Monday, July 27, 2015

A cry for help, or a case of the Mondays?

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A friend wrote a very personal blog about her struggles with depression over her lifetime and her fatigue with the "positivity police."  She is, rightfully, sick of everyone trying to fly in to fix her any time she talks about her emotional state.  The comments she received were loving and appreciative of her words, revelatory for some.  I, of course, was the asshole who couldn't help but drop in words of advice.  She gave me the gentle, 'love you, too, but shut the fuck up' that I deserved.

I had almost resisted the reflex and not said anything more than the "totally agree" that was warranted.  Instead, I let it happen and tried to preface it that my motivation was not an attempt to change her fundamental state.  But I have that Fix It reflex.  It's born of my personal story, my struggles to deal with depression, among other stuff.  And there's also a fear, whenever we see or hear someone drop the d-word, we are afraid they're going to follow it up with the s-act.  I wasn't expecting my friend to harm herself, but the motivation is born of all the people we've seen pass without our ever knowing how bad things were.

So, advice is largely selfish.  As much as we think we say these things because we don't want our friends to suffer, it may be more that we don't want to wake up and find out our friend is not there anymore.  And, mostly, that we don't want to live with the guilt of wondering if we could have said just the right thing that would have kept them from doing it.

So what's a friend to do?

Well, step one is learning to evaluate whether a comment from your friend is an actual cry for help or just someone with a heavy burden trying to deal with it by venting a little.  Musically speaking, singing the blues is a coping method, not a request for relationship counseling.  Similarly, bitching that I have gained more weight and must now go shopping for larger clothing, does not mean I want you to send me diet advice or "encouragement" that I can be skinny if I just get off my fat ass and work for it.  Maybe I don't give a shit what my size is; maybe I just hate shopping and spending money I don't have.  And maybe I do want to be a healthier weight, but your tactics and your timing do more harm than good.

If a friend with a painful chronic condition says something dramatic like, "Had to go to the ER again.  This shit is killing me!" that's probably more a Case of the Mondays than a request for you to send them motivational, spiritual mantras.  Like you're going to chant away Crohn's Disease.  Studies might show positivity to be really beneficial but who wants to be told to think positive when it feels like your insides are stabbing you?  That's not what your friend needs from you that moment.  As my friend repeatedly made clear in her blog, it's not your job to fix the disease.  No matter what your own experiences may have been, it's not your condition - it's not your life.  It is for you to accept that it's there and that it is your friend's battle to handle as they see fit.  It is not your problem to solve.

One of the worst things my husband has ever said to motivate me to be happier is, "You only get what you want."  As in, if you're not happy it's because you don't really want to be happy and you'd rather do the self-destructive things that you say you hate.  This was advice that worked for him.  All it did for me was make me want to punch him in the face.  Tell that to someone who has had something horrible happen to them, or who is battling medical problems.  That shit is outside their control and nothing they would ask for.  And framing your unhappiness as something you want... head-desk.  Specifically, his head slammed against a desk.

Now, was that there a red flag that I'm going to assault my husband?  Not today.  That's just me venting.

So what do you do about the real red flags?  As a friend, aren't you supposed to do something? let them know that they're worth being around? that they're not alone?  Yes, that's fine.  When it's obviously warranted.

If you're not sure, send a direct message to your friend and ask... "Hey, it sounds like you're in a really bad state - do you want to talk?  Is there anything I can do?"  Even if you have nothing useful to say, no remedy or past experiences to relate, just engaging someone and letting them get things off their chest might be enough.  And if they are clearly at a crisis point, do what you can to get them to seek professional help.  Even if they are willing to talk to you, if someone is that much in distress, you do not want to take on the job of trying to help them - they need a trained professional.  But you can offer to help them make the call, be their voice for them if they break down or have a panic attack when they try to speak.  You can go with them to their appointment and be in the waiting room when they come out on the other side.

It's tough if it's a faraway friend, as are almost all of my social media friends and family.  Social media can be both a lifeline connection and completely alienating.  Just listen to what your friend is saying and do what is in your power to help.  If they actually want it.  It would be so much easier if all these social media sites had a "Commiserate" option, instead of just "Like" and "Favorite" and such like that.  For now, we have to settle for typing out that we love our friends and are thinking of them.

Look at me, giving fucking advice again.  I'll shut up now.

6 comments:

  1. Hi there! As the poster of the personal blog post in question, I'd like to clarify a few things. I don't want you to worry about me being suicidal--if I did ever kill myself it wouldn't be premeditated. I don't actively want to die. I don't know how much that eases your fears, but it's the best I can do.

    Secondly, my post wasn't so much about people who want to fix me, as it was about people who stigmatize and demonize depression and depressive people. In my experience, there have been a large number of people who dub my illness as mere "negativity," and react to my pain as if I committed some kind of malicious act. People take it personally and make it about me bringing them down. Some people have literally walked out of my life because of it.

    I have attempted suicide before and I have had dear friends who accomplished the act successfully. I feel I can say with utter confidence that the main driving force behind a person taking their own life (next to the hopelessness that nothing will ever get better) is the utter loneliness that comes when everyone in your life doesn't want to have anything to do with you anymore because you just can't get happy.

    My wish would be for people to stop running away from depression and start facing it. Start loving those who need love, instead of shaming them for being needy. Start listening to those who are ranting about nothing that can be helped, instead of telling them that venting does no good and that they need to just think "positively."

    There's a difference between people who do nothing but complain and never do anything to change their circumstances and those who desperately need someone to listen and love them. There is not much more satisfying than feeling like I've been heard and knowing that I have people who love me unconditionally; who aren't embarrassed by me; who aren't ashamed of me, and who don't need me to be happy and entertaining all the time in order for me to deserve their respect.

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    1. Gah! I hate this comment thing - it ate it again!

      Well, if this get's through this time, what I think I said was that I understand all the points you made, both in your comments here and in your original post. I never had any real fear that you would hurt yourself. And I hope I didn't mischaracterize what you had said in your blog. I was trying to summarize my jumping off point for this blog. Also, I thought you had already covered the topic well in your blog and didn't want to appropriate your argument.

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  2. Oh, and one more thing--my ex used to tell me all the time that I "held on to my hurt and anger and unhappiness," and that I must have thought I'd die if I let it go. Just one of many horribly, emotionally abusive things he said to me over the years. He thought I "loved being unhappy," or else I just would start being happy, right? Well, I will tell you what, I was much happier once I left him. I'm not saying your husband is abusive or that you should leave him, just that, I hate that fucking shit, too.

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