Watch Your Step…

About a week ago, someone said something to me that sent me into a bit of a spiral. The comment was so unnecessary and so bigoted and so carelessly uttered that I’ve had to take time to process it. That it was connected to a topic to which I’ve become increasingly sensitive, served to sharpen its impact. I haven’t even talked about it with my closest friends yet. I eventually will but I needed to deal with it internally first.

I went into protective mode almost immediately and I’ve been so ever since. I could have recovered before now but something else happened and that’s what I want to talk about. Persons who have issues with depression understand the uniqueness of the circumstances that cause and perpetuate it and are able to comprehend the dynamics of triggers. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and an amazing yoga instructor/friend helped me to build enough self-awareness that I can control my moods so much more effectively now. My friends have provided me with an incredible support system. People on the other hand, have an uncanny and consistent knack related to fucking with my emotions.

In this case, I knew I had time off coming. I knew that meant solitude and time to reflect and recover. I planned for it. I gradually started to withdraw from active socialization. I have a strong circle of friends and I know who to communicate with depending on what I’m experiencing. So I circled the wagons and prepared to fix what was broken.

And yet, here I am, two weeks later, trying to dig up all this additional junk. What could have been a reasonably quick recovery time has now been compounded by the possibility of having an unpleasant conversation with someone. Instead of dealing with the feelings stirred up by the comment, I now have additional crap to field and instead of dealing with any of it, I found myself retreating further and deflecting. It’s got to come out now or I’m going to find myself in a hole that will take me too long to dig out of. I hope though, that in doing so I can shed some light on an important issue.

Here goes. Most people don’t have the first clue how to deal with someone living with depression. I get that. I’m not casting blame. It’s not really something anyone should have to deal with. I try to be patient with them, especially since mental health issues are not at the forefront of our cultural considerations. As a result of this though, too many persons take a ‘bull in a china shop’ approach to their interactions with someone struggling through an episode. They think they know what they’re doing. They mean well. But they don’t know how to manage the psyche when it’s at its most fragile and so they end up stomping around aimlessly and breaking things. Most of these things cannot be repaired. Some of them have to be rebuilt and replaced over time and that process is extremely taxing.

My most heartfelt tip to persons is this: in the midst of an episode, please don’t demand that a person get/feel better; please don’t express to them that their current mood/situation makes you uncomfortable/unhappy. Please do not make them feel like they are a burden to you at this time, when they are most vulnerable. When this happens, it makes me feel angry. It also makes me feel guilty. The burden of responsibility for someone else’s mood/emotions/feelings has now been added to the weight that I’m already carrying. It is unpleasant. It is uncomfortable. It is depressing. It does absolutely nothing except drag me further down and farther away from a resolution to what was already bothering me. It does not help.

I understand the sentiment. I get that the person who does this is trying to express care. I know that your heart is in the right place. That changes nothing. If you see a person withdrawing and you know you’re not a part of their core circle, let them go; you can be present without being loud and forceful about it.  If they express to you that they do not want to communicate (with you), give them space; you can check in, gently, at intervals and let them know you’re available (if you want to be) if needed. If you know someone they are close to, consider saying something to that person; chances are if you don’t know someone they are close to you are not close enough to them to insert yourself into the situation. I don’t say that to be disrespectful. Rest assured however, that at these times there is little comfort to be found in revealing your deepest issues to a veritable stranger; that’s a big part of the reason why it’s so hard to seek therapy. But most importantly, please don’t express negative feelings to us at that point. Please don’t lay the burden of your discomfort or your issue with our current mood on us at this time. Please tread carefully.

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