Wednesday, October 30, 2013

How To Actually Help [me minimize my awkwardness at normal questions]

I know, I've been neglectful again. Like Silent Bob, I only speak when I feel it's truly important. I hope that this means that you take my words a little more seriously, when I do speak.

Recently, I've fallen into the deepest, most crippling depression I've ever experienced. At least that I'm aware of. (There WAS that one summer that I don't remember. But who knows what I was like then?) I mean it's bad. When I say "crippling," I mean that it's hard to function in the most basic ways--Feeding myself, bathing myself, getting out of bed. You know. Socializing and working tax me more than I knew was possible. I've recently started suffering "crashes" after extended periods of being in a good mood. After the happy activity ends, I feel myself start to deflate. If the crash is bad enough, it results in me curled up somewhere in my underwear (How did that happen? I don't even remember getting undressed!) crying for literally no reason.

Imagine if you got a hangover from eating a nutritionally balanced, healthy, delicious meal. That's what it feels like. Do something healthy and be punished by your body. What?

Anyway, so I finally, FINALLY went to get a psychological evaluation. Turns out I have depression (Imagine my surprise!) and also PTSD. (Okay, that one actually surprised me a little.)

PTSD? Isn't that for people who get blown up or watch their friends die or are in other super violent situations? (Yes, I knew better, I'm citing stereotype.)

Well, it's also for people who have suffered more quietly traumatic experiences. Abusive relationships that take months or years to realize, and more to admit, were abusive. Someone whose name you'll never know dropping something into your drink and taking advantage of you when you can't think.

It's for people like me. And, maybe, for people like you. Weird.

So, I did a thing. I posted on my facebook about it. Because I figure, these people are on my facebook because they care about me. And because I care about them. And there's really no good reason to keep them in the dark when the simple truth is, support of our friends is what gets us through these dark times.

And the flood of support that flowed in was overwhelming, moving, and beautiful. You never know how many people really care about you until they're all moved to display it at once. And frankly, it's wonderful.

Most of the support came in the form of "I know that there isn't much I can do, but I'm here and I love you." There was also "I've been in a similar situation and I understand. If you need to talk, or if you need advice, or someone to lean on, I'm here." Lots of hugs and loves and warm, wonderful things.

And a handful of friends who went white-hot with rage. There were (mostly rhetorical, I hope) threats toward those who have hurt me; offers of violence toward them should I desire it; people who got passionately angry on my behalf, because the thought of my being hurt is so horrible to them; and more horrible still is my being hurt enough to give me legitimate mental disorders.

But there's a bit of a problem. See, when you show me this rage, it makes me feel awkward. On one hand, it's powerfully touching that you care THAT MUCH ABOUT ME. On the other hand...What do I do with this? Do I thank you for your rage? Do I tell you that I don't want these things? That it's too late for legal persuit, and that vengeance doesn't equate justice? That I just want to move on with my life, and don't want more issues to come of this? I don't know. Will that seem ungrateful? Am I supposed to comfort you? I want to, but I really lack the capacity at that moment. Should I tell you it's okay? Well, it isn't. None of this is. And I just don't know what to do.

There's another perfectly well-intended thing that happens that confuses the shit out of me. Questions like "Are you okay?" and "how are you doing?" This is so innocent, people just genuinely wanting to know how I'm doing. It's warm, it's well-intended, it's well excuted, there's nothing about it that should make me feel awkward. But it's so much more complicated than that. No, I'm not okay. I'm in the midst of the deepest depression of my life and I'm dealing with PTSD. We've covered this. I first have to resist the initial impulse to say "Doing alright/fine/whatever generic response I've been giving." Then I have to find a response that isn't awkward or rude.

My dear friends, you have no idea how complicated this simplest of human interactions has become for me. "How are you?" is this huge, crazy question that looms. I have to find an answer that is honest, reassuring, simple, and doesn't seem to scream "attention whore." Which means I can't answer "I've just been curled up on the floor crying." or "I'm awesome!" or "fine." or "Depressed." What on earth does that leave me with? The non-answer, "That's...complicated."

