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!
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!)
As long as I can remember I’ve had depression. I remember the oppressive feeling and the inability to focus and the desire to just curl up and cry all the way back to primary school, when as a 7 year old I would sit at the back of the bothán and try to keep myself together.
When I finally went to the doctor he diagnosed me with endogenous depression: a hereditary imbalance of brain chemicals. It made a lot of sense to me. I’ve always know that mum suffered from depression, and that others in my family suffered from it.
My mother died over eleven years ago. She hasn’t been here to help me through the worst of my depression, but knowing that at least she’d dealt with it too was a lot of help, because my mother really did things. She co-authored a book on local history, she was a scout leader, she taught craft classes and joined committees and didn’t let herself become a recluse even though she sometimes commented how easy it would be for her to do that. I’d like to be able to do as much as she did. In my mind, though, I always remembered the mum that went out and beat it, and not the mother who sometimes felt beaten by it.
Recently we came across an old diary of hers, one from over twenty years ago, and suddenly there was a side of her that was everything I’ve been dealing with and feeling shit for thinking. It was more than just a help. It was a huge comfort. I wasn’t alone.
She describes her reactions to the meds: “All I’ve got from it is bad skin and a twitch and a yawn. I can’t really think! I am functioning just as well as I did but still the thoughts come and still I find it hard to go to bed at night.”
She describes her dislike of going to the doctors: “Should I go back to him? I don’t know. […] Mornings don’t suit and I am phobic about going round anyway. What should I do?”
She even has a list of pros and cons of the meds, which are so close to mine that I feel like I’m reading my own posts:
“Improvements: I don’t cry so much… I don’t have bad dreams.
Not improved: I still feel panicky. I still don’t want to go anywhere. My temper hasn’t really improved.”
My sister and boyfriend keep hugging me and asking me if I’m coping okay with this, and maybe it’d make sense for me to be upset by it, but all this tells me is that she was where I am, and she kept going. She raised two awesome kids, did a lot of amazing things, had more friends than could fit in the church for her funeral, and when she did die it was from a brain-haemorrhage, nothing to do with depression. Nothing to do with not being able to cope. And if I can be even the smallest bit like her I’ll be happy with my life.
At the end of the diary entry there is a paragraph that hit me harder than I thought anything could:
“He asked me if I was suicidal? Define it? I’ve chosen my spot but it’s against my religion. Children should not predecease their parents. Am I suicidal?”
This didn’t hit me so hard because my mother felt suicidal, but rather because she didn’t seem to realise that YES, she was suicidal. That it wasn’t just normal to feel this way. That she deserved help and sympathy and not to feel so shit.
So yeah, of all the things that have happened it was this that gave me the push to come back to this blog. Because it’s not fair that some of us feel this way, and it *is* a big deal, with a big influence on our lives, and we deserve to get better; because it’s nice to know I’m not alone; and because I want everyone else out there who suffers from mental illness to understand that too.
We are not alone. We are not weird. We are not failures.
We are strong people, dealing with horrible problems.
We are amazing.
This is an entry that I’ve been meaning to write up for some time. It’s spurred by hearing a large number of people complaining about unreasonable requests. These requests have ranged from huge to tiny. Some of them would put the person to a great amount of trouble, while others would barely take them out of their way. So what determines if a request is reasonable or not? To which I would respond: There is no such thing as an unreasonable request.
This stance generally meets with uncertainty, until I point out that a request is, by nature, something that you can either accept or refuse. If you can’t refuse it it’s not a request, it’s a demand.
In other words, “There is no such thing as an unreasonable request, so long as ‘no’ is accepted as a reasonable response.”
Some requests are clearly people chancing their arm. You can say no. Some requests are people asking more than you can give. You can say no. Some requests are things that might seem reasonable but are difficult for you personally. You can say no. And some requests you can happily accede to. You can also say yes. It’s entirely your choice.
Following on from that I started wondering why some people get so worked up about “unreasonable requests”. Looking at what would make me worked up I came up with the following possibilities:
The request isn’t really a request.
Sometimes what’s claimed to be a request is actually emotional manipulation in disguise. It’s totally fair to be annoyed at these, both because it’s not on to emotionally manipulate people and because it’s claimed to be something it’s not.
The request has been repeated, without further clarification.
Someone requested you do something. You said no. They are now persisting, without offering any new evidence or explanation.
This is no longer a request. It’s turned into a demand. It might be reasonable to be annoyed by this, depending on how justified their demands are. Either way it’s moved on from being a request scenario. (Continued claims at this stage that it’s “just a request” would annoy me!)
You feel obliged to agree.
Sometimes someone to whom you owe a lot makes a request of you. Or maybe even you’re just the type who likes to be accomodating. Either way, the request has been made and it’s something you’re in no way happy to do, but you feel you “should” or “must”.
