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:

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.


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About TheTruthShallSetYouFree

South African Based in Joburg. I recently discovered I love to write. I also love exchanging thoughts and ideas with people. I love long distance running. I have a special interest in clinical depression. A survivor.

11 responses to “No, You Don’t Know What Depression feels like.”

  1. Stephanae V. McCoy says :

    Thought provoking piece and I agree that the young mother, though she’s battling her own demons, she does need to be held accountable for what she’s done.

    Depression is so sinister and speaking from my own experience I’ve wanted nothing more than to be able to feel what’s it’s like to live without it. For me, managing my depression has gotten a little easier with age but it’s almost like walking a tightrope especially on extremely good days because my mind will eventually wander into the “enjoy every second of this day in preparation for the next bout.”

    To feel like life has no meaning and you have no place in it is an awful feeling I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. When going through the darkness you try so hard to cling to just a sliver of light to make it to the other side of the fog. Like the woman I profiled on my blog yesterday said “even if you have to stay alive minute to minute and hour to hour – stay alive and ask for help. And life can just be so wonderful” when in the throes of the battle it can be hard to ask for help and the mind will have you believing that it’s just simpler to give in and give up.

    Thank you for sharing this. We really do need to shed light on the seriousness of mental illness because it’s an issue that impact all of society.


    • TheTruthShallSetYouFree says :

      Stephanae, thank you so much for reading. “To feel like life has no meaning and you have no place in it …” You just summed up what depression is about for me. And you know what, I know you know from having lived through it. If you added that “I know what depression is” I would have no issues with you.

      You are so right, depression is so insidious, when you are really deep in the valley, your mind finds it so easy to give up. In my case, nothing gets me down more than the feeling that this is the 100th time I give up on myself, because at each instance, my whole being just seems to get more convinced that “it’s just all stacked up against me”, there is no way out. But therein lies the trick, to defy your mind and do what it says it’s not worth doing. Seek help. Talk to somebody. Blog about it. Which is why I appreciate you and similar people who are not shy to say on a public platform, I suffer from depression but it’s ok because I’m not afraid to say it. That gives me hope, and gives somebody else hope.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. weavergrace says :

    Hooray for your big decision to start a new blog! Spring is a great time for new beginnings. I like what you did with your theme. I liked arriving at your heading image.

    While I read this, your first post, I felt furious with Oprah for bullying her guest. How could she be so cruel as to walk that woman through intimate details of a tragic experience, and present it for mass entertainment! That is the role of people who love Shaquan, and the mental health profession, to help them understand and learn from what happened, and to help her heal.

    Yes, I remember the story coming out on the news as they gradually substantiated the rumors that she killed the kids that she seemed to drown. I remember people discussing what they thought of her. I am disgusted with people who think that they are incapable of doing such horrid things. They are fortunate (or hiding) that they have no idea what her despair or thought pattern was like.

    I cherish your words, “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.” I hope this message will take root and grow from your blog. I look forward to seeing it happen.

    Your comment, “I appreciate you and similar people who are not shy to say on a public platform, I suffer from depression but it’s ok because I’m not afraid to say it.” gets me thinking about EFT (Emotional Freedom Therapy). It works really well for me when I remember to use it before things get too bad, and when I stick with it. Have you tried it? Recently, I was reminded of it when I came across some webpages about a Dummies book about it.

    Best wishes, as always, to you and your new blog!


    • TheTruthShallSetYouFree says :

      Grace, thank you so much for bringing your thought-weaving through to this blog, much appreciated. As I watched Oprah’s interview with Shaquan I wished there could be subtitles of sorts, giving people a proper understanding of depression because I could imagine people watching and going “she’s just crazy”. I know that would not be enough but I really felt sorry that no proper context was laid to make people understand.

      It’s easier for someone to accept that depression affects people differently when they have seen the evidence, but then again, this is about ratings and entertainment, we can’t expect much from it. Emotional Freedom Therapy? No I am not familiar with but I’m learning quite a bit from your love for research. That’s what I’m going to do to know more about EFT.


      • weavergrace says :

        sorry…emotional freedom Technique. A therapist trained in Gary Craig EFT taught me. I prefer Helena Fone’s looser style. I hope this helps.


