I wrote this morning about a number of friends dealing with major depression recently. One of them (I’ll call her Jane, and you can assume that some of the nonessential details are not as accurate as they could be) has been suicidal multiple times in the years that I’ve known her.
Not too many years after we met, I found out from mutual friends that they’d just bundled Jane up into their car and taken her to the nearest hospital with in-patient mental treatment. She had been talking about being better off dead, and they weren’t taking any chances.
This was the first time Jane was diagnosed with depression. Luckily, she responded to the care and to the medication she was given. Sadly, because our health system treats people like disposable ATMs, she couldn’t always afford her treatment.
That last part changed when Jane was diagnosed with cancer. Surgery was required. It was meant to be step one in a process of reconstruction and rehabilitation. However, this was when we all discovered that Jane, while talented in many respects, wasn’t great at healing. She’s been receiving medical assistance and disability for a while because of this. It sucks, but it at least has the upside of covering the help she needs for depression.
A number of Jane’s friends are into things like healing touch, healing energy, and positive visualizations. Jane herself has been active with medical patients since her surgery, both with an arts group that is organized around these kinds of ideas and in a separate project building art that these patients can participate in. She knows I have strong opinions about the very different philosophies behind these two activities, even though the end result of both is making patients feel less isolated through art.
We once had a conversation that went very much like this:
Jane: So, don’t be mad at me, but I’ve been doing healing visualizations with (other friends).
Me: Why would I be mad at you?
Jane: Well, I know you don’t believe in all that.
Me: Are you still doing what your doctors say you need to do?
Me: Then I don’t see what there is to be mad about. If you feel better sharing that kind of attention with your friends, then feel better, by all means. Just don’t stop relying on modern medicine.
Several months ago, after a few different kinds of intervention failed, Jane’s doctors decided there was not going to be the kind of healing required for reconstruction. It was time to end Jane’s intermediate state, which has been going on for years, and get her to the best post-cancer position possible. This meant more surgery, major surgery.
I mentioned that Jane isn’t very good at healing. This is still true. She contracted a major infection shortly after the surgery that landed her in recovery care for months. After she was allowed to go home, she still wasn’t showing the kinds of healing the doctors hoped to see. She underwent outpatient therapy.
Still, she was in pain. Still she had limited mobility and other limitations due to pain medications. Healing–and the consequences of not healing–were a constant drain on her resources.
Jane fell into another major depression. She was suicidal. During her treatment for the infection, Jane had had a reaction to one of the medications she’d received that had stopped her heart. She started telling people she wished it had been permanent.
Being wise, Jane checked herself in for in-patient treatment for her depression this time. She got things generally straightened out on her mental health. It was rough, and it wasn’t quick, continuing even after Jane was discharged. Still, she and her doctors worked to get her better.
Then Jane ended up in the hospital again just a few weeks later, this time with another opportunistic infection. She isn’t actively suicidal right now, but she’s still down. She’s still not always sure just being alive is worth all this work. But she’s still going.
For someone who has had all this trouble piled on top of her, Jane is doing amazingly. I don’t tell her this nearly often enough, but I’m proud of her. She’s directing her care. She’s getting help when she needs it. She’s making sure to fit in as much living as she can around her problems, and she hasn’t lost her dedication to helping others.
The same can’t be said for all of her “healing energy” friends. At least one of them has apparently gotten tired of throwing all that energy out (wherever it goes) without getting the expected return. In the middle of all this, in the midst of Jane’s pain and exhaustion and depression caused by treatment for cancer and a wonky brain, Jane’s friend decided it was time to tell Jane to shape up.
Jane, you see, was perfectly capable of healing and not being suicidal. She had enough healing energy to do it. She just wasn’t working hard enough or staying positive enough to get better. She’d better not be so selfish as to kill herself in a way that made other people clean up after her.
Yeah, that’s “positive visualization”.
I haven’t sent Jane any “healing energy” or “positive thoughts”. I’ve just visited her in recovery with non-hospital food and gotten her out of hospital and house to eat every now and again. And I’ve told her this “healing energy” is bullshit, that she gets to take all the time she needs to heal and all the space she needs to look after her mental health.
Jane has decided (another reason that I’m proud of her) that this “positive” friend of hers is “not safe” to be around right now. She’s right. These beliefs are only safe as long as they stay in their place, vague and misty. When you start to apply them to the real world…well, it isn’t that Jane’s friend is particularly monstrous (thoughtless and selfish–yes, but not monstrous).
That friend is just following this idea of “healing energy” to its logical conclusion. If this energy really can affect the physical body in the general case, and it isn’t doing anything in the specific case, then it must be being countered. What counters positive energy? Negative energy, of course.
Where might this negative energy be coming from? Wait. Did you hear that? The person who has been through months of pain and stalled recovery just said things that weren’t 100% positive. In fact, what they said about their pain and their exhaustion was downright negative.
We have found the problem! We know where to lay the blame!
Jane is working through this. She’s standing up for herself, just as she has while negotiating her care. It will take her a little while to purge the other toxic beliefs that prop up this idea of that people can affect her recovery by the most abstract of thoughts or moods. The hardest part will be understanding that Jane keeping a positive outlook doesn’t do anything that continuing to stay on top of the details of her care won’t do.
She’ll get where she needs to be for her own health. She’s got a good track record on that score.
The next time I have that conversation with someone though, it’s probably going to go a little differently.