The ‘Paralyzed in a Wheelchair’ Analogy – Regarding: Clinical Depression – Also: The Cynical or Victimhood Filter
How accurate is it for the clinically depressed, or those who think they are allies to them, to use the “paralyzed and in a wheel chair” comparison to explain how supposedly helpless and incapable the depressed are? I will discuss this topic as this post goes on.
I was diagnosed with clinical depression at a young age by a psychiatrist, and proceeded to see three more psychiatrists until my early 30s.
(I had to move often, which is why I had to change psychiatrists – as to my next- to- last psychiatrist, I dropped her for a new one, because she was terse and grouchy, which I did not like.)
During those years, and even now, I do see a lot of people who have never had depression and who don’t understand what it is.
A lot of mentally healthy people think that clinical depression is the same as regular sadness, and they believe most people can “snap out of” every day, regular sadness within hours or days – which I’d say is probably true.
When people have clinical depression, however, they can’t just “snap out of it” in days or weeks.
Depression doesn’t just dissipate on its own over time, and depression is not always triggered by a single, identifiable event.
If you’d like more background about clinical depression, what it is, how it can be treated, and some information about its symptoms, I invite you to visit this page about it at the Mayo Clinic:
(Link, from Mayo Clinic): What does the term “clinical depression” mean?
As for me, clinical depression (as well as suicidal impulses) run on both sides of my family, and anxiety is on the maternal side, so I take it that it’s genetic in my case, and not purely situational or due to personal shortcomings, sin, etc.
I lived with clinical depression for 35+ years.
I saw psychiatrists and took doctor prescribed anti-depressant medications for it, which never helped.
During the years I was a devout Christian (I’m not altogether sure what my spiritual beliefs are now), I prayed, read the Bible, had faith God would heal me of the depression and anxiety, but God never did.
Doing good deeds for others, attending church, etc, and so on, never did take the depression or anxiety away.
When I was younger and diagnosed with clinical depression, I did not feel like getting up, showering and attending school five days a week, but my mother forced me to.
Depression tends to rob you of motivation and energy – you feel lethargic, and you just want to lay in bed all day with your eyes closed, or just nap all day.
However, I was not allowed to “cave in” to the depression and sit around in bed all day in a pair of pajamas – not while I was in junior high, and not during the years I attended two different high schools.
My Mom made sure I got out of bed early enough each morning to get ready for school, and then I had to attend school five days a week.
(Edit. Well, I did more often than not set my own alarm and get up on my own when I was a pre-teen and teen, but on mornings I kept hitting the “snooze” button, my Mom would stand in my doorway to tell me to get up. But when you have depression and aren’t a morning person, it is difficult to get up early.)
I also went on to attend college full time, receive a degree, and hold part time jobs and full time, professional jobs while I had clinical depression.
I also did housework during the years I had depression. I kept my rooms and bathroom clean.
So yes, people with clinical depression (sometimes called MDD, Major Depressive Disorder) can in fact accomplish things in spite of having depression.
It’s not easy, but it can be done.
It’s an absolute falsehood to say, or to teach others (Link): in this day and age, “I learned in a psychology course in years past that anyone with clinical depression cannot hold a job or attend school!”
It’s absolutely false to say or teach others,
“Because I choose not to attend school or hold a job because the depression I have ‘zaps’ me of the energy or resolve to get up out of bed and go out every day, because I don’t feel like getting up and out every day to go to a job or other events, nobody else can possibly function with clinical depression, either! If they say they can or have, they must never have actually had depression!”
I was diagnosed by doctors with depression, as was my sister, and we both went on to attend college and hold jobs – so yes, it can be done.
Sometimes we don’t get a choice in life – not if we have clinical depression, don’t want to participate in life, but our mother is forcing us to get up and go to school from ages 11 to 18.
My mother used to make me get up and go to classes and jobs, and she knew about my depression and crippling anxiety.
I remember during those years running into people – usually Christians – who had very ignorant ideas about depression.
A lot of people think that depression is easy to overcome, or they mistakenly think that it’s the result of personal sin, a personal flaw, or a character defect.
