coming out

Asking for Help

Flower art asking for helpA few months after my diagnosis I realized that I was desperate for help. I had moved to my home town, a city full of friends and family with whom I had great relationships, but I felt like no one could hear me scream.

Enter: that shitty, mean voice. When I thought about getting help, I couldn’t stop focusing on how it wouldn’t actually fix anything. Even if all my friends and family acted exactly as I wanted them to, I would still be terribly depressed. It wouldn’t fix the traumas I’d suffered in the past, it wouldn’t fix the disillusionment I had good reason to suffer from in the present, and it wouldn’t fix my racing thoughts or terrible nightmares. So why bother? Especially if it’s so hard. Why bother.

Eventually I recognized something in that line of reasoning. It reminded me of that voice that wouldn’t let me enjoy a run years earlier. That, “I’m still in control. Your efforts are useless,”  voice.

But the thing is, the voice brought up a good point. Asking for help wouldn’t fix everything. It probably wouldn’t even fix anything. For me, that’s the hardest part. The voice always seems to have some grain of truth to it, twisted around to make me feel helpless.

I went back and forth about this for weeks. Racing thoughts, rumination. Should I ask for help? How? Why can’t they tell I need it? What good would it do? What do I want from them, anyway? I had no idea.

So I did a weird and awkward thing. I invited eight people – my parents and some close friends – and I had a fucking Asking For Help, like, straight up Event. There were chips, there were peanuts, there were two people skyped in from other cities, and there was me, explaining what I now understood to be my history with depression, and saying I didn’t know what I needed from them but that I needed them desperately.

I realize in hindsight that I was putting my foot down against the voice, against the back-and-forth about whether anyone could ever help at all. I was asking for help in such a public and shared way that I wouldn’t be able to go back on it. No one could pretend it hadn’t happened.

It didn’t fix anything.

But it helped.

 

Read the rest of the story here and here.

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That Creepy, Following-You Type of Running Buddy

Running BuddyBefore I ever suspected that I might benefit from medical attention for my very low moods, I had a conversation with two of my oldest friends, Faisal and Max.

We were talking about past struggles and Faisal mentioned that the one thing that has always helped him pull out of it was exercise, “It sucks and you don’t feel like doing it but if you make yourself do it every day – it’s the only thing that always helps.”

Max and I took a beat. “But sometimes when you’re in really bad shape…” I started. I wasn’t sure exactly how honest I was going to be about this, “…and you go running, you hear that voice. Like, ‘I’m making you do this. You think you can run away? You can’t. It’s just another sign that I’m in control. I am making you do this, and it won’t work. I’m still here.’ you know? That voice.”

Max nodded and winced a little.

Faisal looked horrified. He said something like, “Jesus. You guys are fucked up.”

Yeah. Max and I kind of already figured.

I’ll write soon about how, years later, that same fucking voice almost kept me from asking for help when I couldn’t eat or pay my bills. Hopefully I’ll eventually be able to see it as childish and sad. In the meantime, I’m just trying to say fuck that guy.

**Edit** In hindsight I’m really glad that conversation happened. I was in the midst of what I now realize was my fourth or fifth major episode, and I had no idea. I just. didn’t. know. I guess I really thought that depressives were stuck in bed somewhere, unable to go to work like I did every day. This conversation was one of hundreds of things that eventually made me think that what I was dealing with was a little different from what other people meant by “having a really tough time.” It took a few years, but eventually it helped me realize that it was time for some deliberate action. Why did I hesitate to be honest about ‘the voice’? Was I ashamed? I don’t really know, but in hindsight I’m really glad that I said it out loud, because Faisal’s reaction made me realize that maybe things didn’t have to be so bad.

I Changed Your Diapers So…

This post is a modification of an email I sent to younger family members a few weeks after I was diagnosed. Unlike most posts, it’s full of advice. I took the liberty because we face similar family histories of depression and because I changed their diapers so I get to boss them around.

The first good thought I had after the shock of diagnosis was that I would write this email.

This email is meant to help you guys deal with depression (which is way more common than we think) or avoid it completely (which is totally possible).

I’m currently suffering my fourth or fifth major episode. I’m not the smartest person on this email chain but I’m no dope either. It’s shocking to me how bad I had to get before I started to think something was wrong, that I had to be totally incapacitated, unable to work or look for work, before I realized that I needed help.

This email is to encourage you to be nice to yourself. There are a lot of things you can do to protect yourself – like we should wear sunscreen because skin cancer in our family is even more common than red hair.