Now I'm not going to just say "stop that!" and end there. Because...honestly? DON'T stop. Letting me know that you're around, that you care, and that you're willing to talk to me about the fact that you care means SO MUCH MORE TO ME than any sort of awkwardness that it gives me. It means the world when people reach out to me. It really, really does. So please. Don't take this as a criticism, don't think I don't appreciate the concern and care. Just take it as what it is: Me expressing how I react to things and, in a minute, offering a few things that you could do instead.

Let's face it. This shit gets awkward. There's not enough press, there aren't a lot of articles about "How to (actually) deal with your friend with depression," there aren't many "dos" and "donts" or "really, this is the right thing to say." Largely, that's because every person ever is different. No, really. Each one of us. So there IS no right to say, universally. So I'm going to give you a few things you can say to me instead, starting with my favourite one:

"How is that going?"

This is the best quesetion someone asked me. How is that PTSD/Depression going? Man, what a great question that was. Now how am I doing, now am I okay. How is that going? You can alter this in a lot of ways. Or you can specify. But it's acknowledging the things we already know, and elaborating by asking for more details of my established state of being. It's also kind of light-hearted, and I imagine people asking it with a smile and a twinkle in their eye. Because this isn't a sudden, huge, dramatic thing that happened. This is a thing that's been going on for, literally, years. I'm the same person I was a week ago, I just have some new words to describe why I sometimes fall down on my floor crying, or can't bother to feed myself or bathe, and some things to maybe help me not do those things anymore.

"How is today/the day?"

This is another question I can get behind. It's not inquiring about my overall state of being. It's acknowledging that things are constantly changing, that my mood can be anywhere, and also silently acknowledging that overall, my state of being is not good. There are bad days, worse days, and days that are actually okay.

"I saw your facebook/whatever and wanted to check in, just to let you know I care."

What a great thing to say. There's no awkward pretense, no small-talk, just genuine sentiment. This equates to "Hey. I'm paying attention because you're important to me, but I know that there isn't really anything I can do and I don't know where to start. So. I care." in my book.

I'd like to repeat something that I posted above, because it deserves emphasis:

This isn't a sudden, huge, dramatic thing that happened SUDDENLY LAST THURSDAY. This is a thing that's been going on for, literally, years. I'm exactly the same person I was a week ago, I just have some new words to describe why I sometimes fall down on my floor crying, or can't bother to feed myself or bathe, and some things to maybe help me not do those things anymore.

The only real problem is that now I can't shrug it off. I have to deal with the fact that I'm not okay. I'm the same not-okay person I was a week ago. And I need to be honest with myself and with you all about that. The awkward isn't coming from you, it's all me. It's all me trying to find the right balance of honesty and...well, tact. I feel a little drama-queen about all this, because it feels like I'm drawing a lot of attention to myself. I don't want to be that person who uses their issues to get attention, and I really don't want to APPEAR to be that person when I'm really just trying to get better. I don't want to alienate people, or make them feel like they're doing it wrong.

I'm going to re-emphasize that. THERE IS NO DOING IT WRONG. You CANNOT try to help me the wrong way. You CANNOT express that you care for me the wrong way. THERE IS NO WRONG WAY. If you care about me, and you're telling me that, YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT. The above are just tips on minimalizing the awkward that happens when I have no idea what to do.

Is there something you can do? I have no idea. Am I okay? No. Really not. And, I guess, I haven't been for a very long time. Is admitting it making it better? No, and in some ways it's made it worse. But I'm working on it. And if you want to help, then this is how.

I've spent three hours writing this. Adding. Subtracting. Changing. Re-wording. Wondering who this is going to piss off.

At the end of the day, we're all just trying to help each other. So however you do it, you're doing it right. I hope you think the same of me.

2 comments:

  1. If I might add a suggestion, another thing that someone can do to help, is simply to be patient.

    Even if you don't understand why your depressed friend can't stomach the thought of company, or summon the will to get out, (My extroverted self screams "It'll make you feel better!" when I really mean, "That works for me. Oops." ) just let it be.

    I struggle with not being able to "help" in any significant, life changing fashion. And that's okay.

    Be patient, and take the person's word for it when they say that there's nothing that they know of that'll "Do the trick."

    Like BlueJeanDream said ... just showing your intent helps. I'm still learning this myself. :)

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    1. Excellent addition. Thanks for filling in something I forgot. <3

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