Turning Shoulda Coulda Woulda Into Will

Doc and I were chatting the other day, and the topic of work came up. I told him that I’d come to the realization that I’ve been asked to solve an impossible problem – and that what’s been asked of me is simply too much for any one person to handle. The problem is the problem itself, and not me. I am not fundamentally flawed.

“Well, I could have told you that!” Doc laughed.

Yes. He could have. He should have. But he didn’t.

A dear friend recently told me that she’d confided to her doctor some very dark feelings, some pretty serious warnings signs of ill health that should have been taken pretty seriously. They weren’t. Her Doc just shrugged it off, or perhaps didn’t even clue in.

She should have. But she didn’t.

I understand that my doctor’s role is to monitor my state of health, both mentally and physically, and gently nudge me when he notices me spiralling in a negative direction, hopefully providing options for addressing it when I do. This is where, for instance, my friend’s doctor fell down on the job. Her doctor’s negligence was woeful in many senses of the word. My doctor, in contrast, did not fall down on the job – I know his job is not to shore me up by giving comforting advice. There are certain realizations that it’s really important I come to on my own. I know this. But I think that our collective understanding of what depression is, what it is caused by and what it means is a definitional issue, a seminal one – and that we as a community, as a society, need to talk about whether a mother breaking down when her emotional and physical and mental demands are quite simply too high is a reasonable reaction rather than a flaw. We have marginalized and medicalized depression without ever exploring the reason why it exists. We haven’t challenged the assumption that it is a liability.

I’m writing this in the middle of the night, because once again, I can’t sleep. My body is aching, my heart is pounding, my mind is racing. This time, I know why – I’m completely stressed out. Work is overwhelming right now – I’m doing a lot of hours, dealing with a poop-load of information in an insanely short amount of time, and being pulled in a thousand directions. And our cave-man bodies aren’t so well equipped to address the modern information age. Fight, flight or freeze don’t really cut it against data. My mind is correlating and classifying and filing and sorting and storing and connecting the dots – when all my body wants to know is where the sabre-toothed tiger is.

So, here I am, wide awake while my brain processes reams of information, because my body is all jacked up on adrenaline bracing itself for a fight. And it’s not listening to me when I try to tell it that it’s not that kind of fight, and can’t I get some damn sleep, because there’s no such thing as turning the alarm off when it comes in the shape, size and noise of a three-year-old?

I recently read a fascinating book, Maddy Dichtwald’s Influence: How Women’s Soaring Economic Power Will Transform Our World for the Better, exploring the implications of the current global gender balance. It looks at stats of women’s participation in the world economy, and makes some pretty darned interesting arguments. We know that the people in positions of power are the ones who set the agenda, who determine what questions get asked and how much money gets devoted to answering them. The book asserts that women ask fundamentally different questions than men do, and that when able to set the agenda, women steer resources – both money and attention – accordingly.

Given my own preoccupation with depression, this has made me think: if there were more female medical researchers, would we know more about depression and other forms of mental illness by now? Depression is traditionally, and societally, seen as being a women’s problem. If there were a better balance of gender in positions of power in the medical research field, perhaps not only would we be devoting research money and attention to different topics, such as depression, but perhaps we would also be thinking differently about those topics, and be asking different questions.

I had a realization a while back when reading up on Myers Briggs personality trait indicators. One of the spectrums that this Jungian-based theory looks at is an individual’s probelm-solving preference to use logic versus emotion. The key here is that both ends of the spectrum, logic being at one end and emotion being at the other, are rational approaches. Get it? Using emotion to address a problem is illogical, not irrational. Emotion is a rational response.

Depression may be the brain’s rational response to high levels of stimulus, shunting resources to deal with the cognitive computing load. It may be a skill. It may be our modern-day sabre-tooth tiger hunting weapon.

We need a longitudinal study of depressives, with the goal to discover the benefits of depression. Not to study depression, but to study us. To look at how we think, how we respond to an overload of demands. This requires, of course, that the assumption that depression is a medical problem to be fixed, preferably with drugs that supress the syptoms of depression – that mute not just its indicators, but its effects – be replaced.

Think about this. Moms suffering depression of any kind, whether pre- or post-natal, or at any age and stage of mothering, may not be fundamentally flawed. We may instead be fundamentally skilled. We know that too much is being asked of us at once, and yet the baby still needs to be fed, diapers still need to be changed. The toddler alarm clock is still going to ring, wriggling into our beds no matter how much we’ve been up all night. Our brains may know it too.


1 comment so far

  1. Moosilaneous on

    Brilliant: “Depression may be the brain’s rational response to high levels of stimulus, shunting resources to deal with the cognitive computing load. It may be a skill. It may be our modern-day sabre-tooth tiger hunting weapon.”

    Ah, yes. Lets all internalize the idea that our humanity, our very fallibility, is a trait of value.

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