A lot of Christians believe all that, plus, many of them think a “real” Christian can never have mental or emotional health problems in the first place.
Out of the Christians who acknowledge that a Christian can have depression or anxiety, they think the solution for it is to “pray it away,” or to read the Bible more – or some kind of other Christian, spiritual solution.
In years past, I’ve certainly had my fair share of people, including Christians, give me chipper, upbeat comments and platitudes if I shared with them about having depression, such as, “just trust in the Lord and read the Bible!,” or, “when life hands you a Lemon, make Lemonade.”
Of course, any Christian who’s had depression, anxiety, or some other type of condition, knows none of that works.
At one point, in my mid or late 20s, I was so influenced by Christians who were telling me that my use of anti-depressants was a sign of lack of faith in God, that for a few years, I stopped taking those medications.
When I stopped taking the medications and kept praying for a healing, I never did get a healing.
The Wheelchair Analogy
For years, I have seen some people who are afflicted with clinical depression try to explain depression to those who don’t understand it by using the “paralyzed person in a wheelchair” analogy.
Some (Link): lady who dropped by this blog a month or two ago and threw this wheelchair analogy in my face, when she was torqued off I did a post explaining that yes, even people with clinical depression can make choices and changes.
If you’re someone in a wheelchair, this may be the first time you’re hearing about the use of this analogy.
As someone who has either found a way out of depression on her own in the last few years (or it’s at a negligible level now), I now wonder if people who are actually paralyzed and in wheelchairs find this analogy (used by those with depression) offensive or not, if they are aware of it.
I would imagine that people who must permanently use wheelchairs are not all identical, so they don’t all respond to life’s problems, or being paralyzed, in the same way.
As to the those who have lost use of both their legs in adulthood (due to being in a car accident or what have you) and have no choice but to use a wheelchair, I am sure that some may go through a phase of being angry and depressed about it.
And out of those, some may stay in that rage, fury, and depression, while others go on to make the choice to accept the situation, release the anger, sorrow, and fury, and enjoy their life for what it is, in spite of the physical disability.
I do appreciate that someone with depression is trying to come up with a comparison for the “depression-ignorant,” to educate them, to help them understand that people don’t choose to have depression, any more than someone would choose to get into a car accident, or fall off a horse, sever their spine, and have to use a wheelchair for life.
It would be ridiculous and insensitive to go up to a paralyzed person in a wheelchair and tell them to just get up and run a few laps around a track.
You’re asking them, after all, to do something they are physically incapable of.
While I can kind of appreciate what depressed people are trying to do when they use that analogy – they will sometimes tell someone, ‘if you wouldn’t tell a paralyzed person in a wheel chair to just get up and run a few laps, you shouldn’t do something similar to someone with depression – tell them to just get up and be happy,’ I can now see some flaws in this thinking.
In some of my online reading, I’ve found real life examples of adults who, due to an accident of some kind, lost their ability to walk, are paralyzed now, and must use wheelchairs.
And yet, in the news reports and interviews I saw, these paralyzed people made a choice to not dwell in anger or sorrow, but to accept their situation and get up and go out and live life again.
Here are some examples of that:
I’m sure there may be paralyzed people in wheelchairs who probably did get bogged down in the sorrow, self pity, or anger stage, and maybe never got out of it.
The same thing happens quite a bit with drug, food, and alcohol addicts – some of them never get over whatever previous painful life events that led them to rely on substances to dull or get through life’s pain.
But then, I’ve seen the occasional testimony by former addicts who explain how they overcame their addiction – and part of that involved them making a choice to admit they had a problem, seek treatment, take back responsibility for their life, and stop thinking of themselves as a victim, and to stop blaming everything and everyone around them. That played a role in how they got out.
I would imagine it’s much the same with people who find themselves having to use wheelchairs, too.
I had clinical depression for around 35+ years or so (I am largely free of it now), and I can see in hindsight, that a lot of my own distorted thinking and choices are what was keeping me trapped in the depression.
It was not external circumstances or other people who were keeping me stuck, but it was me!
Granted, I didn’t “choose” to start out being depressed.
