Real Talk - Depression
Okay. Time for some real talk. A friend of mine asked me to write a blog about depression. She's never dealt with it herself, but her sister is in a difficult place emotionally, and she wanted some perspective. Since I'm pretty much an open book, (and her sister isn't, at this point) she asked me for insight on what it's like to have depression - what goes on in my head - and what things I could suggest that have helped me.
So. Little bit of backstory, for those who haven't been reading along up to this point: I grew up in a mentally, physically, and sexually abusive household. My father was an alcoholic, and my mother was a manic depressive, codependent "dry drunk." "Dry drunk" basically means she had all the destructive behavior of an alcoholic, although she had quit drinking before I was born.
My father never wanted children, and if he had to have one, he certainly didn't want another girl (he had two by a previous marriage). My mother, on the other hand, had suffered a miscarriage the year before getting pregnant with me, and had become obsessed with having a baby. She literally prayed on the hour every hour for months. When she finally became pregnant, she believed I was an angel sent from Heaven. Like, a real, literal angel. If you think that can't screw a kid up, you're all kinds of wrong.
Anyhow. So, my childhood sucked giant hairy donkey balls for a lot of reasons. When I finally started seeing a therapist - after I'd moved out of my parents' house - I was diagnosed with a laundry list of things, including: PTSD, acute depression, acute anxiety, social phobia, bipolar, dyslexia, and maybe Aspergers, though the jury was out on that one. However, by that time, I'd invented so many coping strategies that she felt I didn't need medication.
So what does all that mean? Well, the PTSD part means that certain things upset me - things that probably don't upset you, or don't upset you as much. Loud noises, for one. I startle very easily, and it can take a while to calm back down. For example, you might hear glass shattering and think "what did the cats knock over now?" I, on the other hand, am instantly mentally transported to a time in my childhood when the sound of glass breaking was a very, very bad thing. Coping strategies for this are kinda situational. Typically, I'll ground myself by touching something in the room - a chair or whatever - or looking at something specific, and reminding myself that this item didn't exist in my life back then, therefore I am not in my life back then. What can a person do to help? When avoidable, don't make loud noises. When not avoidable, warn me. Hubby and The Boy are very good about saying "loud sound" before a loud sound. I may still startle, but it's not nearly as bad because I'm expecting it.
The acute depression part means that sometimes I'm just sad. There's no specific reason. Nothing happened to make me sad. Nobody died, my puppy didn't get run over. In fact, I may be having a really good day otherwise. Coping strategy? Focusing on the positive things. Reminding myself that it will pass, because it has come and gone before, and I'm still here. What can you do to help? That's a hard question to answer. Ultimately, nothing. You cannot fix me. You cannot make my depression go away. You can however, make it easier by being nice to me. If you know I hate to do the dishes, then do the dishes. If you know I love fresh flowers, then stop by with fresh flowers - they don't have to be store bought, handpicked from the side of the road is just as good. If you know I like Star Trek or Supernatural, offer to watch a show with me. Or, better yet, ask me something about one of them. Ask me to explain something you don't understand, or ask for my opinion on something. Ask me about a time in my life that was fun, like a convention I attended.
Here's the thing: it's often very hard to find something that will truly bring me joy while I'm depressed. It's that way for most of us. So if your depressed friend wants to watch "Lake Placid" for the 900th time, watch it with them. If they want to color in a coloring book even though they're 40 years old, color with them. If they call you up one evening and want to ramble on about a recipe they tried, mute the TV and listen to them. If they want to sit on the couch and snuggle up to you while you read a book, let them. Things that seem trivial to you are monumental to us.
My acute anxiety means that I'm anxious about everything, all the time. Even right now, writing this, I'm worried I'm going to say the wrong thing and upset someone, or make someone mad. I live in a constant state of apology - I'm already sorry for whatever I'm going to screw up, and I know I'm going to screw something up because I can't do anything right. And I'm sorry that I'm sorry, because I know I apologize too much and that makes people uncomfortable, and for that, I'm sorry. See what I mean?
