[OPINION] Season of sadness
It is sad season. April, May, and June.
I know because my clinic these days is full of sad people. People who have been diagnosed with mood disorder. Mostly women and mostly depressed rather than manic.
As a teacher I am alarmed at the lack of logic, reasoning, and scientific literacy which is manifested in the babel of false news and acrimony which is our national discourse these days. Therefore, I am obliged to say that just because it happens to one person (me in my clinic) does not make it true for everyone.
For example, while it may be true that some people get cured of cancer after drinking some supplement, it is not proof that the supplement cures cancer. For that, we will need to observe very large numbers of people or experiment with a few thousands in order to prove the effectiveness of the supplement against cancer.
However, the studies observing large numbers of people through decades do show that depression is seasonal. This does not mean that it does not occur in all months of the year. Rather, for some reason, there are more episodes of depression during certain times of the year.
Depression peaks during these months of April, May, and June. A second peak is seen during the Christmas season. This is true in warm and cold climates. It is also established by the long-term observation of millions that depression occurs more in women than men.
During my clinic day last week, I suddenly was reminded of the season. Summer. April, May, and June. The season of sadness for many. My clinic is full of women with depression.
Stressed out and ill
There are many theories why this is so but none are yet proven. Some say the increasing heat brings physical discomfort. Summer also brings additional stressors. Summer is our vacation and fun season. The season when Filipinos go to the beach, when we travel home to the province, or when we are visited by our family from the provinces. It is a time when we need to relate more and that can be emotionally stressful.
In my neck of the woods, the school semester ends (and a new one begins) during these months and this is a hectic time for all students. Graduation can be a joyful event. But even a joyful event such as graduation is still emotionally stressful. It can be more difficult for those who are delayed or have dropped out. It is also true that those who are depressed are more likely to suffer problems in academic performance. It isn’t because they are lazy or weak or dumb. It is because depression is an illness.
Whatever the reason, it is time again for many who have a mood disorder to experience the worse of their disability. Those who do not suffer from this illness cannot grasp the sadness, emptiness, pain, remorse, self doubt, self loathing. No one but the depressed person understands the sheer and unending misery and desperation.
It doesn’t help when loved ones show a lack of understanding by minimizing the emptiness or pain that can be so dire one will take any measure to escape. Reproaches like “you’ve always been moody/dramatic/hysterical” or attempts at encouragement like “kaya mo yan (you can do it)” or “you can snap out of it” add to the hopelessness. These sentences invalidate the reality of the sufferer and make him or her think that since the severity of the problem is not understood, then those who should be the first line of succor and sympathy are not going to help.
Parents or loved ones might be motivated to minimize the problem because of fear that the term “mental illness” will cause the person to be stigmatized. That the setbacks and failures will make their child a “loser”. Indeed even the depressed person can add the fear of failure, and stigmatization to the seemingly insurmountable mountain of problems that they carry.
Of course all of us have some small or large cross to bear. But it is part of the depression to think that these problems have no solutions, these are too many and interconnected and one can no longer find the will nor the energy to try. Thus, the best response of a person whose loved one is going through a depression is to stand up to her own fears and assure the loved one that they can fight this together.
Because, what the science is telling us is that depression is an illness like any other illness. And it can be a life threatening one. We need to take this seriously and understand that we cannot expect the person to live her usual life until he or she is well. The person needs our understanding, our nurturing and he or she needs to be given professional care.
After clinic these days I come home emotionally drained and brain dead. But never defeated. Why? Because the bravest people I know are the clinically depressed. I have seen over and over again how those with nothing left somehow find something within them too struggle towards wellness. What it is can be labeled love (for someone like a husband, or their families or just for life itself) or grace or the sheer power of the human spirit that will not be overcome.
To counsel with the depressed is to be with them as they stare into the darkest of holes and then fall into the darkness. But to counsel with the depressed is to know that a human being can claw their way out of the darkness. It is to stand at the edge of the abyss and call out to the one who has fallen in and to hear an answering call. Merely because you called, they answer. Somehow they have it in them to answer back. It is a blessing to hear them as the weeks go by to see them calling back from shallower depths and eventually climbing into the light.
Those of us who stand at the edge and call out can only marvel and be blessed by being witness to the indomitable will of these ordinary and crushed beings who nonetheless pick themselves up minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day and week by week.
It takes some time to get through. It takes time for a person (especially if young) to come to grips with disability and learn to live a satisfying life. But my counselees do. And when they get there it doesn’t mean freedom from bad days. Bad days come cycling back often in April, May, or June, or during Christmas. But for those who learn to live with their disability, what I see is a self assurance that it is OK to be sad and devastated, these things happen, but these things will be overcome.
Often in this macho world we think of courage as going to war or ordering the killing of people. We think of courage as being aggressive towards people who disagree with you or who are different. We admire and become the followers of someone who is not afraid of others. We look to them for validation and protection,
But this is the cheapest kind of courage as far as I am concerned. Because no one is physically indestructible. No one can emotionally dominate all the time. Nor should dominance be admired. Physical courage and aggression are often the cause of misery rather than happiness.
But the courage that I see from people whose very will to live is taken away from them in sudden and cataclysmic cycles of depression is of the purest and most admirable kind. And it comes as a particular blessing for those to whom such a heavy burden is given.
This is why, even as I battle with the demons of despair along with my patients, I am only tired but never discouraged.
It is the season of sadness. And so I write this hoping to reach the many more that I cannot take in to my already overflowing clinic.
Please reach out now. You do not have to suffer alone. Others are pulling for you and you must find them. Listen to the many others who have been into the abyss you are in now. There will always be something left in you and you can climb into the light. – Rappler.com
Sylvia Estrada Claudio is a medical doctor who also has a PhD in psychology. She has been giving free services to abused and underprivileged women for the past 30 years.