      • weavergrace says :

        Syd, I think my comment with EFT links got weeded out by Akismet as potential spam. Let me know if you want help finding it. I think it shows up at your dashboard.


      • weavergrace says :

        Dear Syd, my comment with Gary Craig and Helena Fone’s EFT links continues to be marked, “Your comment is awaiting moderation.” I think it was caught by Akismet because it contains 2 links, thus it looks like spam. Let me know if you want help finding it. I think it shows up at your dashboard.


  3. cdndirtbags says :

    I am so glad that you have decided to start this blog, Sydney. While mental health is receiving more attention than perhaps ever before, I fear the seriousness of the issue is often drowned out by the popularity of feel-good therapies that suggest that “happiness” and well-being are all within an individual’s personal control.

    I didn’t see this program and speak from a thus uninformed point of view, but it does sound like the woman in question had a psychotic break on the day in question. I certainly don’t claim to be an expert on depression but I find it difficult to believe that it alone would lead a person to kill her children, and I wonder if such publicity might do more harm than good? More helpful would be a program that features all of the “normal” people that suffer from depression on an ongoing basis, who we don’t even recognize as suffering.

    Again, I am glad that you have taken on this serious topic and look forward to following. I suspect your courage will be contagious, and shine light where there is still largely darkness.

    Liked by 2 people

    • TheTruthShallSetYouFree says :

      Thank you so much for reading Brandee. I’ve been toying with the idea for a while now because I feel my other blog has moved in a direction that doesn’t allow me to be as personal as I would want to be when dealing with mental health. It’s a sensitive area and whilst highlighting it in a regular blog would expose it to a larger variety of readers, I feel a blog aimed at like-minded readers keeps it personal and respects the sensitivity.

      You are right, to just say depression caused her to take the lives of her own children would be not doing justice to the issue, in fact, in the program she says it’s almost as though she was having an out-of-body experience which I felt received very little sympathy from Oprah(I think a lot of people just think quackery when one mentions out-of-body). She definitely had a psychotic episode on the day or something similar.

      Excuse me a bit for going on Brandee, but what I really had an issue with was Oprah’s persistent suggestion that she could have “stopped herself”. I will probably have the courage to blog on this one day, but I know from my own attempts at suicide that once you “make the decision”, everything you do falls in line with that, so your mind operates with the end in mind, “I’m not going to be around” much longer, which would make anything else you do before that irrational, and I don’t really think that can be understood fully by everybody. Her acts were horrible, but it makes her inhuman to suggest she had a “choice” to stop but still continued.

      But I could be wrong, I’m learning too. Thanks for your continued support.

      Liked by 1 person

      • weavergrace says :

        I’m glad you stopped by Brandi. I, too, have been deceived by “feel good therapies” that proclaim “if you see it, you can be it.” That only works well (and it does work really well) when I am in a certain frame of mind. At other times, it is a vicious tool for self flagellation.

        I would like to add that mental illness terms like “depression” and “psychotic episode” are human vocabulary constructs. Such terms might give the impression that certain distinct diseases exist, when actually the terms are simply descriptions of symptoms that are collected into categories to facilitate professional discussion.

        I propose that everyone who commits a crime has mental illness that can be addressed with support, compassion, seeking to understand… Brandi, I agree that we need to talk more about “normal” people who need support, compassion, seeking to understand…

        Liked by 1 person

    • heidi ruckriegel says :

      Great comment on great blog, Brandee. That whole Happiness Industry makes me really mad sometimes. “Not happy? Well, it’s you own fault, cause you’re not trying hard enough/not following the right instructions/ not reading the right book/ not eating the right herbs”.

      And yes, the whole range of mental illness should be shown in a realistic way. Maybe if we looked at it as we would at an illness like MS – some people are affected more mildly and can function normally most of the time, some have bad episodes, some get worse, others are stable or may not have symptoms for a long time, some suffer from devastating effects. How can families support people and recognise when help is needed? How can all of us support friends and family? What can the health services do better?

      And as for “I’m depressed sometimes” – no, it’s not the same. How about “I had a cold once, so I know what it’s like to have lung cancer”?


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