A summary of what I was trying to say yesterday (hat tip to The Fluent Self for the vocabulary):
My stuff is my responsibility
Their stuff is their responsibility
Depression = my stuff
My distress caused by my depression = my stuff
Their distress upon perceiving my distress = their stuff
Their desire that I not be in distress = their stuff
Their feeling that they should help me = their stuff
Their distress about not being able to help me = their stuff
Their distress that I don’t trust them to help me = hell of a lot of their stuff
And I resent having to deal with their stuff on top of my own stuff.
Don’t get me wrong: I know all about what that feels like. There is nothing like feeling that you’re not helping to make you feel like you’re a terrible person. But at the same time, dumping one’s own distress onto a person who already has plenty of distress is not a helpful thing to do.
My feeling guilty about their distress about not being able to help me = my stuff
It just seems like a pity that we have to get that far, you know?
Switching internet dialects for a moment, I’m not being depressed at people. I’m not asking for help. If I do need help, I will ask for it explicitly, and I will ask the person I deem most able and trustworthy to supply that particular help at that particular time. For example, earlier this week I was at a restaurant and I could not voice a preference as to what I wanted to eat. I asked my husband to order for me. This worked because a) he knows what I like and don’t like; and b) he didn’t pre-empt me.
Admittedly, it wouldn’t have worked a year ago, because I wouldn’t have had the gumption to admit that I was having trouble with the choice before me, wouldn’t have let myself have a preference (apart, perhaps, from ‘cheapest thing on the menu’), and, left to myself, would have gone hungry. But that’s my stuff, and I’ve been working on it.
‘How can I help?’ people ask, and there isn’t necessarily an answer they’ll like. However, there have been things that helped (me, specifically me, at specific times and places), and I find myself wanting to list them, with the extremely firmly stated caveat that they may not work for any given person, and they couldn’t possibly work for everybody. Some of them won’t even work for me any more, because I’m not the same person I was a year ago.
What helped? What helped me?
1. Knowing that I was not the only one. And I mean really knowing – not in the abstract sense. This is why, even if I didn’t know it was helpful for me, I would fight for the right to meltdown in public. It’s all very well knowing that one in three has some sort of mental health problem, but there’s nothing like seeing your bright, competent, cheerful friend in tears over a perfectly simple pizza menu* to make you realise that other people don’t have it together, either.
Everybody going round pretending that everything is peachy doesn’t help anyone. I can’t keep the mask up all the time and I don’t see why I should bloody well have to.
And the other thing about knowing that you’re not the only one is that you also know that there is someone who will get it, to whom you don’t have to explain in words of one syllable that yes, usually you can cope just fine with ordering pizza but at the moment the choice between anchovies and peppers has turned into a philosophical quandary and whatever you choose will be WRONG and you’re a terrible person and what if the peppers were air-freighted and are anchovies sustainable and who the hell do you think you are being in this restaurant in the first place did you know you could feed a family of four for a week on what you’re about to spend in here? And they will understand this because their brain wouldn’t let them brush their hair this morning, but they will also be capable of getting the pizza.
2. Relatedly, knowing that it is normal to not be OK all the time. And that it is OK to let yourself not be OK. This actually is one that I wish everybody knew. Sometimes, just admitting that things actually are horrible is enough to make them not horrible again. Sometimes they keep being horrible, but at least I don’t have to waste all that energy pretending they’re not.
3. Forming a contingency plan. If it should so happen that I should walk into a pizza restaurant and find myself in such a state that I cannot express a preference, then I will order a Hawaiian pizza, because it is more interesting than Margherita and it contains nothing I actively dislike. (For example. And low blood sugar really doesn’t help.)
4. [content note: discussion of suicide – in the abstract, which is rather the point]
I’d like to have known, six or seven years ago, that wondering idly which of these buildings were tall enough to kill someone if they jumped off, or how long it would take to drown in this particular river, was a sign of my brain not being right. I ignored this at the time because I knew that I had no intention of doing anything about it, but subsequent experience teaches me that this is not something I think about much when my head is in a good place. And of course I never mentioned it to anyone, because I didn’t want them worrying over something that wasn’t actually going to happen.
[end content note]
5. A code. Some shorthand that conveys to my nearest and dearest that I’m feeling awful, without my having to go into detail about how and why I am feeling awful. ‘Brain slug infestation’. ‘A bit down’. ‘Gone mad again’. And knowing they’ll accept that and leave it.
6. Having someone around who’ll tell the well-intentioned and infuriating to back the hell off.
7. Walking. Gets me out of my head and into my body.
8. The internet. I am much more articulate in writing than I am in speech, and I can work things through much better that way. (Sometimes I’ll write a post and direct my husband to go and read it, either as a precursor to our discussing the issue, or in place of it.) And since the internet is full of people who also seem to work that way, many of whom also get it, it is an excellent source of support. Even if most of the time we just talk about Doctor Who.
* it wasn’t actually pizza. And I am mixing up me and everyone else here. But I am not wanting to tell the real story at this point, so.