Bigot “One fanatically devoted to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and intolerant of those who differ.” Such is the definition of the word in my badly abused and taped together Webster’s II dictionary.
Pretty much we all know what a bigot is, or what bigotry looks like. But I had a friend yesterday point out something to me–bigotry I am experiencing personally in my life, toward me.
When I think of a bigot I think of someone intolerant of someone of a different race, or religion or sexual preference. People tend to shun, avoid, stereotype, etc., people who look or think or act differently. Differences they don’t understand make people uncomfortable, and rather than feel uncomfortable which is often unpleasant, people try to avoid contact altogether with that person or persons, rather than try to understand, and in working to understand, learn tolerance or maybe even appreciation for what is different.
People who are depressed are different. We don’t think the same, or react the same. We behave irratically or are overly emotional sometimes. We might blow things out of proportion, or just seem whiny or petulant or childish. We might be high maintenance or act like drama queens. We might be needy or fearful or paranoid or laugh at the wrong times, or cry at the wrong times. Because depression is a chemical imbalance–it alters how efficiently our brain processes thoughts and feelings.
Meds do help. Talking over our problems help. But this is a physical illness, not a series of bad days or just not loving ourselves enough. We can’t wave a magic wand and say ok I”m normal now. Some people with depression have to battle it all their life. For others it comes and goes–people have episodes. Not everyone knows it when they have depression. In fact sometimes the ill person is the very last to know. All they might know is, it’s harder to get out of bed. It’s harder to deal with social situations. It’s harder to multi-task. It’s harder to care about one’s appearance or eating healthy food, or going to the dentist twice a year, or keeping the house clean. It’s harder to smile. It’s harder to look someone in the eye. It’s harder to believe you are likable. It’s harder to believe you have any worth.
Little things happen that add to this belief about self too, and the self esteem does, over time, slowly collapse. The person perceives they are different–they perceive that others around them are being treated differently than they are. They start to understand they are not someone people want to talk to, or be close to. They are being avoided. They are being shunned. No one seems to like them. What friends they did have, don’t want to deal with them anymore.
All these things only add to the problem, create more unbearable hurt on a person already in pain. This process of being avoided by others–being seen as different because your demeanor is not the same–isn’t this a form of bigotry? The person with depression experiencing bigotry for making people uncomfortable because of being sick?
Bigotry hurts, in all it’s forms. No one asks to be sick and everyone who is sick is trying very hard, every day, to feel better. A society that shuns the ill because they make the healthy uncomfortable…all that does is make it harder to be ill, and harder to get better. Depression is an illness and it’s one that’s unfortunately here to stay. There are some really wonderful, loving people in the world that suffer from this illness. People with good things to offer. People with something to say and plenty of love to give. By shunning anyone for being different, we are, as a society, not only making the hurt so much worse for the person or persons, we are cheating ourselves of the potential, the treasure that might be lurking just under the surface–if only we offered a hand instead of turning our backs. In every garden a seed has the potential to grow or die–and that potential is up to the gardener. Not all gardens are blessed with healthy soil. Some seeds are sown in rocky soil, or sandy soil, where the ability to flourish is harder. Do we give up on those gardens? Pull those plants that have to struggle more to bloom, or let the weeds choke them to death? Or do we give a little more work, a little more love–sprinkle on a little more fertilizer so that garden too might bloom and bring smiles to those who see it?
Our society is a garden. We can help it grow or let it die. Whatever we decide, starts with how we tend the flowers.