“Are you feeling better” is a fascinating and complex question which, like “How are you” is often thrown out without much thought or much expectation of a detailed answer. When used among people without chronic conditions the general context is “Has the flu/stomach bug/broken ankle/hangover gone away yet? Are you back to being ‘well’?” As such it has three basic answers (“yes”, “no”, and “getting there”) and so is a good candidate for small talk and general niceties.
When it comes to sufferers of chronic conditions, however, there’s generally some level of acceptance that it’s never going to go away, and that they are never goint to be “well” again. In these situations the context is wildly different and the number of possible meanings and answers are huge. I will discuss some examples:
“Are you back to being well?”
This is the standard meaning for non sufferers, and so the one that many sufferers also assume from this question. It might be that the person asking doesn’t realise that their condition is chronic and is genuinely wondering if they’re better than they were. It could be that the person asking doesn’t *believe* that the condition is chronic and are asking in a “have you grown out of that yet”. It could be that the person has simply forgotten, or automatically used a stock pleasantry without thinking about the context.
This can be upsetting for people who have accepted that they will likely never be “well” again and that they will always have to deal with this pain/discomfort/mental difficulty/etc. It can also imply that people feel that they *should* be better, and that any failure to be well is a failing in themselves as a person.
It can also leave them with a massive internal debate on whether they should answer truthfully or whether they should just give the polite rote answer. Especially if the person asking is someone with whom they have not discussed their condition before. They may also worry that reminding someone who has been told before may come across as a slight or a barbed comment implying that they should have remembered.
It is important to note that this does not mean that the person asking the question has done a bad thing, or is a bad person. It’s just that an attempted good thing may result in a negative feeling in the person being asked. I am trying to explain *why* people react in unexpected ways, not say whether either party is good or bad!
“Are you feeling better than you usually are?”
This is the context that I’ve found most common among my supportive friends. They see that I suffer from bouts during which my condition worsens, and when they next see me out and about they want to know whether that particular storm cloud has passed. I try to answer these questions truthfully and accurately because if I only ever say “yes” or “no” it gives a far too simple view of a complex condition. It takes a long time and a lot of thought to answer though, as I need a lot of context as to why they’re asking. Am I better than I was when I made my last angsty facebook post? Am I better than when I couldn’t go to that party? Am I better than when they saw me yesterday? Am I better than that time they just found out about when I self harmed back in secondary school? Am I better than my average?
If you want to know if a sufferer is feeling better after a particular downswing it is very useful to put that context into the question or conversation. For example “Are you feeling better? You seemed to be having a hard time yesterday at the party.” It greatly speeds up the answer time, and reassures them that you don’t expect them to be somehow magically cured, you just want to know if they’ve improved from the deep lows.
“Are you recovered from that illness unrelated to your chronic condition?”
Often people will see me when I have a bad cold, and when next they meet me they’ll ask if I’m feeling better. That should be an easy enough one to answer, but again, I need to know what the context is! Often I’ll have had numerous twitching fits, bouts of suicidal ideation, temptations to self harm and other such downswings since I had the cold, and often the cold is a mere side concern for me amidst all my other issues. Again, putting the context in the question helps. For example “Is that cough any better?”
I do appreciate people caring about things other than my chronic condition, it just sometimes takes me by surprise when I’m so wrapped up in the problems that won’t go away.
“Have I helped you in any way by my company/support?”
In real life this one is usually pretty easy to spot. It generally comes at the end of talking to someone, and has a slight pleading edge to the tone. When it comes by text or on the internet, however, it is easy to mistake it for any of the other meanings, and this can result in an answer like “I’m still feeling pretty shit” which can make the helper feel like they’ve failed to help even if they have in fact massively reduced the badness from “I feel like the world is going to end”.
If this is what you mean when you’re asking if someone’s feeling better, then remember that it’s okay to ask outright. “Have I helped in any way?” will not only avoid the wrong message being gotten across, but will also give an opening for the sufferer to say what in particular was helpful that they might like you to do again. It’s also nice to know that you’re trying to help and not just considering the conversation to be random smalltalk about general health.
“Will you be up for doing <x> today?”
This is one that it’s important to be clear about. Sometimes I make plans with people who are very aware of my limitations and who don’t want to pressure me into sticking to those plans if I don’t feel up to it. This is great of them, and I count them among my truest friends. It’s common that these friends will, on the day of the plans, ask me how I’m feeling or if I’m feeling better. I totally get where they’re coming from. It’s just that sometimes I don’t click that that’s what they’re asking. This doesn’t cause any major problems for *me* but can result in them getting the distinct feeling that I’m going to cancel on them. It makes a lot more sense to me for them to ask “Are you still up for <x>” as I know exactly what I’m answering for.
An example conversation from this situation might go:
“Are you feeling better?”
“No. I slept awfully last night, and today I just want to tear my hair out for no reason I can tell.”
“That sounds terrible. Why couldn’t you sleep?”
“The brain gremlins kept getting at me. Telling me the world would be better off without me.”