I did not enjoy being depressed, and yes, other people (like my parents, with some of their toxic parenting) helped lead me into depression in the first place, and I come from a family where genetics make one prone to developing depression, but to find a way out of it, I had to change how I thought of myself, life, and other things.
I do think that some depressed people have a lot of distortions in their thinking, and I don’t mean the stereotypical, normal negative thinking process the depressed are prone to, but I’ve seen some depressed people who also have an angry, cynical, bitter and/or (Link): victim mentality, and so, this group unfortunately tend to see offense where none is meant.
They will often snap and snarl at the very hand that is trying to reach out and help them.
The cynical, very angry, bitter, or victim-minded depressed persons will see things online saying things like, “Happiness is a Choice!” and honestly either not understand such things, or write them off as being hopelessly naive, or as implying that the user of such expressions are “blaming them” for having depression.
(Many people with depression are very, very apt to (wrongly) assume that any time any one is asking them to take steps to lessen their depression, or to consider this suggestion or that suggestion, that the person doing the asking is “blaming” them for having depression, but that is not the case.
You’re not being “blamed” for having depression, but in these scenarios, you are being asked to at least try to take some kind of responsibility and action to get better.)
I remember when my clinical depression was quite bad, and I’d see the Pinterest-like “Happiness is a Choice” memes online that are meant to be encouraging, and I’d usually just be mystified by it.
If I could choose happiness, I would think at the time, don’t the people writing these sun-shiny, cutesy memes think I’d do so?
Now that I’m out of depression and looking back on things like that, I can now grasp, and even appreciate, what those types of expressions and even platitudes are saying.
As a former depressed person, I can tell you if you are still in depression, you won’t like to hear this, but a lot of those simplistic, bumper sticker, slogan-y type platitudes you despise and think betray an ignorance of depression ….actually have large grains of truth to them!
The truth conveyed in those cheese-ball sounding platitudes may be unfortunately wrapped in a sugar-coated layer of pukey sweetness that makes it difficult to take them seriously, but it’s still truth.
You can’t really see the truth in them while you are still in depression, though, or it’s really hard to see it.
I don’t know if I can ever explain the truth in the platitudes in such a way to convince someone who is still trapped in depression – that may be a futile endeavor.
At some point in my own healing from depression, though, it did involve a lot of paradigm shifts.
I had several epiphanies along the way.
Working my way out of depression was not easy. I had to face some hard truths.
It took years of work, not minutes or weeks.
And I had to do it alone, as I could not afford to see a therapist or psychologist, and most of my family consists of Negative Nancy people who are NOT interested in cheering me on or giving me emotional support, or else in people who are totally dis-interested in what I’m going through.
(Getting out of depression was not an instant, easy, or fast process for me. I really resent how the idiot lady who visited this blog to scream at me on former posts and the (Link): ex- friend of mine depicted my journey out of depression like it was an instant, fun, magical, easy, happy, fun time. That was not the case at all.)
I realized that sitting around allowing myself to always think in negative terms was contributing to keeping myself depressed.
If you’re in depression while you are reading this, you may not be able to appreciate or understand the bubbly “Happiness is a Choice!” slogan you may sometimes see on social media, and maybe it makes you roll your eyes and want to hurl, but maybe if I frame it in the opposite way –
If you keep assuming the opposite, if you continue to think in negative terms, such as,
“Not only is Happiness NOT a choice, but life sucks, I hate life, God has been unfair to me, everything is awful, other people have life easier than I do, and there’s nothing I can do to fix my life or to ever enjoy life ever again!,”
– that sort of thinking is contributing to, or keeping you stuck in, depression.
Getting away from that sort of negative thinking can play a role in helping to escape depression, or at least making it drop to a much lower rate.
Also, if you more or less think in terms about yourself or your life such as,
“I am a victim! God is against me! Other people have life easier than I do, why do they get all the breaks, I never do! I cannot do anything to improve my life, attitude or situation, it’s hopeless! My entire life has been unfair,”
-you may also either have a bad case of (Link): Victim Syndrome (and there are steps you can take to get rid of that, too), and/or you may be somewhere on the (Link): Covert Narcissism continuum, in addition to having depression.
