No, You Don’t Know What Depression feels like.
“Help me understand, make me understand. How did you do it? Which child did you kill first? Did he fight back? And after that, you killed your younger boy? Did he fight back? Before you did, between the two killings, did you not get a chance to reconsider, to maybe say, I’m stopping here?”
Last week, I watched an episode of Oprah in which she talks to a young mother who’s serving 35 years for smothering her two boys to death. Devean was two and his little brother eighteen months old. The questions above are Oprah trying to get the sequence of events of what happened. She eventually does get some sort of answers out of the mom.
This was one of the most difficult pieces of television I’ve ever watched, and I do watch a bit of TV. You might have heard of the story. It happened in 2010. A young mother flagged down a law enforcement officer indicating that her two children were in a car that had just began sinking into a river close to the busy road. The two children’s bodies were retrieved, and initially believed to have drowned. Postmortem results revealed no water in the lungs and therefore concluded the kids had died before the car got in the water. The young mother confessed to strangling both her children, a crime for which she is currently doing time. 35 years, no parole.
Read her full story here: http://murderpedia.org/female.D/d/duley-shaquan.htm
Oprah’s reason for the interview was so that some viewer out there who finds themselves in a similar situation can be helped through the interview. Watching the interview though left me thinking Oprah sought to convince the obviously distraught young mother that she had had a lot of time and opportunity to change her mind during the course of that fateful day.
It might be so. We’ll never really know if Shaquan had the presence of mind during the ordeal to consider stopping. I doubt she did. Shaquan talks of having had an out-of-body experience that day, an altered state of consciousness. You might dismiss it as a load of rubbish but I think for a mother to take the a life she brought to the world indicates a very advanced state of mental sickness which only someone who has gone through can fully understand.
“I was depressed once, I know what depression feels like”, Oprah tells the young mom. After which she goes on to badger the poor young mother into agreeing that there had plenty of points at which she could have changed her mind but didn’t. The supposition here being that depression is not enough to explain the young mother’s state of mind and why she went through with with what she did.
Let me say right now that I’m no expert on depression and how it affects different people. What I know is what I’ve been through and what I’m living through.
A common mistake that people make is equating a bout of depression to the illness itself. Every living human being does get depressed, it’s normal. But Depression the illness is more than just feeling down. Just as a person who suffers a headache once in a while cannot claim to understand the life of a person who suffers from chronic migraines, a person who has a single bout of depression cannot claim to know what the illness does to the mental capacity and emotional well-being of the sufferer.
Don’t get me wrong, what Shaquan did is inexcusable. She deserves to be put away for society’s safety and her own, or so society says. Otherwise every murderer in jail can turn around and claim depression.(During the interview with Oprah she had her hands and feet shackled, and I wondered if it was for Oprah’s safety or as per regulations, we wouldn’t want her going crazy and strangling Oprah on camera now, would we?) Whatever society says, we demonize people like Shaquan to the disadvantage of society. Every ‘normal’ person watching that interview must have thought good for her, these ‘mental illness’ cases cannot be trusted.
What prompted me to write this piece is Oprah’s equating her bout of depression to what Shaquan had suffered or continues to suffer from.
Depression, because of its nature, can go un-diagnosed for years. I believe some people live their whole lives with the illness. Undetected. Some with severe depression and others with mild depression.
Depression and other mental illnesses seldom have physically presentable symptoms. And in certain cases, the first time a person is diagnosed is when they do something atrocious like strangle their own flesh and blood that we can know for sure that they are sick.
Because ordinary folk do not have a manual that says if a person does ABC then look out for depression, the illness goes undetected in many people. In fact, in most people, their depression is commonly mistaken for a part of their character. Shaquan’s own mother says her daughter would go into these moods ‘where she shut me out, as if nothing I said got through to her, like there was a wall she created to shut me out’. There were times when she neglected personal hygiene and not bath for days, putting her own children through the same. I didn’t know it a few years ago but such behavior constitutes classic signs of depression or mental illness.
The most unfortunate part of mental illness is the sufferer is often the last to notice or know that they are sick. But even when they do, society’s stigma against mental illnesses makes it hard for sufferers to seek help.
As I watched Oprah’s gut-wrenching interview with Shaquan Duley, I became totally convinced that you cannot say you understand Depression the illness from having suffered just one bout of depression yourself. I suppose it’s a bit like a pregnancy, I can’t ever lay claim to knowing how a pregnant woman feels, not ever. Yet that’s what society seeks to do to the likes of Shaquan Duley, concluding that “there is no excuse for what she did”.
There is no excuse for what she did Oprah, and anyone else who thinks like her, but there is a reason for it, that reason is a mental illness called Depression.
By continuing to demonize people like Shaquan, we refuse society an opportunity to learn more about this condition. Human beings are a funny lot, when confronted with what we regard as “unnatural” behavior we revert to a holier-than-thou state. “I would never strangle my own children”, “She is a devil to have done that”, “let’s permanently remove her from society to protect ourselves”.
We miss an opportunity to ask ourselves how is it that a “seemingly normal” woman who loved her own children can transform into a “devil” overnight?
I personally think it’s impossible. Just the same way the medical fraternity goes into overdrive each time a new kind of cancer is discovered, society should go into overdrive when cases like these surface. Instead of permanently removing from society people like Shaquan, we should strive to use her tragic story to learn more about mental health and how we can prevent cases like hers from becoming a norm.