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Wholistic Picture: Assumption of Sadness

By Sue Saltmarsh

May/June 2010

Sue Saltmarsh Working on this issue made me remember my days doing energy work at Project Vida in the '90s. One of the things my clients back then seemed to have to deal with was the assumption of their doctors that because they were HIV-positive, they were depressed. On the surface, that didn't seem too unreasonable -- who wouldn't be a little down in the dumps upon finding out that they were HIV-positive? But what was disturbing to me at the time was how many of them had automatically received prescriptions for antidepressants at the same time they got their HIV meds prescribed.

For many of them, this seemed to work like a self-fulfilling prophecy -- "My doctor thinks I'm depressed, so doesn't that mean I must be?" And yet, energetically anyway, most of them had the internal resources to manage their diagnosis much more easily than they managed the way the antidepressants made them feel.

Now, some 15 years later, doctors don't seem to assume that being HIV-positive automatically leads to depression. And I have some personal reference points -- my sisters Kathy and Kerry are my living, breathing, walking, talking Cymbaltas and, though they would probably never admit it, dealing with my sadness, grief, physical pain, and hopelessness in the last year and a half has taxed Kerry's patient compassion and Kathy's irrepressible perkiness. But we soldier on and the dark heaviness lifts occasionally and we are never at a loss for things that make us laugh so hard our bodies ache the next day. That's a side effect I can live with.

Should I be taking an antidepressant? Would a pill provide me with the money to pay my medical debts? Magically replace my painful hip without surgery? Find me the perfect apartment a block from work? Most of all, would a pill be able to resurrect the "me" I used to be before August of 2008? No. And when I ask myself if it might be a good idea to be "numbed out" for at least a little while, I am reminded of one long-ago client who said, "I don't like crying, but it's better than feeling nothing at all."

My friend Judy recently sent me a piece written by Dr. Darcie Sims. It was both for people going through grief and those around them, and though there was much about it I could argue with (Darcie seemed way too anti-winter and food-phobic for me), there were several truisms that resonated like a gothic cathedral bell. One was this: "When we have lost the framework of our personal identification, we must search for new identities. It is an important and solitary job. No one can help us create the new identity we must find in order to continue our journey."

For me, the question is, "Who am I now, with the diabetes, the liver disease, the bad hip?" For you, it may be, "Who am I now, with the HIV, the side effects, the limits that are now on my life?" It's a hard, painful, sad job coming up with the answers, but when they start to trickle in piece by piece, it becomes a hard, hopeful, rewarding accomplishment that deserves attention and celebration. And if that sounds like Disney-esque bullshit, believe me, I know how relentlessly irritating "inspirational" platitudes and "Good Attitude" directives can be and that is certainly not my intent. Fact is that, at some point in time, for everyone, life sucks. And it sucks that life sucks. But only you can decide how, or even if, you're going to deal with it sucking.

So cry, yell, pop a Zoloft or Cymbalta, work out until you pass out, eat nothing but chocolate truffles, meditate, do a sweat lodge, drive a convertible to the ocean, whatever. Just make sure that whatever you do is right for you and not the result of someone else's assumptions.

In the end, the only place of true belonging is within. Our external ties are transient, but the internal ones last as long as we do. It is a miraculously wonderful thing to belong to a family like mine, to work with the people I work with, and to have the true friends I have, but for awhile in 2008, I did not belong to myself and so now, I am challenged to find that belonging again. It's up to me to accept or reject my doctors' advice, my parents' problem solving, my sisters' cheer-up measures. It's up to me to know who it is I'm looking at in the mirror now and to get to know her better. It's my job. And it is your job. And though it's hard, it doesn't suck. I'm going to try to keep at it.

Breathe deep, live long.




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