“I guess you won’t be up to that trip to the zoo so.”
“What? Oh Gods yes, I’m still totally up for that. I need to get out of this house and talk to some friends!”
See! You’re getting an honest answer to the question you asked, and it’s sending you entirely up the wrong tree for the question you meant! No harm done, like, but I feel it makes sense to explain why a chronic sufferer’s answers might be outside of your expected responses in a situation like this.
“So, were you really sick when you said you couldn’t come to my party?”
This one is not a fun one, but it happens sometimes and the brain gremlins would have me believe it happends a lot more often. Sometimes people don’t understand why sufferers of chronic conditions can’t live their lives like everyone else. Sometimes they see them as flakes, or see their inability to cope with social life as a direct slight. There’s not much I can say to help people with these attitudes in dealing with sufferers, other than that I, personally, would prefer to be asked outright and blatantly so I know how you’re feeling and can deal with it. (I might try to explain. I might not. It depends on my spoons and on how reasonable I think the complaint is).
What I *can* help with is to explain that the brain gremlins often translate genuine concern into this before it reaches my brain. If I seem defensive when you ask if I’m feeling better there’s a chance this is why. Please don’t take offence at this! I don’t do it by choice and it doesn’t have anything to do with what kind of person you are. It is purely my internal demons telling me that I’m useless and that people are right to be angry at me for being a broken human who can’t function the way they should.
There’s not much you can really do to help with this interpretation, really, other than to understand any defensiveness and accept that it isn’t irritation at you. Maybe saying something like “I was sorry to hear you were having trouble the other night.” I guess that might help give it context?
The one remaining thing I’d like to cover is the fact that sometimes sufferers may get annoyed at the question regardless of the context. It could be that it reminds them that they’re going to have to deal with their condition for the rest of their lives, and in some cases that it’s only going to get worse. This isn’t your fault, nor is it any criticism on you for asking the question (although if someone responds like that to the question I would definitely advise avoiding that particular question around them in future if you can). Remember that it’s tough to deal with a chronic condition, and try to understand that someone can be annoyed or upset by feelings stirred by a question without necessarily being annoyed by the asker of said question. Give them space for their feelings, or offer a shoulder and an ear, or simply let them know you’re sympathetic.
I’m sure there are plenty more interpretations that I haven’t covered here, but I hope this is a good start in explaining why such a simple question as “Are you feeling better?” isn’t always so simple.
Are there other ways that you interpret this question? Is there anything you feel is obvious that I’ve missed? Do you disagree with an of my points? Let me know!
I had trouble getting out of bed this morning.
“Don’t we all!” you think. “Who wouldn’t want to spend more time under the duvet than face the real world?”
The answer to that is: Me. This morning.
It’s 9am. The day is bright, my boyfriend is getting up and I feel awake. Some breakfast would be welcome right about now. I start to rise, but as soon as I lift my shoulders from the mattress I feel the tension press in and threaten to smother me. I let myself fall back again. This isn’t so unusual, and I can afford another hour in bed if it will make that horrible feeling go away. Maybe I just need some more sleep.
It’s 9.30. I haven’t managed that sleep thing yet. My thoughts won’t run clearly either, so I haven’t gotten anything out of this half an hour. I really do want to get up. I want breakfast. I want to not be stuck lying in this interminable loop of half formed thoughts and guilt. About once every minute I decide that I’m just going to get up right now. Just as often I make that half lift of the shoulders and face that tension.
It’s 10am. My extra hour is up. I need to get up now. But the lack of focus has become a drifting sense of unreality. I move in and out of awareness, like dozing, but without the benefits. Eventually I do doze. More time passes.
It’s 11.30. I can’t count how many times I’ve half woken and tried to get my muddled thoughts in order. I can’t count the number of aborted attempts I’ve made at getting my carcass out of bed. A carcass. That’s what it feels like. A lump of flesh that isn’t mine. I send the orders. “Move” I tell my muscles. “Get up” I tell my body. And it starts to respond. Like I’ve got some comand over it, but not enough. Control slips again and I drift into senselessness.
It’s midday. I’m starting to feel scared now. The hunger has only gotten worse over the hours, and my stomach feels like it’s trying to eat itself. There’s no milk downstairs, so cereal isn’t an option, but I have fruit pots for just such an emergency. I actually like those more than cereal, but they’re for emergencies only. Then, once I’ve eaten I can go to the corner shop and buy more milk.
My brain can work through all of this. It can step through every detail of the walk to the shop, the conversation with the cashier. My brain can’t focus any closer though. When I try to think through the steps of getting up the thoughts just slip away. It’s like trying to grab water. I can’t keep hold of enough of it to be coherent.
