On the Bus

Tags

, ,

I got the bus home tonight. It was the last bus, and on a Saturday too, so it was full of the usual loud, drunk people and tired, cranky people. ¬†Some young lads sat down across the aisle from me and started playing their music at full volume. I find this highly problematic and it soon sets off a twitching fit, low-level at first, but getting more intense since I was also tired and cold, which added to the stress (and it’s stress that triggers my twitching fits.)

I know how this story goes. I’ve been there before. I try to keep my twitching to a minimum, while trying to work up the courage to confront the problem. The people with the music look at me as if I’m killing their day, the other passengers look at me as if I’m mad. Then, just as I’m working up the courage to act anyway:

“Are you okay?”
“The music’s actually causing me a bit of a problem.”
Cue some frantic scrabbling as the young lad with the music tries to turn it off quickly.
“Turn off the song!” as another lad looks concerned.
“It’s okay, he is.” I reassure him, and to the first lad: “I appreciate it.”
Once the music is off they retreat down to the back of the bus, from whence I hear occasional arguments over who gets to listen to the next song, followed by hushed exhortations of “Shh… We’re talking too loud!”

Not only this, but as I go to get off another passenger catches my attention and checks if I’m feeling okay, and if I’ll be alright getting the rest of the way home. Leaving me with a smile and a heartfelt “Stay safe!” as I disembark.

You know, sometimes people can be pretty damn awesome ūüėÄ

Advertisements

Reaching for the ice-cubes

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I was going to start this by saying that I’ve been struggling lately, but then I realised that that would be misleading. I’m always struggling. Sometimes more in one way than another, but there’s always something there. It kinda goes with the territory when you suffer from depression. What I’ve been struggling with specifically lately is an inability to relax at home. Among other things I’ve been unable to focus on my artwork, which makes me feel guilty about wasted time, which makes me anxious and causes me difficulty in focusing. This has been obvious in the resurgence of bad dreams and muscle tension. It’s also visible in the way that I’ve been reaching for the ice cubes more often (although I still rarely give in). The connection between depression and ice cubes probably won’t mean much to people who haven’t encountered it before, so I’ll explain why, and why it’s bad:

I’ve had depression for as long as I can remember, and one of the things that I suffer from and have learned to cope with is a strong tendency towards self-harming. I early on (like, primary school age) learned that anything which would cause serious damage to my body was a stupid idea. I also have a dislike of anything that belongs in my body not being in my body. Since this includes my blood, any form of cutting was out. As such I ended up either causing chinese-burn type pain or slamming my arms/fists/head against solid objects hard enough to cause pain but not enough to cause more than temporary bruising. It was actually this that caused me to first go to a doctor when I mis-calibrated my head-wall-intersection and ended up knocking myself out for a few seconds.

Since then I’ve tried a lot of different ways of coping with my depression, and one of the ones that wasn’t good advice for dealing with depression still helped me to cause less pain for myself in the process. It went like this: “If you tend towards self harm, try to gradually change the form the harm takes. Try to move from cutting yourself to wrapping elastic bands around your wrists and “pinging” them off your skin when you want to hurt. Move from beating yourself off walls to holding ice-cubes. They won’t stop the feelings or the root problem, but at least you’ll cause less damage to yourself in the process.”
I don’t know if that advice was helpful or detrimental in the long run. I don’t know if it was good or bad. I do know that I tried following it, and now when I feel like I want to smash my brains off against a jagged rock somewhere I find myself reaching for the freezer and rooting about for the ice-cubes.

Now, holding an ice-cube may not cause a huge amount of damage, but have you ever tried it? It *hurts*. That’s why I try to avoid giving in. Causing myself pain in response to brain-gremlins and bad thoughts is never going to help me get over these thoughts. It’s never going to help me beat my depression. All it’s going to do is re-inforce the idea that it’s “bad” or “wrong” of me to be upset by these things, and that I somehow deserve pain for it. At best it’s a short-term energy-relieving behaviour, and those aren’t really helpful. But sometimes… sometimes it’s so tempting.

