Tuesday, November 24, 2009

A Disturbing Lack of Compassion

A few days ago, I became aware of the story of Nathalie Blanchard, a woman whose insurance benefits were cancelled because somebody from Manulife logged on to Facebook, looked her up and saw pictures of her at a party, having a good time. Ms. Blanchard had been diagnosed with depression and had been on leave from her job, but now apparently she's fit to work.

I call bullshit. Having suffered from depression several times in my life—I'm still dealing with the fallout of the most recent episode—and because I am also trying to help my mother deal with her severe depression, I know very well that not only is attempting to have fun a part of the treatment that is often recommended for depression, but even when a sufferer is having a good time, it's possible for them to sink right back down into the stifling, terrifying and mentally-paralyzing hell that we call depression. I've been there a time or five myself. Just as it takes a long time for the condition to develop, it takes a long time for a sufferer to be able to deal with it.

But it's not the insurance company's lack of compassion I'm going to be ranting about today. That's more or less something to take for granted; if my mother's struggles with the company from which her own insurance policy comes have shown me anything, it's that such companies are only interested in keeping the money that they demand from their customers, and should any of those customers have grounds for getting any of that money back, the companies will do everything in their power to deny the coverage. If that fails, they'll do whatever is necessary to stop providing the service they're supposed to provide, whether it's hiring professionals of their own to say that the person's condition isn't as bad as any other professionals working on the case have said it is or, indeed, snooping through people's private data just to find a tiny bit of proof that the person who actually dares to use their insurance policy might actually not be as badly off as they say. Insurance companies don't exist to help people, they exist to take people's money and do whatever they can to avoid giving it back, even to the people who need it the most. I think we all know that, and while their lack of compassion (or ethics!) is notable for being the cause of the problem in this case, it's not what I actually set out to rant about.

No, the lack of compassion upon which I intend to remark today is that of the astoundingly arrogant and cruel jackasses who, in commenting on the story, not only side with the insurance company but say that Ms. Blanchard is getting her just deserts—you see, these experts on all things claim that depression is a bullshit excuse for laziness, so she should just get off her lazy butt and go back to work because clearly, the smile on her face in a few photos taken on her birthday is proof positive that she just doesn't want to work. "I work for my living," they say. "Why shouldn't she have to work for hers?! Better yet, make her pay back all the money that she bled out of the system because depression doesn't exist! It's no excuse to take time off work! She's being a lazy stupid little bum and we're all paying for it! She's partying while the rest of us have to work!" Often it's hard to tell whether these people are really upset that a woman was (until recently, at least) getting the time off that she needed to rebuild her sanity or they just want to say, "Look at me! I'm a smart and important person! I work hard! That person is trash, she deserves what she got! This proves that I am a hard-working important and smart person! By the way, my troubles are worse than hers, and I'm not complaining!" Oh, the troubles of people who claim to be martyrs. They've got problems, all right. They're just not the ones that they're talking about.

All those people who claim that depression is bullshit and that sufferers should just grin and bear it and just get over it already—I hope that someday they develop a case of depression that's so terrible that simply getting out of bed is nearly impossible and going to work is practically unthinkable. Let them see what it's like to be in such a dark place, mentally speaking, that they can't find any way out that isn't death without the help of friends, family and trained professionals. Let them feel the suffocation that severe depression makes its sufferers feel. Let them know what it's like to have a condition that's constantly belittled and denied; let them feel the utter hopelessness, that crushing despair, that's only compounded by the knowledge that sometimes even people you know, love and trust won't take you seriously if you say you're depressed because mental illness that doesn't involve a straitjacket is just "all in your head" and that means that it isn't real. Let them know the anguish of realizing that they've become something that they once condemned—a person suffering from depression who really does need help. Let them know what it's like to become depressed in a world that denies the very existence of the condition.

Let them see how utterly wrong they are. Because that's the only way they'll ever learn compassion for the sufferers of depression; they'll never understand it otherwise.

I realize that such wishes are out of line with many of my beliefs, but right now, I'm too angry to care. Sometimes the only way that some people will ever learn to have compassion for people who are suffering from anything is to suffer the same damn thing.

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