12.22 and still I can’t hold onto the thought of getting up. I’ve been trying. I’ve been focusing so hard it’s tiring, but I just can’t. Whenever I try to get myself to move I manage a toss or a turn, but I end up curled like a foetus, gripping myself or my blanket or my pillow like a lifeline. I don’t even notice the fingernails dug into my own flesh. My phone is on the bedside table, and I think of picking it up and ringing my boyfriend. He’s just downstairs. He’ll come up and save me. But I can’t do it. It’s not that I’m embarrassed, it’s literally that I can’t make myself reach for the phone. I think of shouting but my mouth doesn’t respond any more than the rest of my body. Sometimes I manage the voice equivalent of tossing and turning: I open my mouth and say weakly “help”. No one could possible hear it but me. It’s is a pathetic cry to an empty room.
12.30. I’ve managed to grab my phone. I did it in a quick burst before my body could shut down. I grabbed it angrily, desperately. I try to formulate the text I’ll send asking for help. I’ve done it before. He’ll come up and save me. I can imagine him coming up. I can imagine him being here. He won’t even have to do anything. Even his presence will be enough to break the spell. I can imagine it all… except for the actual making of the call or typing of the text. When it comes to that I find my brain whipping away again, trying desperately to think of anything else. I unlock my phone and try. I try to marshal my thoughts, I try to move, I try to act. After what seems like forever I hear a beep. My phone has locked itself again. After all, I wasn’t using it.
12.40. I’ve still not sent a text. After all, is it so much easier to send a text than to just swing my legs out of bed? If I have the energy to consider one then really I should be considering the simpler one. The one that doesn’t disturb anyone else. I know I can move. There’s nothing wrong with me. Hell, I’ve moved all over this bed in the past hours. I’ve been over the blankets and under them, I’ve been upside down, I’ve had my legs hanging out on one end and my arms clinging onto the other. I’ve gone from splayed to scrunched more often than I can count. Feet onto floor. That’s all I have to do. Why is it so hard.
Already I’m forgetting the concept of feet on the floor. Already it’s slipping.
12.55. I feel starving. I feel guilty. I feel weak. Is it just a lack of willpower? But willpower is the ability to do things you don’t want to do. I want to get out of bed so badly. Bravery is the ability to do things despite the fear, but it’s the bed that’s scaring me now, not the thought of being up. And the thought of *getting* up? Well that thought’s still not sticking in my mind. It fades like light snowfall, leaving no trace that it was ever there. I begin to twitch: a reaction to the stress, a physical sign of my depression. I hate twitching. I hate how it start and keeps going until I’m tired and crying and my muscles ache from the effort. I unfold from my crumpled ball in a burst of anger, and I see the split second of opportunity. I carry on that explosive motion in one fluid sweep until I’m sitting on the edge of the bed, my feet flat on the cool floor.
I’m dressed and ready before I even know I’m doing it. My hair is brushed, I’m already on my way to the bathroom. Already the memory of what was holding me back is fading as fast as the thought of getting up faded earlier. Within minutes I can’t remember why I had so much trouble unless I force my mind to think about it, and forcing myself to think about it is hard and unpleasant. I make it downstairs and the closest I can get to describing the horror to my boyfriend is to announce:
“I made it! I didn’t think I would!”
He’s beside me in an instant. He didn’t realise that I was having one of those mornings, and now he’s sorry that he wasn’t able to help, even though there was no way he *could* have known. He hugs me close, and tells me I did good.
He knows it’s more than just another few hours under a duvet.
Sometimes, especially in the winter when the days get short and dark, I can barely think for the depression. Every little thing is an uphill battle. Every little criticism is doom from above. But I am not always like this.
This part of my life I have come to accept. I know that sometimes I can’t remember what “happy” feels like. I know that all I have to do is hold on, and that I will find it again in the future.
When I am at my lowest, things are constant and unchanging. I know that I’m not fit for work. I know that I am suffering from a chronic illness that affects every aspect of my life. I know that it is not my fault. I can feel the effects of the depression through every nerve and vein and tendon. I AM NOT WELL.
But I am not always like this.
Sometime during the spring the ice grip of constant depression fades from my being. I begin to think again. To hope again. To live again. The sun comes in my window and I smile. So long since I last smiled unbidden. So long.
When I start to leave the lowest point things are volatile and uncertain. There is joy, but also a deep fear of losing that joy. My depression is at its worst in winter, but it is present all year around. Now I must face the fact that although I feel well one moment it may be taken away in the next. And I am still not well. The tiredness still haunts me, the thoughts still come hard, the suicidal ideation doesn’t go away. I am better, but I am not BETTER. My mood is changeable, and plans I make one day may not be possible for me the next.
But I am not always like this.
Sometimes there are weeks or months of joyous normality. Long stretches of time pass without thoughts of pain or death. The colours of the world can be enjoyed without the endless grey shroud of depression damping them. These times are the best… but they are also the worst.
When I am in my deepest depression I cannot imagine ever not being depressed, but when I am high I can’t quite remember what it was like when I was low. I do things that I could never have done mere days or weeks or months ago, and I wonder why I couldn’t do them. The self blame sets in. The hatred. Why couldn’t I have done that when I *needed* to?! Why did I let things get in such a state when the fix is so… easy!? Why was I so useless? Why am I always so useless.
