February 19th, 2008

Roman

taking responsibility

I am reading The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath. I had not read it before. I am not afraid of stories of mental illness, although sometimes they can irritate me, and in this case I have heard nothing but good about the book. The fact of Plath's suicide probably put me off some. The book is very good and often funny, incidentally, just amazing. She was one giant talent and I am so sorry she came to a place where she could see no alternative to suicide.

This got me to thinking. Several weeks ago I watched several programs in a "medical mystery" series. Sort of a real-life House. Several of the patients involved kept finding reasons for being unwell in their own lives. They blamed themselves for drinking too much or not sleeping enough or having toxic items in the house or not eating right or exercising enough. They kept trying to fix themselves, to get back on the right track, in hopes of getting well.

I was struck by how these people persevered, going to one doctor after another, ever hopeful, trying to do what was best for their bodies. I know other people who are far more passive, who would indeed go to doctor after doctor but who would not look into themselves for any answers. Who would give the power to others and not to themselves.

Not that there were answers to be found in these particular patients' diet and exercise programs or anything else. But their first line of attack was to look at themselves and to believe that they had the power to change themselves.

The passive people don't believe this. They put their hopes in authority and are reluctant or afraid to do any investigating on their own.

Many times, when I have written posts on depression, I have been attacked for my anti-drug stance. People tell me I don't know what it's like, I can't know how much the drugs help. They say they would have committed suicide if not for the drugs. Of course that claim is ridiculous but that isn't my point here. My point is that these people were unwilling or unable to take responsibility for themselves, to take a hard look at what they were doing. Especially in the case of depression we do have the power within ourselves. But some people do not know this. It makes my heart ache that some people fall victim as much to themselves as to the medical establishment.

I would love to know why some of us will automatically search for answers and question them when we get them and others will let themselves be led.

I believe, though, that I was one of these people long ago. I did not have the tools. I did not know my power. I fell (more than once) into a helpless state, a hole so dark and deep I thought I would never climb out. I can still remember how it felt. I am not completely free of depression so I recognize it when it comes to my door still, but now I know how to beat it so I don't let it stay.

In my case, when I was young, I clung to life even as I attempted suicide. Why? Why did I seek help, why did I believe there was help to be had? Why did I believe my life was worth living after all?

Perhaps I wasn't so different from the passive ones in this respect. The difference is that I did gain the tools. It was almost accidental: I was seeing a therapist at the LA county mental health department -for free (can anyone do this now?) and she put me in a group. I thought the group was just a cheap way of taking on several of us at once, but I went. At first I didn't much like the two group leaders yet I continued to go. I also was given a copy of the first book on "cognitive therapy" by my stepmother (A Guide to Rational Living - this book is still in print). Gradually I learned the skills and about a year later I realized I was no longer suicidal. This realization hit me suddenly. It was astounding. I knew then that I could do this. I have had bad episodes since then but I knew what to do, even while I didn't want to do anything. I knew I would get past it.

Would the passive persons pick up the skills in such a group? Would they read the book? I guess that's the difference, if the answer is no.