At least now that I’m more aware of my depression and the forms it takes I can notice those moments, and stop myself from taking that path. I can notice my focus being drawn to the freezer, or the fact that I’m mentally checking out nearby walls for head-banging potential, and I can take a step back and think “WHY am I feeling this way? What’s causing it? And what practical steps can I take to make things better or to distance myself from the situation?” or, if it’s obvious that the situation can’t be fixed or avoided “Who can I call who could help, or at least offer emotional support” with a little bit of a wheedling “and wouldn’t a nice hug be so much better than hurting yourself?!”

It’s true you know. Hugs are so much nicer than self-harm. I would fully advise anyone suffering from depression to get a hug right now, or as soon as physically possible. If you don’t like hugs I’d advise a backup plan of a friendly voice and a nice cup of tea.

Safe People

Tags

, , , , , ,

This is one of those posts where I try to explain to non-sufferers some of what seems so obvious to those of us who have to deal with mental illness. Here’s hoping that it’ll help some people to understand even a little better.

Some people who suffer from depression (and other mental illnesses) are lucky enough to have safe people. That is to say, there are certain people around whom they feel secure, and who can calm them down when they get panicked, and who pick them up when they’re feeling down. As someone lucky enough to have many safe people I can safely say that I’ve found nothing else in the world that helps so much as these people do.

This may seem like a straightforward topic: there are people around whom you feel safe. And, for the sufferer, it is. This blog is also aimed towards the friends and families of sufferers, however, and it doesn’t always seems so simple to them. As such there some points I would like to speak about:

Other people are not “unsafe”.
Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a panic attack or a depressive streak it’s easy to slip into a state of mind where the world is a terrifying place. Safe People, for some reason or another, can sometimes pull you back from that state of mind (or at least help you through it). It’s not that other people are unsafe, but that the world on a whole is a scary or difficult place and it takes a specific attitude or set of attributes to break through that. Or time. Sometimes it also takes time. Having safe people doesn’t mean that you’re somehow scared of the other people, just that they aren’t as well equipped to help you right now.

Safe People aren’t always who you expect.
I have many safe people. I have many close friends. These people aren’t always the same. It may seem at a glance that this isn’t important, and that I feel safe with whoever I feel safe with (and I do believe that that’s true) but it’s also important to explain to close friends or family who aren’t my¬†safe people that that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean you’re any less close, or less well thought of. I still have no idea what exactly makes me feel better about having some people around when I’m freaking out. I just know that the company of some people helps me more than others.

It’s hard to define why they’re safe.
If you find that you are or aren’t someone’s safe person and this surprises you then you may want to ask *why* that’s the case. In and of itself there’s nothing wrong with asking, but be aware that it may not be anything that they can put into words, and it may not be something that you could change even if they could. Perhaps for some reason a deep voice reaches them better when they’re upset. Perhaps it’s someone’s patience, or their bubbly attitude, or their friendly jibes. Perhaps it’s a blend of all these things and more. Perhaps it’s just that there have been previous situations where they were around and it turned out okay, so now they’re associated with getting through troubles. I don’t know. They may not either.

You don’t necessarily have to do anything to be a safe person.
I’ve had people ask me if it’s okay for them to consider me one of their safe people. The first time was strange, because I hadn’t thought about it before and didn’t know what was expected of me, or why they were asking. After a while I realised that if they’re asking me then they clearly already feel safe around me, so there wasn’t really anything I had to do other than keep being myself. The people in question just wanted to know that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about them coming to me if they had trouble, so as long as I wasn’t uncomfortable then it was all shiny.

If you’re uncomfortable… say it.
If you feel uncomfortable about anything¬†bring it up with the person in question. This goes as much for being considered a safe person as it does for anything else. It’s okay to clarify what you are and aren’t comfortable with. If you’re okay being there for someone whenever you’re around but worry that you can’t be there all the time, let them know! If you’re okay with being called for help any time during the day but know you’re a total bitch if you’re woken at night, tell them! If someone has approached you about being a safe person for them then they’re most likely trying to build up a good support network, and it’s more useful for them to know exactly when they can count on your help than it is to get well-meaning promises that aren’t practical, or reassurances that you’re uncomfortable about but give because you feel you should.
But…

Be gentle
If someone’s talking to you about their safe people, chances are there’s something they feel unsafe about. Feeling unsafe is a scary thing, and admitting you’re scared and asking for help is really hard. Even if you don’t feel that you can be there for them you can be kind and patient about the way you explain it. They’re probably coping with a lot right now.