And always, although I can’t quite imagine it, I still sense the depression hanging over me, waiting, and I know that at any moment I could be useless again.
But I am not always like this.
I think that’s one of the things that makes it hardest.
What support is there for a part time invalid?
I can’t take on a permanent job. I know that as soon as the depression hits I won’t be able to cope. And justifiably. Medically justifiably.
BUT I’M NOT ALWAYS LIKE THIS!
And there’s no way I can pick and choose when I can work, and when I can’t. Society seems quite clear on that. Either you’re employed… or you’re not.
I’m trying to meet it half way. I’m trying to make and build and create in my own time, and to contribute when I can, and to accept help when I can’t. But it’s so difficult. And no matter whether I am on a high or on a low, I always find myself judging me by my worst points. No matter what help I can give my brain always tots up what I have failed at and needed help with. No matter what I produce my brain only focuses on what I have consumed. No matter how much I achieve, my brain only tells me that I cannot achieve like that all the time. I am inconsistent. I cannot be depended on. Because I am not always like this.
I have a very fraught relationship with food. Sometimes I love it, sometimes I can’t stand the very thought of it. However I feel about it, though, it’s important to eat regularly and well. Which is hard, when even looking at food makes you want to be sick.
When I’m on a good run with eating everything happens the way it “should”: I do stuff… I get hungry… I eat… I do more stuff. These are the good times, but they’re also the times when I let things slip, because with food, as with everything in life, habits are important.
Here are some of the important habits I’ve picked up to help me with food:
Notice what you eat!
When I’m on a good run I can eat pretty much anything that’s put in front of me. When I start feeling shit about food, though, what whets my appetite gets a lot sparser. For a long time I just took it as a blanket “I don’t want to eat as much” but when I started paying attention I noticed that my appetite for some foods dropped quicker than for others.
For me, starchy foods are the first to go, with dry starchy foods in the lead. If I’m having trouble eating then I almost certainly won’t want a sandwich, and pasta will last a bit longer but soon I won’t be able to face that.
The last things to go are usually fresh fruit. I can generally stomach an orange or some grapes no matter how bad I feel.
Knowing the order that you lose interest in things can help in more than one way. Firstly it can help you keep a stock of the things you can almost always eat for emergency situations, and secondly it can help give you warning when you’re starting to slip. If I turn up my nose at a nice pasta, for example, I know I’d better fill myself up with salads before I get bad enough that I won’t touch *anything*.
While you may be bored of hearing the old phrase “breakfast is the most important meal of the day” there is still some truth to it.
I don’t eat particularly *good* breakfasts, but I do make sure I eat breakfast every day without fail. It’s a good meal to turn into your anchor point because there’s so little stigma attached to *what* you eat for breakfast. I eat choco hoops, because they’re cheap and I’ve never yet felt like I couldn’t possibly face them. But there are lots of other options, such as fruit, yoghurt, sausage rolls… the list goes on and on. As in the point above, pay attention to what you can always eat and what you can only eat when you’re on a good day. Make plans for a constant supply of an ‘always good’ option for your breakfast so at least you don’t have to worry about that one meal. Quick to make also helps make it less likely that you’ll skip it, which is another reason that I like cereal. So long as I have milk and cereal I can have breakfast ready and eaten before I’m even fully awake.
Lunch and Dinner:
It’s traditional to think of meals in terms of Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner, or at least in some variation of three meals a day. If you’re trying this and it’s not working for you, however, it can be worth trying a different tack. Do you find it easier to eat in small portions rather than large? perhaps four of five smaller meals might be worth more than the traditional three if you can fit them into your schedule. It also means you don’t have to pay attention to every single meal being balanced. If you have a small carb heavy meal at noon to keep you going until a more vitamin filled salad at 3 then that’s fine. No meat at 3 but chicken wings and sausages for a later snack? That’s cool too.
Alternatively, if you prefer to do your eating in big portions there’s nothing wrong with a big breakfast and then fruit juices or suchlike until a kind of ‘High Tea’ in the late evening… if your body works with that then go with it.
Food and Sleep:
When you’ve missed meals your body sometimes runs out of energy, and tries to solve this by getting sleepy and using less energy. If you have a history of missing meals then be very wary when you feel like you need a nap when you wouldn’t normally. Have you eaten recently? If not, then make sure you eat *before* you nap. Napping reduces the demands on the body’s energy supply, but doesn’t do anything to refuel you. If you give in to the urge to nap without eating first you can find yourself waking feeling even worse, and it will be even harder to get yourself up and moving to find food then!
You can get meal replacement drinks or supplement drinks fairly easily these days. I don’t advise replacing meals with them, but I do find it very worthwhile to keep some in storage for those days when you just can’t face food but know you should get something into you. Likewise multivitamin fruit juices or just varied juices can fill in on vitamins if you’re doing okay with eating your meat and fibre but aren’t up to facing veg.
Ready meals and processed food:
Fresh homemade food is better for you than ready meals… but do you know what’s worse for you than processed food? No food at all!
