You Can’t Fight Depression with Unicorns and Rainbows

by Bill Brenner on December 17, 2013

In recent days I’ve watched an interesting online discussion about depression and bipolar disorder. One one side is author and speaker Natasha Tracy, whose writing pulls no punches about the dark side of such maladies. On the other side is a blogger named Sarah Ryan. She believes the approach to addressing the subject should be uplifting and sunny.

The truth is somewhere in between, in my opinion. But I must say that the sunshine part is useless if we don’t pick apart the darkness first.

Mood music:

Taking a shot at Tracy and her work, Sarah suggests a new voice is needed. Her beef: Tracy’s articles are dark to the point of ridiculous. She writes:

I am struck by the negativity that many major health-care websites are perpetuating, such as healthyplace.com, healthline.com, and answers.com. They are advertising Ms. Tracy as an expert on those sites, so if that is the case, I’m sure the vast majority of her readers will assume they can trust her message and treat it as fact-based. Here’s the rub: I find her message to be wrought with negativity, misinformation, and deeply internalized social stigma.

Sarah hopes to be a “much needed counter balance to this sort of negativity.” Sarah’s blogging is part of a larger project called “Find More Out There,” designed to explore the realities of bipolar disorder via film and other media.

As a long-time sufferer of depression and OCD, I appreciate what she’s doing. Sufferers do need hope, and in my own blogging I try to outline all the light I’ve found at the other side of the darkness.

But I also respect Tracy’s work. Sure she leans more toward the dark side. The titles she uses demonstrate that:

  • How Are You? – I’m Not Fine, I’m Bipolar
  • Can You Die From Bipolar Disorder? (*Saving you more time, the answer is yes)
  • More Ways to Die from Bipolar Disorder
  • Trying Bipolar Therapy You Don’t Believe In – Mindfulness Meditation
  • I’m Too Tired to Keep Fighting Bipolar Disorder

Sarah uses those titles as proof Tracy is too negative.

But here’s the thing: Depression and all the mental disorders that feed it are a nightmare. When you’re in the thick of it, all seems lost. It sucks. People need to say it sucks. My healing — an ongoing process with plenty of setbacks and advances — couldn’t begin until I peeled back every layer of my fear, anxiety and depression. That took years.

For the sufferer to find tools to get better, they have to know they’re not alone. The old cliché that misery loves company is true. When you realize you’re in good company, it becomes easier to stand up and do something about it.

But once the sufferer has that epiphany, they need guidance to start building the tools of recovery. Sarah’s project holds promise there.

I’d love to see these two voices collaborate on something. The fruits of such an effort could be powerful.

unicorn pooping a rainbow

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Christa Miller December 17, 2013 at 9:35 am

Spot on. Feeling like I’m the only idiot who’s overreacting “this way” drives me deeper into myself. Knowing that others experience the same does two things: 1) helps me find the words to name what’s happening in my own head and 2) therefore makes it easier to communicate to others. That’s when the hope starts to build.

Sarah Ryan December 17, 2013 at 11:36 am

Hey there. I’m Sarah, from Find More Out There. Sarah Ryan to be exact! My name is actually plastered all over the site, and I have no issue with letting folks know who I am. I really do appreciate your suggestion that Ms.Tracy and I collaborate on something. I’d love to have a healthy discourse about a variety of topics. I also think you’re correct in that exploring the darker sides of bipolar are needed, there is no doubt on that, but that said, it doesn’t need to be the ONLY message we read! Likewise, I’m interested in some alternative approaches that Ms.Tracy has dismissed as hog-wash. Thanks for taking the time to open a discussion about all of this. Wishing you well! I will always be open to critiques and alternate perspectives, just so you know. It’s very healthy for people to question the pronouncements of all writers out there… me included.

VenusH. December 17, 2013 at 12:55 pm

IMho, there is difference between trusting in yourself and abilities to heal and being overly optimistic. (And Ms Tracy is kinda sunshiny rainbowy on topic of meds and modern psychiatry, it seems. Her “most doctors are good” is not a vision shared by many users of the system and many would call it rosy colored).

Calling alternative ways to heal “falderal” and “hogwash” is not realistic, it’s pointlessly negative sometimes going into “venonous” territory.

I sometimes whine and cry, but I try to keep faith in myself. I am more of Buddhist leaning (which I am sure is “falderal and hogwash” to many people touting the pure medical model). Which is far from sunshiny. Suffering is part of life and to me it’s pointless about whining about “is not fair I am depressed”. I know it could always be much much worse.

I think the right attitude is not about sunshiny unicorns. It’s about body surfing well through the waves of life. Seeing yourself as doomed will not help you to do that.

tr3ss December 17, 2013 at 2:36 pm

Thank you, thank you, thank you. I often think of the panel Hyperbole And A Half posted about people’s reactions to depression: “Just do yoga while watching the sun rise!” Constant messaging that you simply need to make healthier choices, think positive, do sunrise yoga, etc. just isn’t constructive when you’re barely able to get out of bed. In fact, they’re exhausting and alienating and make you wonder what’s so wrong with you that you can’t “just” sunrise-yoga yourself out of what is a serious disease.

Sarah Ryan December 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm

I certainly don’t think that positive thinking alone will get you out of bed when depression overcomes you, or mania leads you to the border of insanity. Anyone who tells you otherwise, is twisting my words. My perspective is that people need to fight this tooth and nail, and regardless of your current state of being, making sound plans for recovery (this means any tactic that resonate with you) are critical. I also think that messages devoid of positivity won’t help you get out of bed either. Likewise, saying that there is only one approach to wellness (medical model) is like saying everyone wears a size 10 shoe. The truth is we need to identify with the ugly, explore ways out, and embody the gifts that come with this – like creativity and productivity for some. So yes, we agree, sunrise yoga alone won’t help you recover… but messages that promote boundaries on your ability to recover are total crap – at least to me. I encourage everyone to find people who share your ideas on ways to promote wellness. It’s important. I have no doubt that my approach will only apply to a select audience, and that’s cool with me.

me December 17, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Sarah Ryan, she’s insufferable!!!!! She’s been making numerous postings and comments, almost unending it seems, on the facebook icarus project. She comes off as insincere and condescending and it’s aggravated me to no end. Maybe she has something to contribute but she can’t seem to listen and participate on level with people and just carries on and on and ON, sometimes to the point of picking fights. I won’t be reading her articles, just like I don’t read Natasha Tracy’s. Neither are very inspiring.

Sarah Ryan December 18, 2013 at 4:00 pm

Ha! Hi “me”. I don’t know what “fights” you are referring to… as in, this is fabricated. But that’s ok with me. To each their own. I hope you find someone who inspires you, if that’s something you feel you need. Eitherway, wishing you well.

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