And finally…

You’re awesome.
Whether you’re a safe person for someone in need or not, you’re awesome just for reading this far. I see no reason why you’d stick through my ramblings here if you didn’t hope it would help you help others, and that’s pretty darned amazing. Thank you all!

“Shouldn’t”

Tags

, , , , , , , ,

I’ve always believed that words have power. The right
words, in the right situation, can do so much. As can the
wrong words at the wrong time. They’re all we’ve got to
get across to others what’s going on inside our heads,
and it’s up to us to use them right.

The word I’d like to talk about today is “shouldn’t”.
It seems like a pretty innocuous word, doesn’t it? People
use it all the time, and they rarely think much of it.
But it’s a word that has more strength behind it than you
might realise.

Think about it. When someone offhandedly says that you
“shouldn’t do that” what exactly are they saying? What do
they think they’re saying? And what do others take from
it? Of course, these vary from person to person, but I’ve
often found that the person using the word seldom
attaches as much meaning to it as the person hearing it.
When I hear the term “shouldn’t” it seems to me to have
the whole weight of society behind it. It’s not just a
“don’t” which could be that one person’s opinion or
instruction. Instead, it suggests that there’s a whole
system of rules that you’d be breaking if you do this
thing. Perhaps that’s even why the person using the term
doesn’t think as much of it… perhaps by invoking this
nebulous web of rules they’re not as personally involved
in the statement. They’re not telling you not to do it.
They’re just saying you shouldn’t.

Why am I musing about the meaning of words in a blog
about depression? Unsurprisingly, it’s because this
problem with communication came up in my own life fairly
recently. Someone commented (completely without malice)
that people who suffer from social anxiety shouldn’t live
with others. I tried not to take this personally, but it
was a little difficult for me. I suffer from social
anxiety. Did this mean I had no right to live with
others? The response was a shocked “I never said they had
no right to! I just…”
But what did he “just”? What exactly *is* meant when
people say that <X> person “should” or “shouldn’t” do
something?

You see, people are often unaware of their words, and of
how their words are percieved. People often think that
what they mean is obvious, but it’s so easy to drift on
with no idea of just how much the words you say affect
the people around you.

My friend meant that it must be dificult living with
others while also anxious around people. He meant that he
imagined it might be easier for such people to live
alone, and avoid that stress. He didn’t mean to make a
command, or a sweeping statement, but that’s how it came
across. I don’t know about others, but to me the term
“shouldn’t” comes down like the word of God. It’s not
just that someone doesn’t want you to do it, or that it’s
detrimental to you or others, or even that it’s against
the law. It’s just that it’s NOT DONE. You shouldn’t do
it. It’s obvious.
And that hurts when the thing you’re being told you
shouldn’t do is something that everyone else takes for
granted. It hurts to be told that you shouldn’t go to the
supermarket because people who have problems with contact
shouldn’t go to crowded places. It hurts to be told that
you shouldn’t live with others because your depression
will be hard for them to deal with. It hurts to be told
that people shouldn’t have to “pander to you” because
you’re different. It suggests that you’re not like them,
and you should minismise the effect you have on other
(normal) people and hide your differences for fear of
making their lives difficult. And that’s an overreaction
to a simple term, but it’s what I hear, and it’s what I
feel, every time someone tells me that I *shouldn’t* do
something, just because I suffer from depression.