If quick and ready meals make it easier for you to eat regularly then do it. Simple as.
Is there something you absolutely love? A favourite restaurant, or a particular ice cream? Remember it. Even if it isn’t “good for you” it can help to jump start your interest in eating when you can’t really face the thought otherwise.
Healthy snacks are so useful if you have trouble bringing yourself to eat. I personally like munching on cherry tomatoes or grapes, with raisins or other dried fruit if I’m going to be out and about. It makes a world of difference to have things like that to hand. If fruit’s not your thing then crackers, popcorn, little cheeses, nuts… find something and make it yours!
A piece of advice that I come across fairly often is “you decide how you feel about things, whether to be sad or happy, whether to look on the bright side or to see the worst. Life is too short to be miserable. Choose to be happy.”
This advice, like many pieces of advice, is useful… to an extent.
You can, to a certain extent, decide how to feel about things.
You can, through forming new habits, learn to see the world in a different light.
A positive attitude can help a lot.
Imagine it as if life is a hot-dog and emotions are the sauces you put on it. You can choose to add mustard, or ketchup, or sweet chilli sauce, or… I don’t actually know what people put on hot-dogs… something else.
But the problem with this as a catch-all solution is that is assumes that people are like this:
And they’re not. People have so much variety. What works for one might not work for another, or might work, but not change their life as profoundly.
In reality, people look a lot more like THIS:
No two people are the same, and no problem is simple. Especially not a mental health problem. What works a charm for one peson may be a struggle for another. Some people just don’t have much ketchup. Their ketchup bottle is tiny. They can choose to put ketchup on their hot-dog right now, but that means that later they may not have ketchup. Some people have ketchup with a wonky nozzle, so sometimes when they try to pour it out it just won’t come. Some people have those annoying bottles that you can’t see what’s inside, so maybe it’s empty and they just don’t realise yet, or maybe some prankster filled the brown sauce bottle up with mustard so as to catch people by surprise.
I suffer from depression, and anxiety, and probably more stuff to one extent or another. This is what *my* condiment shelf looks like:
Some of those are very close together aren’t they? That’s because a lot of my emotions are intertwined. Sadness and joy are very near to each other in my life, and sometimes when I reach for one I get the other. Sometimes when I’ve had the best day I can imagine I feel sad that my mother wasn’t there to experience it with me. Sometimes when I skin my knee I feel happy that I’m still alive to feel pain.
See the way the some of them are tucked away at the back there? That makes them hard to get to. I have to work my way past the worry and the excitement and the uncertainty before I can reach them.
As well as that the nozzles on my bottles are a bit wonky. The one on my happiness is smaller than it should be, so sometimes I have to squeeze it extra hard to get any out. The lid on my sadness doesn’t fit properly, so sometimes it falls off and the tears get everywhere. My anger tends to glob up and come out as huge lumps or not at all.
And that ketchup. It’s fine. There’s nothing wrong with the bottle. But some people have Chef ketchup instead of Heinz ketchup. They seem to like it better. I don’t know if I’d like it better, or if it’s just the same really, or if Heinz is actually more my thing. I’ll never know. I don’t get to have Chef ketchup. This is all I’ve got.
Choosing the right condiment for your hot-dog is a good and important step, but it’s not the only one.
The first, and most important, step is to make sure that you have a hot-dog in the first place. Take care of yourself. Take care of your head and your health and your support networks. In time you can work out how you like your life seasoned, but you don’t have to do it right away.
After that, pay attention to what happens when you season your life. Notice what emotions get confused, and which ones are linked to others. Learn how to handle them to get the best results. Maybe a tap on the bottom is all it takes to get the calm flowing. Maybe not. But you won’t know if you don’t try.
Treatments such as Cognitive Behaviour Therapy can help. They can teach you to organise your shelf space. They can teach you ways of figuring out when you need to buy more soy sauce before you run out in the middle of cooking.
Medication can help. It’s the only way I’ve found of testing out Chef ketchup. It changes things at a chemical level, and that can be scary, but it doesn’t change you. It just gives things a different flavour.
And finally, you need variety in your life. Trying to live your life only being happy can rob you of the moments of fear and excitement and achievment and bittersweet tears. Too much of anything can be as bad as none at all.
Like this metaphor… which has been going on far too long.
So goodbye for now, and remember: You are not alone!
I have had depression for as long as I can remember. I remember suffering from it when I was in primary school, all the way back to playschool. I’ve always had these brain-gremlins.
At the begining of this year I sorted through a load of old papers, and found some old notes of mine… some very depressed writings. I typed them up onto my computer and threw away the originals, because I felt they needed to be remembered, but not to be held onto. I have enough troubles now without holding on to the ones from the past.
(I found other things in my old paperwork too. Birthday cards from friends, letters from penpals. I did hold onto those. You can never have too much joy in your life.)
Anyway, I thought I’d share my old writings here so that people who are interested can see what goes through my mind when I’m low. Please remember that these are just snippets from a life that is wonderful and has many ridiculously happy times and memories. And remember that, even when you feel like you’ll never be happy again, this too will pass. Things always get better.
