After divulging so much in my third blog it feels awkward and uncomfortable beginning this one. (I actually almost wrote ‘confessing so much’, such is the sense of shame associated with talking about one’s state of mind and other such mental health related issues!).
The ‘How are you?’ trap
When I’m feeling like this, the thing I really need to do is meet up with people, get out of the house, socialise, and reconnect with life; however I tend to do the opposite, and one of the main reasons is a fear of that question, and all it entails!
I feel what people often want to hear is; that you’re feeling better, that things are on the up or, at the very least, you’re doing okay. I don’t dispute that they are genuine in their desire for you, or more specifically, me, to feel better. After all what friend, or compassionate human being for that matter, would want someone’s suffering to continue indefinitely? However, I actually think that more often than not, people just want you to answer the ‘how are you?’ question with a simple ‘I’m good thanks’ because really it’s just a greeting isn’t it? They aren’t really asking how you are! Anyway, it’s such a complex question, because are we ever just one thing? Sad, happy, excited, worried, frustrated, bored, lonely, depressed!
And so it is that I sit here today and procrastinate whether to type that I’m fine, that the feelings of overwhelming sadness, loss, and despair have passed and that I am now upbeat, looking forward to the future and excited about the next challenge life has to offer me; or whether to write the truth?
The reality is that I almost always opt for the truth, even when it’s to my own detriment. I am very bad at hiding how I’m feeling. I wear my heart on my sleeve as the saying goes, or in reality, my emotions on my face. So I normally answer that ‘how are you?’ question with the truth (not the whole truth though, I’m aware that that will scare the living crap out of most folk), but a portion of the truth at least (which still scares the living crap out of most folk – even friends).
Why does it scare people so much? Are they afraid to hear about your feelings because you’ll bring them down, that you might spoil their day, their mood? Or do they think that by you NOT talking about ‘it’ you won’t feel it? That talking about ‘it’ gives it life, oxygen, credence. I can’t say for sure why people don’t like discussing it. If the statistics are true, that 1 in 4, 25%, a quarter of the population have some kind of MH issue, then perhaps it’s not your can of worms they’re frightened of opening, but their own.
My Third and Difficult Blog
One of my friend’s immediate reaction to my last blog was to call me and check I was OK, I lied to her and said I was OK, I said that the blog had mainly been written a few weeks earlier and that I was doing better… so it seems I don’t like talking about it either! It’s also just habit though, I’ve learnt that that’s what people like to hear, besides I was still in the coffee shop where I’d uploaded the blog moments before, so not the right place to open up, and cry!
In fact, I’m permanently so close to tears right now, that it’s feels like my eyes are no longer solid entities, just tiny sacks of salty water, penetrable with the lightest of touches, or the simplest of thoughts.
A couple of people I know sent me a quick FB message, or wrote a comment, I guess this is the modern way of touching base, but is it very personal? Does it demonstrate genuine love or concern, I don’t know, it didn’t feel like it, although it probably was. I did get two very nice messages, one from someone I’ve never met, a follower on Twitter, and one from an old school friend that I haven’t seen in over 20 years, I felt touched by both of these messages; it took something from them to do this, it meant something, because they didn’t have to do it, but they chose to anyway. What of my ‘closest’ friends, did they call, rally-round, did my phone ring with worried loved ones checking in? You can probably tell from my tone the answer to this question.
So is that why I wrote it? Did I just want attention? I suppose, it’s hard to deny on one level that that’s what publishing a blog is about. However, I also write as a way of expressing myself, a way of untangling the myriad of thoughts I have; a way of getting them out of my head, if nothing else; or of making sense of them so that if they stay in my head, which they do, that they are at least coherent and that some form of sense exists along side them.
So why do I mention my friends, and their responses, is to chastise, to punish, to condemn, to guilt-trip?
