A long time ago, I was reliably informed (by someone we’ll call ‘A’) that depression is a ‘selfish’ disease because it makes you focus on everything that’s wrong with yourself and strips you of your ability to care for others. Given that I was depressed at the time and had been talking about it with ‘A’, I took this as a commentary on my behaviour and resolved not to bother ‘A’ with my depression any more. In fact, I resolved not to bother anyone with it. (No, I’m not blaming ‘A’.)
Having had some time to think about this, I’m not sure depression is any more uniquely ‘selfish’ than any other disease that saps your energy, slows your thoughts and actions, and generally screws you up. I realise that I am leaning on other people more than they lean on me these days, but I might be doing that if I were ‘physically’ sick too.
Someone else – we’ll call them ‘B’ – asked me: “What do you always hear when they’re doing the safety announcements on a plane – the bit about what to do with your oxygen mask in an emergency?”
The answer was easy: “Secure your own mask before you help anyone else.”
“And why is that?”
The answer was easy again: “Because you’re no good to anyone if you’ve passed out from lack of oxygen.”
And just like that, ‘B’ alleviated my guilt about being depressed. Not completely (good heavens, no!) and not permanently (I revisit this analogy again, and again, and again…) but enough to make a difference. Unlike pretty much everything else that people were saying to me about depression at the time, this struck a chord with me: If you are gasping for air, give yourself some oxygen. Before anything else. That’s what you’re supposed to do.