And I suppose, to them, it’s just like telling someone
with brittle bones that they shouldn’t go rock-climbing.
But you know what? If they want to take that risk… let
them. And let me take the risk of going to a festival or
travelling by train, and if I tell you that it’d help me
a lot if you do something to help me through a risk like
that, then help me… or don’t help me… but please,
please, don’t tell me I shouldn’t be doing it. Because
I’m not going to live my life trying not to impact
others. I’m going to live my life doing the most that I
can do, and being the best that I can be, and I hope that
for every person who has to go a little out of their way
to “pander” to my mental illness, there’ll be at least
one who’ll benefit from knowing me as who I am.

“I’m not that bad”

Tags

, , , , , , ,

First off, I want to say that I’m sorry I haven’t posted anything lately. Moods have been up and down, and I’ve had whole weeks where I’ve pretty much withdrawn from the world. This happens. I cope. I just can’t cope with some other things at the same time, so I let them slide. This time my blog was one of those things.

That said, I now want to move on to the topic of this entry, which is the phrase “I’m not that bad.”
I’ve heard it time and time again, in many different situations. I’ve heard it used by people to deny that they’re depressed. I’ve heard it used to re-assure others that nothing’s wrong, even if it is. I’ve heard it used by people to re-assure themselves by comparing to others in worse situations, or who aren’t as good at coping. Those, however, aren’t the situations I want to address today…

My last post was about suicide, and about all the people out there who’ve considered it. I got a lot of responses from people who’d felt that way, but I also got responses from people saying that it made them feel guilty, or like frauds, because they’d “never been that bad”. That’s what I want to address today.

I want to look at this idea. I want to examine it. Then I want to yell “BULLSHIT!” and throw it out a window. Because how you feel and what you deal with doesn’t have to be measured up against anyone else. The fact that someone out there feels suicidal doesn’t make your panic attacks any less relevent. The fact that someone has panic attacks does nothing to relieve the torment of facing yet another day without joy, or sorrow, or anything resembling emotion. The fact that someone out there has a different problem from you doesn’t mean that your problem doesn’t matter too!

Now don’t get me wrong, there are some places where it’s important to take into account that other people have worse (or different) problems to you. One such situation is when you’re actually talking to the person in question. I generally find, for example, that complaining about my bruises to someone with a broken arm isn’t the best idea. Sympathising with them, and complaining about my bruises later with someone else is often a far better course of action. Another example would be where choices have to be made. Perhaps someone who offers you support has too heavy a load at the moment, and has to choose between being there for you and being elsewhere for a more severely depressed person. In that situation “I’m not that bad” can be a reasonable and helpful comment. (So long as it’s actually the truth, of course, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The important thing about the above situations, however, is that none of them involve you not getting help or sympathy. At their most severe they involve you understanding situations and looking elsewhere for support. And it’s important that you do that.¬†It can be easy for “I’m not that bad” to morph into “I’m not worth the support” and that’s where it gets dangerous. That’s the crack that lets the brain gremlins get in, and once they’re in… well, you know what jerks they can be!

So when you next find yourself thinking “I’m not that bad” stop for a moment and think about what you mean by it. There’s nothing wrong with taking comfort in the fact that things are not as bad as they could be, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling sympathy for those who have it worse, but when you stray into thinking that your own illness deserves to be dismissed because “it’s not bad enough” then you’ve hit a problem. Because if it’s bothering you then it deserves to be dealt with. You deserve to be happy. You deserve to be helped. And you deserve to be well.

Thoughts of Suicide

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

WARNING! This post may contain triggers.

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Hello. My name is Aoife Brown, and today I did not kill myself.

I suppose it’s a lot like other days, in that way. I mean, a lot of other people went through today without killing themselves too.
I could go on a nice little speech about how hopeless I felt, and how useless everything seemed, and how, even though I knew it wasn’t true, I still couldn’t believe that there was anything in me worthwhile enough for me to deserve another day on this planet. I could try to make you understand the intense crushing despair of it all. The feeling that no matter how hard you try you will never be good enough to deserve anything. The conviction that deep down all of this despair is due to an internal fault in you¬†and is so somehow “your fault”. I could even try to explain how everything bad in the world is somehow your fault¬†too. As if you could have fixed it all but you didn’t bother. The world is crap because you are lazy, and need to do better, and should have worked harder…
I could try to explain all of this to *you*, my reader, but the truth is that I don’t understand any of it myself so it would probably be a wasted exercise. Instead, I’m going to focus on something else:

