somebody with OCD. Ooh, my hand shot in the hair. I don’t remember all that I said, but basically, I said, “OCD’s not a joke, it’s not funny.”

  14. @iris and others – i hate making up excuses for not doing something or going somewhere. i wish there was a better way, but i totally understand it, because i’ve done it many, many times. if only there was a way to tell people, “i really just can’t function in the outside world today” and have that be an acceptable answer.

    as far as relationships go, they *are* really difficult when one or both parties are depressed or have other mental health issues. i’m learning that it’s important to draw some good boundaries and save certain topics for the therapist. my partner has also done the same and we’re in much better shape than we were when we were using each other as therapists. but unfortunately, it took some bad stuff for us to come to that place and we’re still working on it. it takes time and patience. and it’s difficult work. and not everyone is in that place or will get to that place. i can understand how tiring it is to be with someone with depression, but those who don’t have it and are partnered with someone who has it have to really think about it as an illness rather than a failing…

    just my two cents, fwiw.

  15. *BRB; incoherent with rage!*

    What is WRONG with people? How friggin’ hard is it to have a mere sliver of human decency? Of empathy?

    Apparently, for some people, it’s pretty goddamn hard.

    Argh.

  16. “People who commit suicide don’t really want to die – evolution wouldn’t let us have suicidal tendencies because it goes against survival.”

    I’ve never understand that argument -it makes about as much sense as saying “evolution would never allow cancer”.

    It was unfortunately concluded with a “so that’s why you I can’t be in a relationship with those people, it’s just too hard anyone, because they deserve better than someone who thinks relationships should be easy.”

    Fixed that for him >:(

    I’m sorry you had to sit through that crap 🙁 their opinions are bad, and they should feel bad.

  17. Whups, that last comment makes more sense with strikethroughs in place 🙁 that’ll teach me to assume html works everywhere!

  18. I’m so sorry you had to listen to that. 🙁

    I get fed up when people use ‘that’s why you shouldn’t get romantically involved with people who have some kind of condition’ arguments. It reminds me why we use the term ‘Temporarily Able-Bodied’ interchangeably with ‘able’. And if someone thinks they should only get involved with someone who has no problems, well, then maybe relationships just aren’t for them.

    Because you can meet someone whose life seems straightforward and they can become disabled, or you can. People get made redundant. They go bankrupt. They suffer bereavements. Life is full of difficult things of varying degrees of permanence that we have to support each other through, and this attitude some people have of not being prepared to live a less than perfect life with a less than perfect person (like they’re perfect? like ability/disability is the criterion by which we judge peoples’ worth?) winds me up SO much.

  19. Ugh. Jeez. “A bipolar?!” Just…way to be dehumanizing, dude. I don’t even have anything coherent to say about that one.

    …Weirdly, I’ve always assumed that if I were to enter into a romantic relationship, it’d be with another neuroatypical and/or “crazy” person. At first, I think this idea was the result of internalized ableism, of thinking of myself as too damaged for a “whole” person or not good enough for a “normal” person, but now it seems to stem more from a desire to be with someone who might understand me in some measure, to whom I wouldn’t constantly have to explain and justify my difficulties, emotions, sensory processes, ect. Maybe it’s still kind of a screwed-up assumption in some ways, though, I’m not sure. Probably something I ought to think about.