Look at this tree. Wouldn’t you say it looks pretty normal? Can you imagine that it can kill you?
I was thinking about this because I am thoroughly frustrated about my inability to explain to people how, just because you can’t see depression, doesn’t mean it isn’t real. I mean, I’m pretty smart. I have an MBA in International Marketing, a BA in Psychology, and have worked for some of the best companies in the world in communications and marketing. My grammar / editing skills aren’t great and I definitely need some help on the organizational and financial management front, but in regards to this specific task of explaining the ‘realness’ of depression to others, I feel pretty well qualified for the reasons explained. I also both have depression and have lost those close to me with depression.
Yet day after day I talk or write about it, and we continue to chain people to trees in Africa, treating them like savages trying to force out some ‘deposed’ demon, because of their depression. It seems people have this massive fear that people with depression are possessed or crazy or deserve less of a life than anyone else, so instead of working to help them we further isolate them, ostrasize them, and shame them for their ‘supposed’ pain. We think that because we can’t see it, and haven’t figured out how to clearly define and describe it by science, it simply doesn’t exist. This brings me to the stinging tree.
I remember the stinging tree because I was writing about one of my adventures in the deep, uninhabited rainforest of Australia, and felt a terror from an experience I had there years ago while researching the Spotted Tailed Quoll. I just could not put my finger on the full reason why. I mean, beyond being lost and exhausted, with no water, no phone, no GPS, no food, and an unlimited supply of deadly snakes and spiders frolicking all around, there was something else…. And then it came to me. there was a plant there that could paralyze me with pain for months on end. I couldn’t remember what it looked like at the time, which didn’t help things. And actually, had I run into it, I most likely would have been killed because of all the other challenges I was facing.
Dubbed “The World’s Most Painful Plant” The Australian Stinging Tree has killed at least one human from exposure alone, and has killed many dogs and horses. It has a painful neurotoxin it releases into your skin, and the interesting thing is that the pain can last for months after the actual brush with it occurs. So your arm can look fine, but you can feel excruciating pain. Do you understand this connection? There is nothing visibally there. Yet you still have pain. And guess what? We don’t know why.
What is even stranger to me is that some animals are not affected by the plant at all. Insects and birds eat it. Some marsupials scurry all over it. Yet it can literally dehabilitate others.
Why can we easily accept that this pain occurs, but have such a hard time accepting brain pain occurs unless we are ‘intentionally’ making it hurt? I’m the first to admit that people with depression do things that does not help them or their situation, but would you judge someone who was flailing around from the stinging tree, making it worse as they spread it over their body, because they were reacting so badly to the pain? I doubt it. If you are human you would most likely have compassion, empathy, and do whatever you could to create an environment where they were able to calm down, get well and heal from this unexplainable plant.
I’m sure if you interviewed anyone that had experienced a bad brush with the stinging tree, they would assure you that even though you could not see the stingers, and it had been six months, the pain was still there. Maybe they would have to be in a hospital. Not go to school. Be grumpy and crabby to you because they hurt. Stay in bed for days or even months. While it would maybe stink to have to take over extra responsibilities, you would love and support them back to health.
Now imagine that the normal treatment for this stinging plant was to tied them to a tree, starve them, leave them in the hot sun to exorcise the evil stinging spirits. Or that your neighbor did that. Or they were doing this in Africa. There would be outrage! Picketing, protesting, news cameras, laws created, funds deployed, celebrities singing, talk shows bringing hope. IMMEDIATELY. Yet we do this same thing to people in Africa with depression, and so few people seem to really care. I just don’t get it.
It seems that just because it isn’t ‘new’ means it is unimportant. I protest. We don’t need to have a crisis today to make it a priority. Our inhumane treatment should have been addressed yesterday.
If you haven’t dealt with depression, consider yourself lucky. But if you know someone who has it, use your strength to overcome their weakness during the time of despair instead of taking that leaf and rubbing it all over them. You have no idea what someone else has gone through unless you have walked a mile in their shoes. And you never can.
If you can see they have been bitten by the plant but they don’t realize it or even know the plant exists, find your patience, love, and acceptance and bathe them in it as opposed to rubbing the pain in their face. Believe me, when you rub, it hurts. Maybe you can’t see it, but bit by bit it kills them.
There is help. Depression exists. People should not be chained to trees it only makes it worse. Unconditional love heals. It is up to 80% treatable. How can I better relay this to the public so that we have more than 25% of those that need treatment getting it? I wish I knew. Someone out there has to be smart enough to figure it out.