Today, I did not kill myself.
I suppose I’m like a lot of other people that way.
But the question I’m asking myself is, how many other people didn’t kill themselves today?
Not the people who didn’t think of it, but the ones who really, truly, made an effort not to kill themselves?
How many people felt like it was the only way that they could stop feeling this horrible feeling that follows them day after day… and didn’t do it?
And how many of *them* does anybody know about?
How many of them did the same thing yesterday, and the day before… last week… last year…
How many of them hide it from everyone in their lives, and put on a brave face, and go back out there and try again. Day after day. Like me.

Because, you see, today I didn’t kill myself. And it isn’t the first time. And every time I put the smile back on, and pull myself together, and brush it all under the carpet. Because it wasn’t fair. It wasn’t fair of me to even consider suicide. It wasn’t fair of me to look for a way out. I’m the way I am, and I need to deal with it.
Sometimes I try to leave hints that I’m having difficulty coping. I say things I hope people will pick up on, or announce that I’m feeling “really pretty bad” as if that’ll somehow give it away. And then I cop onto myself and cover up any hints and re-assure everyone, because it wouldn’t be fair of me to worry people. Well I’m sorry people, but I’m not going to worry about what you worry about any more. If you’re worried that I’m in a bad state then I’m going to say “Thank you for your concern. I appreciate it.” and I’m going to keep on going. Because I *am* in a bad state. And I *do* appreciate that people care enough to care.

Today, I’m not going to put the smile back on straight away. And by Gods, that’s hard. I feel embarassed about how I feel… how I felt. I feel like I don’t want people to know. I feel like I should delete every reference to it, and act like it never happened. I feel like I was weak even to consider it, and that talking about it is only going to put the people I care about through even more hardship. I feel like even bringing it up is me “being a drama queen” or “looking for attention”. But I’m not going to listen to those brain gremlins right now. I’m going to ignore what they’re saying, and say something of my own:

I know how to get attention. I could get all the attention I want with far less effort and guilt in other ways.
I know what makes people upset. And one of those things is people they care about hiding things from them instead of letting them help.
I know what weakness is, and TRUST ME: If you feel the same desperation that I do then YOU ARE NOT WEAK! No one could get as far as this if they were weak. No one could have coped this long. If you’re depressed enough that suicide seems so tempting, and if you haven’t gone crying to everyone who’d listen long ago and begged them to please, please, PLEASE, make this feeling go away. If you’ve been strong this long… then weakness has nothing to do with it.

No-one deserves to feel this way. It is not normal. It is not “just part of being human”. It’s something horrible, and if you feel this way then you have EVERY RIGHT to be upset and miserable and scared. It’s not something to feel guilty about. It’s not something that you should have to hide. It’s a perfectly reasonable reaction, to a completely unreasonable feeling.

Today, I didn’t kill myself. And I’m going to celebrate. Because it’s a big deal, and I deserve it. I’m going to get myself a pizza, and pour myself a drink, and raise a toast to all the people who did and say “I’m so, so, sorry that you ever had to deal with this. And I am so, so proud of you for getting as far as you did.” And I’m going to raise a toast to all those people who’ve made it one more day and say “I’m glad. Good luck. And I hope to toast you all again tomorrow.” And I’m going to raise a toast to all those people who have no idea what it could ever feel like, and I’m going to say “I hope you never do. But thank you so much for trying to understand me anyway.”
And most importantly, I’m going to raise a toast to me, and say “Go you! You did good.”

Attishoo, attishoo, it all falls down

Tags

, , , , , , , , ,

One of the aspects of depression that is both a blessing and a curse is impermenence. When the depression is heavy on you, and you can see neither joy nor hope, then it’s helpful to think “This too, shall pass”. It’s comforting to have the knowledge that it won’t last forever, and that if you can just hold on a little longer you can push through it and reclaim your life.
When you’re feeling good, however, it’s not such a nice feeling.

