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Part two – for the sufferer.

In my last post I talked about the difficulty of getting across what you’re feeling to someone who just doesn’t understand. In this post I’m going to discuss what to do if you just don’t understand.

See, people seem to have this notion that you should understand what’s going on inside your own head. After all, it is your head! Well, to that I say “Poppycock!” Sometimes you think things, and feel things, and even do things, without having any idea why, and when you suffer from depression it’s all the more likely that sometimes you just won’t have a clue why you feel the way you do.

As an example; I was recently sitting in the kitchen working at the table. My wonderful housemate had offered to cook dinner for the two of us and was rummaging through the cupboards trying to decide what to make. He kept making suggestions and asking me how I felt about them and thinking of alternate ways things could be cooked. For no reason I could see at the time (and I still haven’t figured it out) I found this really upsetting. I really wished he’d stop talking about cooking. I knew this was unreasonable, so I said nothing, but eventually it built up to the extent that I began having what I refer to as a “twitching fit”. My housemate noticed and finished off making the meal with minimum chatter and maximum hugs, and once the food was in the oven I was fine about the whole thing.

This was a small incident and my housemate understood that something was wrong and reacted appropriately. This isn’t always the case. When you’re around strangers you can often feel trapped, and if you don’t even know yourself why you’re reacting the way you are it’s very hard to explain to people what’s bothering you. It’s also hard to get away from what’s bothering you when you don’t even know what it is.

So what can you do about it?

– The most important piece of advice I can offer on this is Don’t dismiss what you’re feeling as “nothing” just because you don’t understand why you’re feeling that way!
It is important. It is relevant. It is causing you problems. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that it’s just you overreacting to things!

– Think about what’s going on. Notice your actions and reactions. Pay attention to where you are and what’s going on in the background. This can be difficult when you’re upset. If so, then try looking back on the situation afterwards when you’re feeling better. Try to learn from it. Try to figure out what upset you so you can avoid it in the future. Remember; it may not be something obvious. It may not even be something you are conciously aware of.
(For example: I used to frequently get cranky and miserable for no reason I could see. It was only when my boyfriend realised that I got cranky when we entered the freezer aisle in the supermarket that we figured out that it was a reaction to the cold! Now I can take precautions against the cold and it makes my mood so much better.)

– Don’t be afraid to tell people that you don’t know. In my experience people can be very accepting, even of things they don’t understand. If you find yourself upset at something and realise that you’re acting unpleasantly towards your friends because of it (snapping at them, being deliberately awkward…) then tell them that something is upsetting you and affecting your behaviour. It’s a lot easier for people to accept someone’s behaviour if they know that at least they’re aware of what they’re doing.

– Don’t be afraid to ask for help. In the freezer aisle example, above, I couldn’t figure out what was upsetting me by myself, but an outside perspective helped me to look at influences I’d ignored. The help doesn’t need to be help “fixing” the problem though. Help can be as simple as saying to a friend “I’m upset and I don’t know why. Can I have a hug?”.

– If you can’t figure out what’s wrong then try moving away from the whole situation. Go outside for a while, or move to a quieter room, or put aside what you’re doing and think about something else for a while. I know this is one of those obvious pieces of advice, but it’s amazing how hard it is to actually do it when you’re upset. I’ve stayed in crowded pubs in deep depression despite the fact that I know that crowds bother me. For some reason I didn’t even think of leaving. (This is another place where asking for help is useful. Asking a friend to take a walk with you because you’re not feeling the best is sometimes easier than just leaving the situation on your own.)

– Finally, and vitally important: If you do figure out what in particular is affecting you then *write it down*!! Remind yourself of it regularly. It’s so easy to think “Oh, so that’s what it was!” and then fall into exactly the same trap next time because you’ve forgotten. Please don’t do that to yourself!