– In secondary school:
Who? Her! I know her, yes.
Her name is… Well we call her…
I can’t quite remember
It’ll come, just wait and see.
I ought to know, she’s in my class,
In Geography, and Spanish, French
and science, Irish, Maths.
I’ve heard her name, so many times,
But now it seems it’s slipped my mind.
I know she’s quiet during class,
(And mostly after class as well)
She likes to draw, and hates to write
She also likes… well I can’t quite,
Seem to remember, not right now,
We never talked, at least not much,
About things we both liked and such,
I’m sure she’s very nice and all,
But her name I can’t recall,
I barely knew her. As a rule
We never met outside of school.
Only once, or maybe twice.
When we talked she seemed quite nice
But I must say, I don’t quite see,
How all of this relates to me.
She was just another girl,
Someone I met but never knew.
We talked sometimes, that much is true,
But beyond that she was not my friend,
Just a girl I knew from school.
– college years:
Free writing. I’m just going to write without any plan and hope that it can help me sort through some of these emotions. I know that I’m making progress. My mind is clearer than it was and I’m not feeling so… unfeeling anymore. I’m still having a lot of problems, especially with my low self esteem. Now that I have a boyfriend it’s really becoming obvious. It keeps telling me that it’s only a matter of time before he figures out that I’m not worth it. It’s strange to think about that. I have trouble with the fact that I believe I’m worthless, yet it’s behind everything I do. My life is built around the fact that I have to prove myself. Every day I prove to myself that I’m a good sister, that I deserve my place at home, that it’s ok for me to have friends. Then the next day I have to prove it all over again. If I stop trying then there’s only the worthless me left. I feel like only my actions have any meaning.
I know that I’m a good person, I know that I’m a good friend, that I’m caring, friendly, kind. I prove these all to myself all the time. I know I do good things because I make sure I do. I need to to earn my place, to deserve what I have in life. At home I prove myself through housework. I don’t know how else to do it. I feel I have to protect Aisling, to give her guidance and comfort and love, but I don’t know how to do it. So instead I clean and clear and tidy. I want to have a nice home. I want my family to have a nice home. I want them to be able to come back here and feel that they can relax here. I want a home where the worries don’t come crowding as soon as you come in the door. I want a home where the bills are paid and the paperwork dealt with as soon as it comes in the door. I want a home where we have what we need and don’t need to panic when something unexpected comes up. I want to help but I don’t know how, so I clean instead. A clean house means to me that I’ve done enough. That I haven’t failed, or messed up. It means that I’ve done something to help. It means that I’m worth something.
– Later in my college life:
I’ve been lying to myself. I’ve been pretending that everything’s ok when it’s not. We don’t have enough money for me to go to Seattle. Even if I get a summer job i still won’t be able to go. Even worse we don’t have enough money for me to repeat a year if I fail my exams. I’m not even studying for them and if I fail I’m out of college. Forever. I need to get a job. I need to start studying. I need to act as if something really matters not just the now. But I just can’t focus. I’m feeling resentful towards dad. I’m feeling constantly tired and I’m getting short tempered with my friends. If I go on like this I’ll lose eveything. I’m so afraid of messing up. I’m afraid of losing my friends, of going back to life like it was before college, alone, no enemies, but no friends either. Only this time I won’t even have mum there for me when I go home. And I’m losing Dad too. I’m losing him and he’s losing me. We never talk about how we feel. I don’t think he even sees how much I hurt and I never mention it. I’m silent til I snap. I never talk about how I feel and when I do it’s not with Dad. Colin, Cathal, Lowery, Aine… I’m closer to them than I am to my family now. They keep me sane. They hold me back from the edge. If it wasn’t for them I’d be lost. I can hardly remember what it felt like to sit alone because I feel more comfortable that way. I used to. I would avoid others. I didn’t feel comfortable in company. Since coming to college I’ve worked hard to make friends. I’ve had to build up my trust until I can believe that the people I know really want to know me. That I mean as much to them as they do to me. It has been hard but I’ve come so far. Maybe things aren’t so bad after all. I’ve come this far. I can go further. Whatever comes I can make it, as long as I never believe that I’m done. there is always more to come.
just over a year after leaving college:
“I’m an unemployed bum. I’m a drain on the system. I’ve been unemployed for over a year now and there is still no sign of me getting a job. Hell, all I’ve done in that time is decide that I don’t like my chosen profession. Maybe it’s all my fault. I know I could try harder. I know I could be better. But then, you can always try harder and be better. When can you have enough? When can you just sit down and relax and not have to feel guilty.
What if I’m no use?
What if I’m no good to anybody?
– When I started looking at my depression more from an outside point of view:
I don’t remember when I first became aware of the voice in my head. I certainly know it existed for a long time before I gave it a name.