One of the things I hate most about depression is the constant nagging fear at the back of your mind that at any moment you might descend into that horrible, heavy darkness. Even when the sun is bright and the birds are singing and you can see so clearly how beautiful and right and perfect the world is… you know that at any moment that might be ripped away from you. It’s a terrifying thought.

I’ve learned so many coping strategies. Little routines that make my life easier. I’ve learned that I have friends I can trust; whatever, whenever. All of these things make the crashes less likely, the highs more stable, the lows shorter and easier to deal with, but they don’t take away the fear. There’s something chilling about knowing the danger is in your own mind. For me, the greatest fear comes from the fact that all those things I know now (how to cope, what to do, even the mere fact that my friends care about me) I may not know later. It’s hard to prepare for something when you know that you won’t be able to think clearly when it happens. And I know I won’t be able to think clearly. I know I won’t be able to believe in things that are solid facts. I know I won’t be able to hope or imagine things being better. And I know that sooner or later, whatever I do to stop it, it’s going to happen again. Sometimes an emotional upset will trigger it. Sometimes an illness (even something as simple as the common cold) will take away my ability to cope. Sometimes it just happens, and I may never even know why.

That knowledge doesn’t just scare me. It also interferes with my life. I find it difficult to commit to things. It’s hard to feel comfortable making friends. How can you make friends with the proviso that there might come a time when you stop believing that they even so much as give a damn about you? It’s hard to work. How do you accept commissions when you know that at any moment you might be overcome with a complete inability to do any work on them? That you might, suddenly, inexplicably, become so terrified of dealing with the outside world that the mere thought of opening your email sends you into a fit? It’s hard to think ahead. How do you make plans when you know full well that although you can cope with something *now* you may not be able to cope with it when it comes up?

To which, of course, the answer is that you feel the fear, and do it anyway. Like anything else in your life there are times when you just have to gather your courage and steel your will and forge on through. But that doesn’t make it less scary. It’s still so damn scary.

These days I’m getting better at dealing with life. Learning to cope makes it easier to commit to things, and committing to things makes it easier to cope. It’s a lovely spiral that helps lift me that bit higher. These days it takes a lot to jolt me back down into utter misery. But the potential is still there, and still needs to be faced.

I know what’s wrong

Tags

, , , , , , ,

I spend a lot of time trying to figure out exactly why I feel and think like I do. One of the main purposes of this blog is to help others to understand why they’re feeling the way they are too. There’s a lot to be said for figuring out what’s upsetting you, or triggering you, or wearing you down… and then changing it.
Sometimes, however, you can’t change it.
Sometimes you’ve done the best you can do and it’s still affected you negatively.
Sometimes the only thing that can help is time.

I’ve had one of those moments lately. I mentioned a problem housemate in my last entry. He caused me a lot of mental and emotional problems. I won’t even say that he triggered emotional problems, because it was a severe enough situation that I would have had issues even if I’d been the paragon of mental health to begin with. He scared me, and the situation shook me badly.
Now the situation is resolved. He’s been evicted, and he hasn’t re-appeared since. It’s over. But I’m still shaken. And there’s this bit in my brain that says “But you know what’s wrong! You know it’s sorted. You know he’s gone. You know you’re safe. So why are you still upset?” No matter what I do I can’t shake that voice. It’s in league with the brain-gremlins. It’s trying to convince me that once I’ve analysed the situation and figured it out I should suddenly be okay. It’s accusing me of overreacting/wallowing because I can’t just get over this. It’s wrong.

So this is a reminder, to me, to you, to everyone out there who needs reminding:
Just because you know what’s upset you, that doesn’t mean you should be able to move on.
Just because something that shook you deeply is over, that doesn’t mean you should be fine.
Just because you understand something, that doesn’t make it go away.

You need to get to understand your depression to learn how to cope with it. It’s hugely helpful, and you won’t regret it, but understanding is just one step. Another one is acceptance: Accepting that this illness does affect you, and that it’s not because you’re “weak” or “a failure” but because you’re human, and that’s how the human brain works.