(See also: (Link): Avoid Getting Entangled with Covert Narcissists – You Can Waste Your Time, Effort, Money or Giving that Exhausting Emotional Support and It Won’t Make A Difference to the Recipient)
It took me a lot of years of reflecting on my own life, processing things, and reading free, online psychology articles to change how I view things.
Walking away from years and years of constant, knee-jerk negativity and negative thinking was not easy (especially since I come from a family mostly consisting of chronic complainers and pessimists).
I did not make this change easily or quickly.
I am sometimes susceptible to falling back into negative thinking – maybe I’ll never be totally free of it, I have no idea.
But it does get worse (or has the potential to) if I befriend a person who is a sad sack, a “debbie downer,” or complainer or a “negative nancy,” and almost every e-mail or phone call they make to me consists of them wailing about how hard they have life, or complaining about their jerk face boss, or whatever, so I have to be careful who I associate with, or for how long.
I think it’s particularly sad that if a non-depressed person or a formerly depressed person, tries to offer commentary on what helped them out of depression, (or what helped them to decrease it during the years they suffered from it),
to someone who says they are in depression now,
to have the depressed person misinterpret that, depict it, and distort it back to the person who’s only trying to help, by telling them things like,
- “You’re victim blaming me,”
- “You’re blaming me for having depression,”
- “You don’t understand depression,”
- “You’re just giving me pep talks”
- “You’re just giving me platitudes”
- “How great for you, you were able to pick yourself up by your bootstraps, we can’t all be like you!”
- “Oh, so if ‘you can do it, so can I,’ – gee, thanks”
I’ve run into those sorts of sarcastic, cynical come-backs not just from an ex-friend of mine I blogged about earlier, but from a few other people over my life.
Usually I would see this while lurking on forums many years ago where a former depressed person was trying to help another person who was still caught up in depression, and it would result in the depressed person taking the well-intended tips or advice in the worst possible way, and accusing the well-wisher of being a jerk of some kind.
It really is unfortunate that so many depressed people choose to read things in that manner, through this hyper-negative filter.
But that so many do – and it is a choice they are making to filter things through this Victimhood or Cynical Lens – is one reason of a few why I back off from offering people like this non-stop, unconditional emotional support.
I recognized a few years ago that giving emotional support doesn’t do those who are upset and hurting any good in the long run, and once you transition from giving emotional support alone to giving some kind, caring words accompanied by suggestions, it is met with hostility.
I may do another post about this in the future, but….
I spent over 35 very long years being highly codependent, and this definitely has ramifications about how I view and deal with people who come to me now, saying they are angry, wounded, hurting, and they expect me to coddle them and grant them constant empathy, even if and when they show no willingness to change their life, their attitude, or their situation.
I spent many, many years (as a former codependent) giving unconditional, never- ending, non-judgmental emotional support and empathy to every depressed, constantly angry, bitter, and/or complaining sarcastic person who crossed my path, and I learned several things the hard way as a result.
Some of what I learned:
No amount of me showering the angry, depressed, and hurting with emotional support ever makes their anger or hurt go away, certainly not permanently, and having to listen to years and years of the weeping or complaining left me mentally exhausted.
But that may be a topic for another post later on.
If you’re a depressed person, you are making choices every day.
You do not choose to be depressed, so you are not to blame for being depressed, but you can and do choose how to deal with and react to the depression, just the way people with broken spines must choose how to react and deal with being paralyzed and in a wheel chair.
People with injured spines are not to blame for being paralyzed any more than depressed people are for having depression, but both groups choose how to respond to, and how to think about, their respective difficult situations.
You can either fall into thinking in highly negative terms about your situation, whatever it is, whether it’s depression or something else, where you are in great sorrow, self pity, and anger for years, or,
you can choose to spend a limited time mourning your situation or feeling justifiable anger over it, then move on to accept your situation, and then learn how to lessen it, or to cope with it, and find some enjoyment in life in spite of whatever you’re facing.
(Link): 10 Signs Someone’s Always Playing the Victim (6.05 long video)
(Link): The “Victim” Narcissist | How to tell who is playing the victim (17 minute long video)