Depression lesson: Play nice

Always a big fan of Psych Central (I get thier newsletters), here is a great article by one of my favorite writers on that site.

play-nice-sign By Christine Stapleton
September 12, 2009

I do not like to make sweeping generalizations but after this week, I am comfortable saying this:

We are not nice. We are not tolerant. We do not play well together.

  • I had to sign a permission slip to allow my 17-year-old daughter to listen to the President of the United States at the conservative Christian school she attends.
  • Someone seeded a road beloved by local cyclists – which cuts through one of the richest towns on the planet – with small carpet tacks. The town, Jupiter Island, doesn’t want groups of riders on its beautiful roads.
  • I listened to a grown man with a few beers in his belly use the “N” word indiscriminately in front of his 10-year-old son.

What the heck is going on? For some reason, people assume that because my daughter attends a conservative Christian school that I am a Limbaugh-lovin’ dittohead. Others assume that because I am a journalist at a left-leaning newspaper that I am a Jane Fonda wannabe. I wear preppy clothes, but underneath I have a tattoo. I was born in Gerald Ford’s Republican hometown, but I live in the gayest neighborhood in town. I have no bumper stickers and I am registered as an independent voter.

I am not what people think I am but because they mistakenly assume I am, I get to hear and see people in their most honest state, when their guard is down. My liberal friends are as pedantic and self-righteous as the conservatives they bash. My conservative friends send me horrible emails and jokes about liberals and minorities.

What does any of this have to do with my mental illnesses? Plenty. One of the first tools I was given when I got sober was this: Identify, don’t compare. I did not know what it meant. I had trained my brain to cop to the negative, to look for differences rather than what we have in common. This kind of thinking breeds anger, resentment and intolerance – ingredients for a perfect batch of depression or mania. I convince myself that I am either better than you or not as good as you. I am holier than thou or not worthy of a scratch behind the ear.

The solution: find something in common, even if it is just an anatomical or geographical similarity: “I live in Palm Beach county, Rush Limbaugh lives in Palm Beach county” or “I have a nose and my religion-bashing atheist co-worker has a nose.” It sounds silly, but it works. Just approaching a person or situation with the intent of finding common ground has made a huge difference in my mental health.

This tool, and others I have learned in therapy, are as important as my medications. Antidepressants alone will not make me well. I have had to change – rewire -the way I think. It isn’t easy, but it works. Now, what do that N-word slinging father and I have in common?

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