Looking Good

Tags

, , , , ,

I am confident that I look good as a person. I have my little things that I worry about, like spots, or the fact that you can see my ribs if I wear a low neckline, but in general I’m comfortable that I’m good-looking.

This is not, however, the same thing as being comfortable looking good. In fact, I used to avoid looking good. I’d constantly dress down, avoid make-up, wear baggy clothes that hide my body-shape, and pull my hair back in a ponytail rather than do anything fancy with it.
If you asked me why I did this I’d probably tell you that I was happy with the way I look. Or I might tell you that I didn’t want the effort of getting dressed up every day. Or perhaps I’d say that I relished the surprised looks when I did get all dressed up. I’m sure that for many people these are true statements, but for me they’ve always been lies.

When I started dealing with my depression I read a lot of suggestions that getting up and making yourself look good every day could make a huge difference and, because I like to try things at least once before I dismiss them, I gave it a go. It did make a huge difference. Just dressing confident and standing confident gave a lot more force to the bit of me that was *acting* confident. It reduced a lot of my anxiety in social situations not to have to worry about both (to my mind) looking inadequate *and* feeling inadequate. And putting on my good clothes and makeup just for a day around the house re-inforced the fact that I was doing all this for me, and not for any judgmental people out there whose opinions I didn’t care about.

Gradually my wardrobe has improved, and the outfits that were kept aside for special occasions are now regular wear. And I love it. It makes me feel good and happy in myself, and when people comment on it, well, it’s always good to get outside re-inforcement of how awesome you are!

So why do I bring this up now?
I bring this up because I recently had a reminder of what I was afraid of, back before I took care of how I looked. I had someone express interest in me.* After I turned him down he continued lavishing compliments on me, in quite a creepy and judgemental way (including such comments as “Your ass looks great in those jeans, but I’m really not sure about the hoodie.”), and spoke and acted in ways that made me deeply uncomfortable (including the complete no-no of entering my bedroom uninvited and then making a rape joke).

My first course of action would be to state outright that this was bothering me. I did so. It didn’t work. No matter how I tried I was met by an impenetrable wall of “But I don’t see anything wrong with it!”

My second would be to avoid the situation, but due to circumstances that wasn’t an option. (He was renting a room in the house I live in.)

My third solution was to deal with any incidents as they arose and remind myself that how I look is my own business, and that I am my own person, and that if anything happened I could cope… and there I faltered badly.
I began to fall back into old patterns of thinking. I dressed down in order to avoid attention. I retreated to my safe places and allowed discomfort to stop me from doing what I wanted, in case he was there. In one case I even heard him coming and removed the necklace I was wearing because I couldn’t cope with him complimenting it. I stopped looking good. I stopped looking good because of what someone else thought of me.
Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it was the worst decision in the situation. I was feeling under threat so I acted to make myself feel less threatened. I’m in no way unhappy about doing that. But it did drive home to me why I’ve always avoided looking good. It drove home to me why sometimes I’m scared to dress beautifully. Because if you look “too good” some people will want you. And there are some people out there who, if they want you, will try and take you. And that scares me.

Eventually I took a fourth course of action: I called in the troops. I rang people in my support network, and I let them know that this wasn’t just a little problem, but something that I *really needed* backup on. And they came through for me, big time.
My landlord was supportive and told the guy he’d have to start looking for a new place. My friends came around to the house so I wouldn’t be alone with him. They invited me out to movies to distract me. They reminded me that feeling scared and helpless in my own house was neither normal nor okay, and that I had every right to act to stop it.

Once it was over, I kept reaching for the baggy clothes and the worn jeans. I kept feeling scared and not wanting to somehow attract another situation like that. But I won’t give in to the fear this time, because I’m going to look good and there’s not a damn thing anyone can do to stop me. I’m doing it because I don’t want to be the mouse that hides in her room. I don’t want to be the meek one who isn’t sure if she has any right to ask someone to stop making creepy comments and jokes. I want to be a person, like everyone else. I want to be ME.

