mean voice

Take That Suckaaaaa: Asking for Help #4

I recently had a birthday. Birthdays, for me, have been rough since I was a teenager. The rest of the year I can manage the desperation caused by my deep certainty that I’m not living out my values. Leading up to my birthday I’m paralyzed with guilt, frustration, and shame.

My close friends and family understand that I hate my birthday and so, understandably, tend to not make a big deal of it – leaving me to feel alone with the meanest of voices. Enter cycle of frustration: me woefully ignorant of why I’m feeling the way I’m feeling and unable to set things up so I’ll get what I need, my friends kindly trying to give me some peace and quiet, totally unaware that what I want is company and support.

Blame yourself for the infuriatingly stupid cycle, double down on the shame, get nonsensically mad at your friends, know that’s ridiculous, triple down on the shame. Eugh.

So, in keeping with my new tradition of asking for help in weird, awkward ways, this year I threw a small party. I invited only people I really like, and told them in the invitation that I was embarrassed but that I’ve been trying my ass off and what I really want is some validation and positive reinforcement. I opened my notebook to a blank page and people left me notes while they munched on Thai food and enjoyed some whiskey and NA beer.

It was the best birthday I can remember.

I was told that I was doing positive things for others that I never would have guessed. I was told that my friends were rooting for me, fiercely. I was told things that cut through the fog, things that made me honestly, happily proud of myself. I was told things that validated my seemingly glacial improvement and shamed that mean voice into silence. For once – silence.

Sometimes you ask for help and you get liverwurst. Sometimes you ask for help and you get kind words and actions that you’re not ready for, that you can’t really hear or appreciate. Sometimes you ask for help and you get thanks.

Sometimes the victory is in the asking, sometimes it’s in the helping. Sometimes it’s in the – TAKE THAT SUCKAAAAA!!!! Mic drop – you get to hurl toward that pesky, finally weakening, mean voice.

 

Take that Suckaaaa.

Suckaaaaa

 

Photo by Lwp Kommunikacio on Flickr

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Chilling the fuck out

I’m reading a book on mindfulness and depression. The authors posit that people are more vulnerable to depression and relapse when they spend a lot of their time in a ‘comparing’ state of mind – that is, when you’re noticing the difference between how things are and how you’d like them to be. They contrast that with a ‘being’ or ‘observing’ state of mind, which is characterized by noticing the present moment and accepting it for what it is.

Comparing state of mind? That’s me.

It makes sense to me that you appreciate any given moment less when you’re preoccupied with changing it, when you’re comparing it to the past or planning ways to make it different in the future. It makes sense to me that a ‘comparing’ state of mind would be exhausting, because the call to action is constant. A ‘being’ mind sounds like a welcome relief – peaceful and calm.

(I’m reminded of my attempts to notice those moments when I feel like my mind can rest.)

To develop their mindfulness-based treatment plan to avoid relapse in people who have had depression, the authors looked to a program designed for patients with chronic pain. Instead of fighting the pain, the patients learned to regard it with a gentle, kindly awareness.

(I’m reminded of my friend who eventually came around to loving the mean voice.)

This approach to avoiding relapse does not emphasize the content of your thoughts, such as getting over your specific triggers. Instead it tries to change the relationship you have with your thoughts. It tries to help you understand that not every thought reflects reality. Not every thought deserves a reaction.

My Dog: Not Excellent in the Fetch Department. GENIUS at Chilling Out

My Dog: Not Great at Fetch, GENIUS at Chilling Out

I realized after (during?) my first(?) major episode in college that what I needed, in a very serious way, was to chill the fuck out. Mindfulness-based approaches to depression seem to be saying the same thing.

When you can spend less time fighting and more time with a gentle awareness, it makes sense to me that you’ve made a big step toward resilience – a step toward the source of your happiness being within you.

Sounds nice, right?

She says that to everyone!

Kicking you to the curb

Hey Mean Voice, I told my therapist about you.

As you’re reading through this blog, do you ever find yourself groaning and thinking, “Eugh. Come on. The author is full of it. You know better and you shouldn’t listen. Don’t feel sorry for yourself.”

Me too.

I hear it most often when my therapist acknowledges a struggle, present or past.

My therapist will say something like, “You’re surrounded by trouble with alcohol. That’s something you’ve faced for a long time.”

And I’ll find myself thinking, “She says that to everyone who sits on this couch. You haven’t had it that bad. Don’t take yourself so seriously.”

I’ve thought of that voice as a family trait. We work hard, we don’t dwell. We’re proud of that. And you know what? The voice has a fucking point! It’s not like drunk people have been beating me up my whole life. I haven’t had it that bad!

But recently I’ve started to think of that voice as a powerful avoidance mechanism. It’s as if some inner ass hole is telling me, “To think about your struggles is to indulge yourself. And anyway, your problems are unimportant. Don’t listen to people who are trying to help you or you will become weak.”

In my right mind I know that I’m not really one to feel sorry for myself, while I am someone who’s been diagnosed with major recurrent depression. Whether the problems that got me here are enormous or not, I have to face them in order to get better. If I don’t acknowledge my problems, if I don’t think about them, I’ll never solve them.

So I finally told my therapist about it and now I’m trying to kick it to the curb. Bat it to the ground. Ix-nay on the oice-vay that tells me that trying is a sign of weakness.

Huzzah.

 

Photo by Hey Paul Studios from Flickr

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.

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.