“I’m calling it Horace” I announced to my friends on facebook “So when it argues with me I can retort with ‘Yeah? Well you’re named after a cheese’ ”
And argue it did. Horace’s favourite phrase was “shut up shut up shut up!” and he seemed to use it as often as possible.
I’d be lying in bed, telling myself I should really get up soon.
I’d be budgetting; wondering if I could afford a weekend away.
I’d be trying to get up the energy to work on a project, knowing it would be good for me.
At first I assumed that Horace was the sulky brat part of me. The bit that shouted at anything that wasn’t going his way. Gradually, though, I noticed something:
When I lay in bed in the late morning there was a voice in my head telling me I should get up and do things. There was another voice that insisted that there was no need to get up, and nothing to do. Neither of these voices was Horace… In fact, Horace wouldn’t make his appearance until the debate had been going on for a while. “Shtupshutupshutup” he’d say, or sometimes when he got particularly talkative “Fuck off world!”
But what was he getting so emotional about? He sould never say!
Slowly the realisation dawned. Horace was the childish part of me, but he wasn’t a spoiled brat. Instead he was hurt, alone, confused… and wishing that his parents would please, PLEASE, stop fighting.
Horace didn’t care if I stayed in bed.
Horace didn’t care if I got up.
Horace only cared about endless hours spent arguing with myself; neither of me listening to what the other had to say. Horace only shouted because it was the only way he knew how to communicate. The only way I’d ever shown him.
I’ve always been good with kids. I treat them with respect, and I listen to what they have to say, and they appreciate that. Now, after all these years, I’m learning to treat myself that way too. It’s a long lesson to learn, but it’s amazing how much of a difference a little respect can make!
– About 2013 (this one was tough to transcribe ‘cos it was in mind-map form)
Can I do it?
I’m too lazy
–action or inaction is a choice not a state
–seriously, have you seen the things I can do if I’m motivated?
people wouldn’t belive I can
–people believe many things that aren’t true.
I have no idea what I’m doing
–You don’t need to know everything
–Running training, teaching crafts, Captain of DUFC
I’m afraid of responsibility
–only because I take it seriously. That’s good.
–I’m also scared of people, noise, and water. When has that ever stopped me?
I can’t do it all myself and I have trouble letting others help
–Don’t “let”. “Ask”. Your terms, not theirs.
–You’ve been practicing being a leader. Now use it!
I suffer from depression
–NO! I *cope with* depression. I *live with* depression. I beat depression on a daily basis!
Anyway, I know this was a long post, and I hope if you read it all you feel like you’ve gotten something from it. I guess the only point I’m really trying to make here is that you are not alone. Other people feel like this. I feel like this. And it’s shit, but it’s not wrong. We are still good and worthwhile people. We just have to deal with some brain-gremlins that like to tell us that we’re not.
So, you have a friend or family member who suffers from depression, and you have no idea what to do to help them. A search online brings up a whole load of “how to help someone with depression” or “What not to say to someone with depression” until you feel like you’re drowning in well-meaning advice. (Which, incidentally, is a feeling that many depression sufferers can easily identify with 😛 )
Most of these guides have great advice, and you can learn a lot from them, but there is one big problem and it is this:
You are not dealing with “someone who has depression”.
You are dealing with an individual person.
And as with any person, there is some things that they will like, and some things that they will hate, and these things aren’t defined by their illness any more than they are defined by their gender or their hair-colour.
So then what can you do?
The only person who truly knows what will help and what will hinder is the person themselves. And yes, sometimes they don’t know what they’re feeling, or why, or how to help themselves, but unless you are a trained expert at this then you’ll still do much better paying attention to them than you will trying to get them to see things your way.
This is, to my mind, the most important of the three. Often when a person suffers from depression they have difficulty articulating things. Even if they know what they want to say they have trouble getting it across. I have had situations where I’ve felt crowded and terrified of contact, where all I can manage to get out of my mouth was “back. BACK!” Unsurprisingly this wasn’t exactly understandable to the worried people who were trying to help me.
The best way of dealing with this problem is to pay close attention to body language. If you try to do something to help someone and they tense up or flinch away then accept this, back off, and try something different. This doesn’t just apply to physical actions. If, for example, you try to cheer someone up by talking about the awesome party they get to go to next week and they seem to tense up in reaction then perhaps take the conversation back a step and try a different approach.
If you know that someone you care about suffers from depression (or, for that matter, any other illness or difficulty) and you are uncertain how best to deal with it; ask them.
They may feel willing to talk about it, they may not, but it’s worth a try and it’s the most surefire method of knowing you’re doing the best thing. Ways of asking can include “If you’re feeling down is there anything I can do for you that might cheer you up?”, “If you’re having an anxiety attack and I offer you a hug will that help or might it make things worse?”, “I found this list of ways to help on the internet, which of these do you think would actually be helpful to you when you’re having a particularly tough time?” Again, pay attention and keep body language in mind. If it seems to cause them to get more agitated or tense then drop the subject or ask them if they’d like to move on to another topic. Even if they were comfortable talking about it when you started it’s easy to become uncomfortable mid-topic and it’s often difficult to speak up about it while in the flow of conversation.