First and foremost, I want you each to believe that your happiness is important. Prioritize it. Cultivate habits that you enjoy. Practice your hobbies. Don’t let them fade with age.

Wherever you go in life, keep in touch with friends and family. Build or join communities within every new city. 

If you find yourself reaching for the bottle to handle stress, to get to sleep, or to relax at the end of most days, talk to someone. Alcohol is a depressant.

I strongly recommend a regular meditation practice. Ten minutes a day of focusing on Love, or your breath, or a positive image is an incredibly powerful tool. It makes us kinder, happier, and more resilient to life’s challenges.

This email is to encourage you to seek help. Getting treatment during or after your first or second episode drastically improves your chances of recovering fully, and never having to put up with this shit again. Asking for help (and then asking again) is not a weakness, it’s fucking rad.

Whatever you’re worried about, whether it’s grades or work or drinking too much or personal relationships or anything – don’t beat yourself up about it. Try to treat yourself like you would a younger sibling. Ask what’s wrong and strive to have the courage to face it.

Don’t expect to be able to fix your problems by yourself.

Let’s be the first generation that isn’t ashamed of this stuff. The first one to be proactive and not hide from each other when we’re feeling our worst.

And always remember: your family, we don’t love you because of what you do. We just love you.

Reactions to Depression

I’m a big fan of the belief that there are a million ways to feel about another person. There’s not just romantic, platonic, and familial love, there are a million types, and you can feel many contradictory things toward the same person at any given time – you’d probably be crazy not to.

Similarly, there are a million reactions to the news that a person you love, or just know, is clinically depressed. I’ll write about stigma soon. In the meantime, let’s talk a little about some of the most common responses we get.

Dismissal – This is probably the most famous. “You’re just blue. I’ve been blue. I got over it. So can you, and you should. Why aren’t you over it already?” It makes you feel even lonelier. It’s hard to take your condition seriously when people dismiss it. It’s hard to hold your truth above theirs.

Respectful Distance – This can be the worst! “Oh, you’re depressed? That sounds terrible. I’ll give you some space until you feel better.” I need help! Don’t leave me alone out here! Do you know what my brain fills in when you’re silent? LOTS of terrible things, that’s what! I need you around to contradict those bad thoughts. Please?

Anger – “Oh you’re depressed? Well, guess what? Life is hard, did you ever think of that? Do you see me whining about it?” Ouch.

Know-it-All – This is common from people who’ve been diagnosed with depression in the past. In trying to make you feel better, they’ll tell you about their recovery, as if every (or any) aspect of their past struggle is relevant to your current one. Or they’ll act as though you can fast forward to their level of recovery, because that’s where they are right now. It’s a more thoughtful and well intentioned type of dismissal, but it can still hurt.

Weird Advice Givers – I love it when people act like being depressed means you’ve never faced difficulty before. “You know what I do when I face [insert random challenge here]? I just work really hard for a weak and then I feel really accomplished and I feel better.” Huh? First of all, that’s a terrible idea for me right now. Secondly, what are you talking about? The worst part in this one is again the dismissal. You feel like they’re not hearing you, or they don’t believe you, and that your struggles are normal and easily overcome. I took it one more painful step. I took it (and sometimes still take it) to mean that I no longer had any credibility with my peer group, which made me think that now that I was recognized as sick, people thought I was stupid.

Responding to the news that someone is depressed is really hard. People feel scared, guilty, sad, defensive. They wonder what it means for them and can expect you to be able to tell them. People who would be perfectly comfortable helping you out if you had diabetes or Crohn’s disease act like you’re embarking on a strange new journey and all they can do is watch.

You’re not crazy. This shit is really hard. Having to manage other people’s responses can encourage your urge to isolate when what you need is company and support. And there’s so much fodder for rumination here! I could argue with people’s responses in my head for years! It’s freaking hard.

They’re not perfect. Chances are that they’d LOVE to help, they just don’t know how. I mean, take another look at the list above and put yourself in their shoes. Yikes! So many ways to fuck up! And none of this is consistent. Sometimes advice from someone who’s been there is really helpful, for example.

For me, the difference between a reaction that makes me sad and scared and a reaction that makes me feel less alone is just one thing: listening. Even if their reaction is anger, if I know that they’ve heard what I’m saying, I feel  a little better.

In the meantime, remember, your experience of your condition is valid.

What did I leave out? Drop me a line at depressionwhoneedsit@gmail.com