There’s a meme going around with an ancient quote from a sixth century philosopher, Lao Tzu, so-called father of Taoism. It reads:
If you are depressed, you live in the past.
If you are anxious, you live in the future.
If you are at peace, you are living in the present.
I know this is meant to soothe or be, you know, wise. I know that some therapists use a similar approach with their patients.
The more I see this float around Facebook and other social media… the more I see this in my support groups… especially the ones where so many of us have anxiety and depression in addition to our physical disabilities… the more this quote makes me realize how much it’s adding to the stigma and misinformation about Depression and Anxiety Disorders.
It insinuates heavily that we can choose our state of peacefulness, anxiety, or depression. Granted this quote is from the sixth century when they didn’t have the knowledge we have now about neurological differences and disorders like Major Depressive Disorders, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorders, Schizophrenia, Traumatic Brain Injuries, Intellectual Disabilities, Emotional Disorders, Mental Health Disorders, Behavioral Disorders, and more neurodiversity. Even if Depression and Anxiety aren’t the primary diagnoses, they can still be a secondary diagnosis and still be significant. There’s a biological basis for these concerns.
In other words, you’re born with it. You don’t choose it.
Depression has nothing to do with living in the past. Anxiety has little to do with living in the future. And let me tell you, living in the present is not usually a picnic but is in fact very often what causes anxiety and depression if we’re talking about situational depression and anxiety.
If we’re talking about situational depression and anxiety, talk therapy and using tools learned in therapy and coping mechanisms learned by experience in life can help ease the symptoms. Talking down, getting sunlight, exercise, proper diet, and all of those mood boosting things that we endorse (I do, really I endorse them because they’re helpful) are wonderful for situational depression.
If we’re talking about Major Depressive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety, if we’re talking about other neurologically based depressive disorders and anxieties tied to them, there’s no control involved. There’s no talking it through. It’s not rational. Talk therapy may help, medical treatment may help more.
But it’s not a choice. And this meme… this meme of this quote is damaging to those of us who aren’t just going through Seasonal Affective Disorder or are sad because our boyfriend is cheating. We can’t just buck up and get over it because it’s not situational. It’s biological and we can’t turn it off. We have to let it cycle. A situation or mood may trigger it, but there’s usually a lead up with signs pointing to it. We can’t always see them or recognize them.
Please, if you see this meme with this quote, pretty lettering and all, don’t share it.