A Heart Sisters article that I first ran here five years ago is called “When Are Cardiologists Going to Start Talking About Depression?“
As you can imagine, it’s a serious subject. And it’s an important subject, given how common – yet pervasively overlooked – the situational depression associated with heart disease is. A freshly-diagnosed heart patient who becomes depressed is not only miserable, but this is a person who’s significantly less likely to take meds, exercise, eat heart-healthy foods, quit smoking, follow medical instructions – and is generally at significant risk for poor cardiac outcomes.
Dozens of my readers shared their moving and vulnerable stories about their experiences in response to this post. For example, this comment from a reader named Christie, sent to me nine days after her husband survived a heart attack:
“My 40-year old husband biked his way through a heart attack involving 100% blockage of the LAD on January 2. We’re both in this weird “How did this happen?” questioning stage, and we’re definitely both sad at what could have happened, the life we had that now has to change, and the thought of what is more likely to happen now that he’s experienced one heart attack.
“I’m not sure exactly why I’m posting this as I have no real point.
“I can tell you that I find it incredibly difficult to fall asleep. I keep checking to make sure he’s breathing, as if he might expire quietly in the night as a result of said attack. And I’m deathly afraid of preparing a meal that’ll kill him because of the salt or bad fats. We’ve already ordered an American Heart Association cookbook… We’re still working our way through this.”
My response to her comment empathized with her life-changing news, and recommended another post called “How To Cope When Your Spouse Is The Heart Patient” which has some links to helpful resources for her and other worried spouses in her shoes.
Fast forward five years.
A new comment appears out of the blue responding directly to Christie, this one from a reader named Garry. This is all it says:
“The AHA approach to diet and eating is not scientifically based in key areas, particularly their obsession with low-fat foods. The best way to drive down cardiovascular disease is to focus on eating real foods, look at food labels and ingredient lists, and avoid highly processed carbohydrates and added sugars that come out of factory processes and quickly spike insulin and drive fat accumulation and the associated release of harmful cytokines (IL-1 IL-6, TNF-alpha, etc) and turn on the chronic, low-grade inflammatory process that turns cholesterol linking the arteries into plaques and blockages. The food industry is a business and explains why we have crazy non-foods all around us that make us sick.”
If you dozed off halfway through that non-sequitur lecture on food and lipid science, I do not blame you.
But I didn’t doze off. Instead, I got mad.
In response to an overwhelmed young woman’s very personal narrative, Garry’s awkward reaction was to pick up on only one thing: to inform her of his own expert opinion of the American Heart Association’s dietary theories.
When I first read Christie’s comment in response to this article about depression and heart disease, what I observed was a scared and overwhelmed reaction – likely what you would expect to feel, too, if your own (very young) husband had faced a catastrophic medical crisis just nine days earlier.
What Garry saw, however, was an open invitation to share his oh-so-brilliant expertise about the release of harmful cytokines (IL-1 IL-6, TNF-alpha, etc.) And please note: whether what he said was scientifically accurate or not is irrelevant to my point.
All that was required to be motivated to take the time to reply to Christie was to recognize just one or two words she had written. That’s all it took. He didn’t need to bother with the rest of her words, the ones that were actually THE POINT of reading this blog post.
In my family, we describe people like Garry as “people who have never had an unexpressed thought”.
There’s another description for this kind of tiresome communicator: a mansplainer. The New York Times even featured the noun mansplainer in its list of “Words of the Year” for 2010, defining it as:
“A man compelled to explain or give an opinion about everything – especially to a woman.”
(Yes, by the way, women can also be guilty of mansplaining, as I wrote about here).
But while we may have lots of swirling thoughts in reaction to other people’s stories (e.g. differing opinion thoughts, interrupting thoughts, side-tracked or off-topic thoughts), most of us learn by the time we reach adulthood that not every single thought that pops into our heads unbidden means an opportunity to start bragging about how much we know.
Sometimes, we try listening! We try to focus on the meaning of the words, and even on the emotions behind the words. We don’t need to solve The Problem, and we certainly don’t need to boast about our superior knowledge of a subject – especially when that subject isn’t the issue at hand.
So my initial reaction upon reading Garry’s mini-lecture to Christie was to simply hit the ‘delete’ key. My inside voice was saying, Really, Garry? Seriously?
But every so often, usually when I haven’t quite yet achieved my maximum daily allowance of being aggravated, I decide to click ‘approve‘ instead so that I can respond directly to a comment. I wrote:
“Garry, I’m curious about your answers to these two questions: Did you even read:
1. this blog post about post-heart attack depression?
2. Christie’s comment about her struggles with serious concerns since her husband’s cardiac event just nine days earlier?
“I’m guessing NO.”
Not surprisingly, no response yet. Garry may have simply moved on to find others who need his enlightenment.
Q: Am I being too hard on mansplainers like Garry?
- The concept of ‘mansplaining’ explained for you . . .
- Just not listening – or “narrative incompetence”?
- How not to be an audience troll
- But what about the men?
- Oneupmanship: you think YOU have pain?
- What (not) to say when you’re visiting the sick
- Empathy 101: how to sound like you give a damn
And here’s more on the situational depression associated with heart disease:
- The New Country Called Heart Disease
- Depressing News About Depression and Women’s Heart Disease
- “I’m Not Depressed!” – And Other Ways We Deny the Stigma of Mental Illness
- 10 Non-Drug Ways to Treat Depression in Heart Patients
- Depressed? Who, me? Myths and facts about depression after a heart attack
- A Heart Patient’s Positive Attitude: A “Crazy, Crazy Idea”?
- How To Be a “Good” Patient
- Is It Post-Heart Attack Depression – or Just Feeling Sad?
- When Grief Morphs Into Depression: Five Tips for Coping With Heart Disease
- How We Adapt after a Heart Attack May Depend on What We Believe The Diagnosis Means