There are a couple ways to cope with the anxiety. For me, it's just constantly reminding myself that nothing is Earth-shattering. Barring killing someone, anything I screw up can be fixed. Maybe not easily, but fixed nonetheless. I haven't yet found a way that someone can help with this, other than keeping along those same lines - just reminding me that nothing is really going to end if I make a mistake. There's a quote I like: "The world will not end today - it's already tomorrow in Australia."
When you look at me, you see me. Curly hair, big, brown labrador retriever eyes, and round cheeks. When I look at me, I see every blemish on my skin, every scar, and they stand out like neon signs. I see everything I've ever failed at. I see everyone I've ever let down. I see every mistake I've ever made, be it a low grade or crashing my husband's car into a pole seven years ago. I see every time I wasn't good enough for my parents. Where you see a whole person, I see tainted, broken pieces.
One day, I was outside working in my backyard - raking leaves, pulling weeds, that sort of thing. I heard a bird chirping and looked up at my neighbor's tree to see this little house sparrow. I stopped what I was doing to watch it. After a few minutes, the bird looked at me and then flew away. It took me a solid five minutes of positive self talk, while I pulled weeds, to convince myself that the bird hadn't flown away because it knew I wasn't good enough to share space with it.
One of my coping strategies is this dollhouse Hubby and The Boy made me, which houses my sock monkey family. I like to dress them up and stage different things like tea parties, and then I share the pictures on their Facebook page. I took them outside one day to stage a camping scene, and during the process, misplaced the littlest one, Damien. I freaked the hell out. I was two seconds short of running into the house and screaming for Hubby to help me find him when it occurred to me - he's an inanimate object. He didn't walk off by himself.
This is what it's like in my head. This is what it's like in a lot of people's heads.
What can you do to make it better? Not a lot. The number one thing you can do is be supportive. Avoid saying things like "that's silly," or "you know better." Because no, it's not silly, and no, I don't know better. I don't know that I'm good enough. Try to avoid saying "I know what you mean/feel." No, quite frankly, you don't. Even if you have the same conditions as I do, everyone's experience is different. You don't know what it's like in my head unless I've told you. You can say, instead, "I understand that you're anxious/upset/sad," and then try to relate something to me. "A few years ago, this thing happened to me that made me anxious. I remember what that felt like. It may not be the exactly the same for you, but I respect what you're feeling. When I'm feeling this way, this thing helps." For God's sake, don't say "don't get upset." That's just invalidating, no matter if you have depression and anxiety or not. Everyone has the right to their own feelings. And don't say "you're okay." Hell no I'm not. Instead, try "it's going to be okay," or "we're going to make it okay."
Above all, try to understand that you can't fix it, and you can't expect us to respond 100% of the time. Sometimes, even though I know something should fill me to bursting with joy, all I can manage is a small smile. Understand the brilliance of that smile, though. Understand that whatever you did, it got through. Even if I can't give you the reaction you want or deserve, you did get through. Be patient. Nobody wants to be this way. Given a choice of any sort of personality traits I could have, I wouldn't pick any of the things I named off above. If there was a magic pill I could take and all this would go away, I'd take it in a heartbeat. I don't get depressed for attention. Trust me - I've got nice tits, a big ass, and plush lips - if I wanted attention, I could easily get it. Understand that, by and large, the issues I have are not my fault. Rather, they are a result of years upon years of torturous treatment from my parents. The things I endured left permanent marks on my psyche. Some of them have gotten better with time, but some of them haven't.
And understand that, all in all, I'm okay. Being depressed doesn't mean I'm dysfunctional. I raised two kids and ran a multi-million dollar company, all while dealing with my issues. I may be broken, in my own way of thinking about myself, but I'm not without value and beauty. Although depressed, I am kind, giving, loving, and compassionate. Although anxious, I am often ridiculously brave, especially when it comes to helping others. Although socially phobic, I will force myself out into the world and show up, especially when someone needs me. Although bipolar, I will stop what I'm doing and control my mood swings long enough to help you or to offer you comfort.
Although broken, I have worth. Although tired, I will fight.