 
*For ease of writing I’m going to refer to this person as “he” but it’s really irrelevent what gender they were.

I beat my depression. All I had to do was…

Tags

, , , , ,

I know many people who suffer from depression and one of the bugbears we all share is the strangers who tell us that they had depression, just like us, but they beat it by using one simple trick.
Getting more excercise is the most common one that I’ve found, but eating healthily, cutting out sugar/wheat/dairy, getting more sunlight, etc. all crop up at some stage too. I’ve even had someone tell me in complete seriousness that I wouldn’t be depressed if I did something artistic*.

It’s often hard to know how to react to those people. Personally I tend to smile and nod, and occasionally make comments such as “Of course, it’s not always so straightforward is it?” to remind them that there are many types of people, many types of depression, and many types of cure. I tend to approach these people as I do well-meaning non-sufferers. They want to help. They’re doing the best they can. They’ve found something that helps them to feel better, and they want to share it with the world!

One important thing to consider when dealing with such people is how much it matters to you. Is it vital that you correct their mistaken assumption? Can you smile, nod, and move on without it damaging your own self esteem or coping ability? Are you likely to do yourself more harm by engaging them and ending up in an argument? If it’s someone you’re hoping to get to know better then it’s a good idea to let them know that you find such comments upsetting, but if it’s just a stranger on the bus it might be better for you to let it slide.

If you do decide to respond, can you do so without simply saying “you’re wrong”? I generally go with statements like “I’ve tried that approach and it didn’t work for me. I’m trying to find something more effective for my particular case” or “Sadly I don’t find it quite so simple, but I’m glad it worked for you”. People who react negatively to criticism are often more willing to accept an alternate viewpoint if you don’t start off by denying theirs.

Also, consider whether you’re just getting cranky ‘cos you’re annoyed that someone who doesn’t know what you’re going through thinks they can fix your problems. It’s a reasonable emotional reaction, but probably not the best basis for discussion. Especially as these people have at least some first-hand experience with depression.
I know it can be easy to assume that these people “didn’t have real depression” or “don’t actually know what it’s like” but I’d like to challenge that assumption:

Firstly, even people with a less severe form of depression suffer a lot from it, and while techniques which help clear theirs up entirely may not cure yours, it’s generally still good advice and well meant.

Secondly, many forms of depression are situational, or triggered by very specific conditions. These types may well be fixeable by techniques that in other cases only help the sufferer to cope a little better. That does not mean that these depressive periods aren’t just as deep and harsh and miserable as what long-term sufferers go through. The severity of what someone has gone through isn’t lessened by the fact that they managed to deal with it!

And finally, and more personally: I have beaten my depression. All I had to do was believe in myself, build my self-confidence, and learn to trust my friends to be there for me when I need it. If anyone suffers from depression then all they have to do is to read the advice I’ve given and have faith in a new and happier day!
Of course, I know this isn’t true. I know I’m still a sufferer. I know that soon the dark fog will come back, and the brain-gremlins will pipe up, and I’ll lose the happy sense of confidence that comes with the upswing. I’ve even read back over past moods to remind myself that I’ve had phases like this in the past, and that while it’s good to ride the high while it lasts, remembering that it’s just a high can avoid a lot of disapointment when the crash comes back.

So those strangers who tell you how easy it is to beat your depression? Maybe they don’t know what they’re talking about. Maybe they do. Maybe they’re trying to cling onto that feeling that they’re cured for just a few hours more.
I know how annoying it can be to be faced with statements like that, and how deflating it can feel having it implied that there’s an easy answer and you’re just not trying hard enough, and I’m not for one moment telling you that they’re right. I’m just saying that when you tell them it’s not so easy, do it kindly. Treat them gently. They generally just want to help.
*If you’re wondering why I scoffed at this one then check out my deviantART page: http://adreanna.deviantart.com/
Now I’ll admit that art helps me hugely, but it’s by no means an insta-cure! (Well, either that or my depression is worse than I thought and I need to do EVEN MOAR ART!!)