Peaks and Troughs
This is not the first time in my life that I’ve found myself drowning in the trough of a depression; unfortunately it’s a strangely familiar and miserable place, where the peaks of success and happiness look far too steep and high to be able to drag yourself out from its depths. It takes all you can muster just to tread-water until one of three things happens; someone sees that you’re drowning and throws you a life-line; you see you are struggling and manage to shout to someone before you start to drown; or you just flap around in the water, in the deluded belief you are getting nearer the shore, but become so exhausted from going nowhere, and all the silent screaming you’ve been doing (like in the nightmares that I know we all have). You start to give up any hope of making it to the shore, let alone clambering out over the rocks and struggling back up the hill to the non-existent town where ‘normal/happy’ folk reside, and so instead of continuing to waste your efforts you let the lead-like water win, and succumb to the dangerous drag of the murky muddy depths below.
I speak from a time in my not so distant past, that when deciding to give in to this option an almost serene peace takes over, a sudden sense of calmness transcends, as if to confirm what you’ve thought all along, that this was the right choice. The erratic emotions you’ve been feeling for days, months, or even years, stop. You stop flailing around in the icy cold waters trying to get somewhere, yet knowing you’re going nowhere, your muscles stop aching, your mind stops hurting. You suddenly have a focus, you stop fighting and just sink deeper and deeper and deeper, where the darkness feels like light, and the crushing weight suddenly seems to push you down in the right direction.
If you’re lucky, as I was, in these last few moments someone hears your final muted screams for help and throws you that lifeline, and together you slowly pull yourself to the edge where you begin to find a rock or two, and if you’re very lucky, you start the long climb back up. Not to the top though, you can’t focus on the top at this point, it’s still too far away, still too unachievable, focusing on this will make the climb seem impossible and demotivating, you are still too close to edge of the plunge pool. You just have to look at the ground in front of you, find the rock for today, the rock you will step onto that keeps you safe and away from the water’s edge for today, and remember that tomorrow’s rock is for tomorrow!
Back to the Blog, and Facebook
So, the other reason I wrote the third blog was because the last time I was dragged from the water (almost literally) people said that they’d had no idea I was so low, I should’ve told them so they could’ve done something. So ‘yep’ the blog WAS for attention, for people to know I was in the water again, to draw someone’s attention to my need for help.
I think what makes it hard for people to understand is that you can be depressed and still experience other emotions too. People think that just because I’m posting pictures on Facebook and writing amusing updates that I must be OK. However, these are just moments in time – yes, I’m smiling in a pic (although, more often than not, I am not smiling in that pic – smiling makes my face look fat) but even if I were it’s just a snapshot, literally. A brief moment where I smiled, perhaps for the camera or maybe I was having a nice evening, afternoon, or day,if I’m lucky. That’s just a mood, a temporary emotion, based on what I’m experiencing right then. Here’s the confusion… depression isn’t a mood!
Depression is like a damp invisible blanket, it weighs you down, suppresses your enjoyment and your outlook. The fact that others can’t see it simply adds to its weight. Most of the time only you know it’s there, others sometimes detect something, and unwittingly add to its weight by saying such clever things like ‘you have a such negative outlook on life’, ‘you should be more optimistic’, or ‘when I feel sorry for myself I just think of the people worse off than myself.’ (When you hear the ‘starving kiddies in Africa’ line of thought, it’s akin to the ‘Hitler and the Nazis’ point in any argument, you will not get through to that person. All reason is lost; their capacity to comprehend is limited. Abort. Abandon the argument. Stop the conversation!)
You can have a great afternoon, a wonderful day with someone you love, or an uplifting conversation with someone smart, but at some point, often when that person is gone, the phone call is over, or the photo has been taken, the damp blanket returns, normally wetter and heavier than before. At least that’s how it feels.
So, how are you?
Of course, you can’t say any of this to people when they ask that wretched question. You just simply say, ‘Yep, I’m good/ok/fine’. They’re happy, and you’re… well, the same.
Now I usually wrap-up these blogs with some kind of conclusion, an ending of sorts, but with this one… I don’t, as yet, have an upbeat ending – perhaps I want you to feel the weight and darkness of that blanket today…
But I’ll answer that question truthfully; I’m neither fine, nor ok, nor good – just struggling…