I’ve been really depressed lately. Like really depressed. Like barely wanting to live depressed. Don’t freak out and call the authorities* – I’m 100% fine right now. But I want to talk about a thing that frustrates me a lot when I’m depressed.
I talk about my problems with mental illness pretty openly. I’ve always refused to be intimidated into silence by the prospect of discrimination. Certainly, there will always be a risk that employers, my local community, etc will discriminate against me and I’ve seen that in action a couple of times – and that’s upsetting and terrifying. But I made a choice a long time ago to be my own role model and a role model to others – and what would someone I admire do? They’d be fierce enough to speak out about mental illness in the face of that possibility. Because this is important.
Before I get further into this – I’ll give you some context on my diagnosis and background in case you don’t know.
I have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder as a result of systematic childhood abuse. What kind of abuse? Every kind of abuse. Physical, emotional, mental, sexual. Every kind of abuse you can imagine a child being put through. But the physical stuff wasn’t what was most damaging. It was the gaslighting and the emotional invalidation that so thoroughly broke me. It was constantly being told that my reactions and feelings weren’t allowed and the lack of a safe place in which to express myself from a very young age. It left me with a difficulty in coping with extreme emotions because I was never taught how to – or allowed to learn how to. Worse, crying in my childhood home for any reason would be met with “I’ll give you something to cry about” beatings until I stopped. So when my emotions get too extreme, I simply shut down out of self-preservation. I’ll become frustrated and irritable and begin lashing out at people because I don’t feel safe expressing how terrified I am nearly all the time.
The Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder was, in retrospect, always there but took years to be diagnosed. It manifested all over the place. Peeling my skin off, tapping things with my fingers, walking over cracks in sidewalks, repeating tones under my breath or in my head, spelling out words in my head. But that’s not the worst part of it. I can handle the having to check that the gas is off ten times before I can go to bed. It’s the constant fear of illness and death that I really hate. I’ll be driving and my rotator cuff will start to ache which sometimes manifests as a deep pain in my chest. Now I know that it’s my rotator cuff. I know that it’s not a heart attack – but ask me if that makes me stop panicking. Spoiler alert: It doesn’t.
My mood took a plunge after the 2016 US Presidential Election. I’m sure it did for a lot of people. I can’t exactly say whether or not that was the crux of the actual issue – it could have been and probably was other things (such as the ending of summer and the coming of winter – which always affects me). Part of it was certainly my new job and the extra stress that it put on me – though that’s the kind of stress that’s slowly helping my depression. A lot of it though, was financial. A bunch of crap happened at once. Pipes burst, nearly all of our animals needed vet appointments, pipes burst again, more vet appointments, pipes burst again, chickens died mysteriously, my son was being bullied at school for not being masculine enough for the other children, he was starting to have serious anxiety attacks that were affecting his ability to cope with anything. My physical health has deteriorated lately. My rotator cuff impingement syndrome hurts constantly and is affecting my posture which is making my lower back worse. The stress is also giving me near constant headaches now.
I was pretty candid about the decline of my mood over the last 6 months and most people were supportive in the very best way. They empathized.
“I’m sorry. Me too. This sucks. Let’s get a burrito together.”
This has been, honestly, the most helpful sort of reaction to my depression.
But right now I want to talk about a very unhelpful and frustrating reaction that crops up every time I discuss my mental illness. It’s not just one person, it’s a lot of people. At least a few well-meaning friends every time.
I’ll express my depression. I might talk about how hard it is to feel as though anything will ever change – particularly when it goes on for so long. I might talk about how I’ve been flickering in and out of being suicidal (which is relatively normal for me). Inevitably – someone decides that what I need is logic.
“This will end.”
“It’ll get better.”
“Your family needs you.”
“How would Xander cope if you killed yourself?”
“You weren’t always this depressed.”
“You need to do ______.”
“Have you tried doing _____?”
I think the one of these that pisses me off the most is the whole “your family needs you” aspect. Let me be clear on this: You cannot guilt a person into wanting to stay alive. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but usually if I’m suicidally depressed it’s because I feel as though I exist only as a massive burden on my family who brings them nothing but pain. Reminding me of what would happen if I die genuinely only makes me feel even worse. It only makes me feel wrong for experiencing my depression in the way that I am. I feel overcome with guilt and my mood worsens.
Worse, some people think they’re helping by implying or stating bluntly that they believe suicide is selfish and vile.** (Oh cool, you totally guilted me out of feeling depressed, I’m cured and now I don’t feel like I’m an even more terrible person for even feeling the inclination or anything. Thank you, my personal saviour. *eyeroll*) They may back this up with their personal experiences at how they were affected by someone’s death. And I get that. It’s shit, but it also makes an attempt to shift the focus away from the depressed person and to those around them. It asks them to stop thinking about themselves at a time when that may be something that they desperately need. People experiencing suicidal thoughts often have spent their time focusing on everyone but themselves – bending over backwards to ignore their own needs while seeing to those around them. I know that for me, when someone goes here – it’s like being poked with needles of despair. Not yet, not allowed to think of yourself yet. Not today. Not now. Maybe someday.
If I’m talking about this – I’m not about to go and off myself. I’m reaching out to express my pain because doing so keeps me from exploding. I grew up without a safe space in which to do this. Simply being allowed to say it without someone flipping a table*** – that alone – is huge for me.
But I can’t say this enough – you’re not going to logic me out of my depression. There’s no switch you’re going to flip that’s going to cure me or just make it stop and I’ve never met anyone who could just decide to stop being depressed – because that’s not a thing.
So what’s more helpful? Well – if you want to know, ask the depressed person. What’s helpful for one isn’t helpful for another. I know, for example, that a very large number of depressed people benefit from the reminder that their distress will end. I know that it’s helpful for them when the person trying to help them says, “When this is all over, I’ll still be here and so will you.” For me – not so much. My distress is usually most potent in the “right now” – so being reminded that 3-4 days from now I’ll stop feeling quite so distressed isn’t actually helpful. I already know this to be true – and knowing does nothing to stop how much I hurt in that moment.
For me? Distract me. Give me a burrito or a hug or ask me if I want a blanket fort (the answer is always yes). Show me hilarious YouTube videos or Hell – tell me about something you admire about me because chances are I’ve decided that there isn’t anything good about me. If I’m plummeting into suicidal ideations – it’s because I feel as though I have no value. Help me fight that.
But logic? Logic won’t touch this. When someone tries to logic me out of my depression – it reminds me that I’m at the mercy of my irrational emotions – and I feel even more helpless.
But most importantly – the biggest thing I need – is just to have the space to unreel everything where I won’t be judged or talked down to. I need a place where I can throw my distress at a wall and someone doesn’t call the police because they’re afraid I’ll explode when I’m just trying to experience a cathartic release.
If you want to know what will help the depressed – ask them and trust that they know themselves. I can’t speak for anyone but myself but having my knowledge of my own mental state questioned feels infantalizing as Hell.
Next time you see someone who is experiencing severe depression – don’t offer solutions. Ask them what they need.
* I don’t feel like I should have to say this – but someone did once and guess how much it fucked up my whole next six months? A lot. Don’t do it.
** Don’t ever fucking do this to anyone.
*** When I was a little girl my uncle actually flipped a table during a psychotic break in which my front teeth were broken – so I’m not JUST being figurative here.
Depression is a terrible but survivable illness. If you or someone in your life needs help, here is a worldwide list of crisis lines which can help you in your darkest moments.
Do you suffer depression? Are you a survivor of abuse? I don’t know about you but it really helps me to hear about the experiences of others – tell me in the comments! I’m here for you and I love you. <3