You can also ask during a depressive episode or anxiety attack if you intend on helping but aren’t sure how it will be recieved. (They may not always be able to answer, and in those cases you will have to make your best guess, but if nothing else then the question will have forewarned them as to what you’re likely to do, so it won’t catch them unawares.) I would advise that you keep these questions to short yes or no questions, such as “would you like a hug?”, “Would a cup of tea help”, “would you like me to stay and keep you company?”, “Would you prefer to be left alone for a bit.”
LISTEN TO THE ANSWER! If they say no to a hug then DO NOT HUG THEM ANYWAY! I can’t stress this enough. Doing something without asking because you assumed it would be helpful can be problematic, but asking and doing it anyway is just downright rude. If they say no to anything then the answer is no.
Finally, if you are worried that you may have done something wrong when they were upset or anxious or deeply depressed then try asking about it afterwards. “Was it okay that I did <y>? Did it help or make things worse?” or “Is there anything you’d like me to do differently if that happens again?”
If you are worried about asking too many questions then I’d suggest simply letting them know that they can tell you to “shut the **** up” at any time. This won’t always be possible for them, mind, but it’s a good start. You could also try the seemingly contradictory option of asking “Would you like me to stop asking questions?”
Also, PAY ATTENTION TO BODY LANGUAGE! If they tense up whenever you ask a question then perhaps this isn’t the best approach!
Respect this person. Respect their opinions and their requests and their emotions. Remember:
If someone that you are close to suffers from depression, and you feel that they need medication, and they don’t want to take medication… that’s their choice.
If someone you love suffers from depression and asks that you leave them alone when they’re at their most upset… that’s their choice. You can reassure them that you don’t mind being with them when they’re upset, or you can tell them that you’ll be right outside if they need you at any time, but if they insist that they want to be alone then let them.
If someone you care about suffers from depression and says that they don’t feel that they will ever be happy again, by all means disagree, and tell them that there’ll be amazing highs and silly laughs, but don’t tell them that they don’t feel that way, or that it’s silly to feel that way… that’s not a choice. That’s a fact they have to deal with.
If you want to help a person who is suffering from depression, and you listen to what they say, and you respect their choices and decisions, and you pay attention to their body language… well, it’ll still be a struggle. Depression is shit, and hell to deal with. But you’ll have a firm foundation to set out from and you’ll have made a safe space where they can talk (or not) about what’s bothering them. And when you’re dealing with depression, that’s one hell of a good start.
(Obviously all of these are subject to individual circumstance, just like any other advice. What I’m attempting to do here is to give you a guide to finding out what approach works best with the individual you are trying to help, not to tell you what you ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’ do!)
This is a post to say “Hi everyone, I’m still here! I just don’t have much time to spare right now!”
I started a course at the beginning of the year to help me set up my own business. It’s going great, and life is wonderful, but I’m afraid the blog is having to take a back seat for a while until things are up and running. 😀
Over the past month I’ve had a string of illnesses or depressive episodes or other issues in a lovely polite line, each waiting until the one before is done before politely tapping me on the shoulder and saying “Now what about me?” None of them have been all that serious, but they just haven’t stopped. And now they have. And it’s oh so quiet. And that’s lovely.
The most recent of these has been finally getting my wisdom teeth out. They came up wrong somewhere in the region of five years ago, and I figured they weren’t too bad and just left them be. I have a policy of not messing with my body unless it’s serious. So they just sat there being not-quite-right and I forgave them for it. Eventually, though, I went for a dentists appointment and he commented “Wow, those must be causing you a lot of pain” and I realised that yes, they were. I was just ignoring it because it “wasn’t too bad”. So I got an appointment with a dental surgeon, and after two months of waiting I went in to hospital, was put under general anaesthetic, and had them removed. That was a week ago. I’m now finished the course of painkillers and antibiotics and whatnot and they’re gone. And so is a lot of pain that I hadn’t even realised I had. It’s weird. It’s bizzarre. It’s like there’s something that was in my head that isn’t there anymore. Inside my head is… quiet.
It’s had a knock-on effect on my mood. I guess it has to when you’re suddenly not in pain anymore. Lately I’ve been more able to cope. I’ve been more able to focus. I’ve been more able to relax. I’m still depressed, but I’m not depressed and in pain, and that’s making a huge difference to everything. Yes, I still can’t function without 12 hours sleep out of 24, and I still feel scared at the idea of going to a busy supermarket, all those other problems are still there… but… it’s a bit easier.
So I guess the lesson learned here is not to put up with things that aren’t quite right, or aren’t too bad. It’s easy to think that you’re coping with so much that a little extra stress or pain won’t make difference. It’s easy to think that there’s no point treating something ‘cos you’ll still be depressed so what use will it be. It’s easy to give up on the little bits of happiness because all you can see is the big looming sadness. Don’t do that.
Take care of yourself in every way you can.
Fix everything you can fix. Improve everything you can improve.
Don’t just cope…