It’s still fair to be annoyed (hell, it’s *always* fair to be annoyed) but make sure your annoyance is directed to the right place. In this situation you’re annoyed at the fact that you feel you can’t say no. If the person making the request is perfectly okay with you saying no then this isn’t in any way their fault. Feel annoyed if you wish, but don’t direct it at them. In this situation they’ve done nothing wrong!
You just don’t want to do it.
Say no. Remember, that’s always an option! Don’t get annoyed about having to do something if you don’t have to do it.
The request was insulting, offensive, or crude.
I don’t think the issue here is the request. insulting, offensive or crude language is out of line. Insulting, offensive or crude actions are out of line. Insulting, offensive or crude requests are out of line. It’s not that the ‘request’ is unreasonable, it’s that the whole situation is unreasonable! Don’t put up with it.
So yeah, that pretty much sums up my attitude on requests, and is why I’m willing to ask big things of people, or even little things of strangers. If I make a request of you then I expect you to exercise your own judgement and say yes or no as you wish. And if you say yes? Well, I’m going to assume you mean yes.
Do you disagree? Let me know!
Can you think of other situations where people might get annoyed about requests? Let me know!
Just want to share an experience? Feel free 😀
This one’s a little bit all about me. I hope you’ll forgive my introspection, and maybe even that you’ll find it interesting anyway. At the very least it might show others who feel the same that they’re not alone. Just like I know that I’m not alone. Even when I don’t quite believe it.
The other day I had an enjoyable evening out and two close friends walked me to the bus stop afterwards. We stood at the stop and chatted until my bus came into view, then we hugged and I got ready to leave. When the bus finally pulled up I was all ready to go. Except that I wasn’t ready to go. Not at all. I wanted to go back to my friends and hug them again, or stay with them longer, or maybe not leave at all. I was, in fact, pretty scared of leaving. I didn’t want to be alone again.
I almost didn’t share this little story. Not because I was afraid of sharing it, or because I was embarrassed by the reaction, but simply because this is normal life to me. This is what I feel every time I leave a friend’s house. This is what I feel every time we split up to go our seperate ways after a night out. This is what I feel every time I have to go from being with people to being alone. It scares me. It scares me a lot.
When I am in my deepest depression I often have trouble believing in people. If they’re not right there then I can’t be sure they exist, and I can’t rely on ever seeing them again. This is one of the aspects of my depression that causes me the most trouble. It’s always made sense to me that my fear of leaving people comes from the fact that I spend a not-inconsiderable amount of time not believing they exist, and I’m afraid that once I leave them they’ll stop existing again. (or, at least, stop existing for me). However, I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately, and I’m wondering if maybe one or both of the above tendencies are in fact caused by something else.
You see, when I was seventeen I said goodbye to my mother… and it was never meant to be forever.
I’ve never felt comfortable linking my depression to past events. It’s always seemed like a bit of a cop-out somehow, like I’m not willing to look inside myself for the problem so I palm it off on some life event long ago. But the more I think about it the more this particular link makes sense to me. Because there was really nothing special about my last goodbye to my mother. There was no hint or sign that it wasn’t just another routine day. I was working on biology homework (or possibly avoiding working on biology homework, I can’t quite remember), my sister was playing, my father was at work, and my mother went out to the shops quickly to buy something for dinner. She never came back. She suffered a massive brain-haemmorhage in the shops, and the next time I saw her it was clear to me that she was gone, despite the machines that kept her lungs breathing and her heart beating. And I guess I learned, somewhere deep down, that every goodbye could be the last one.
There’s something else I found myself thinking about too, and that’s the fact that it’s seeming to happen a lot more often these days. It’s been over ten years since that day, but I’ve panicked more over goodbyes in the last few years than I ever did before. And here, at least, the conclusion I’ve come to is a positive one. You see, now I have more people that I don’t want to lose. Now it’s not just goodbye to another acquaintance or maybe-friend. Now it’s goodbye to people that really, really matter to me. And while there’s always the assumption that we’ll see each other again soon, there’s also the tiny hidden fear that we might not. And I really want to see you again soon. I really do.
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
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
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.
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 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.
One of the tricks when dealing with depression or anxiety is spotting when things are bothering you. It’s easy to not even notice when things are upsetting you because you’re too busy being upset. It’s also very easy to gloss over it with “it’s just my depression” or some similar glib response, rather than actually digging to find out what set it off.
Once you’ve figured out what makes you uncomfortable, however, the next hurdle is doing something about it. When it’s something like crowded places or certain activities that set you off then you can avoid those situations… but what do you do when it’s behaviour in others that triggers the response? How do you tell someone that something that’s considered perfectly reasonable to 99.9% of the population actually really bothers you?
It’s a tough question, as many people have trouble understanding that simple things can really bother other people, even if they don’t bother them! I’m still working on it myself, but here are some of the tricks that I find help:
– “I” statements work a lot better than “you” statements.
“I’m not comfortable being touched” is more likely to be taken well than “You touching me makes me uncomfortable.”
Many people have insecurities of their own, and it can be easy for them to take “you” statements as criticism, rather than requests.
– Simple statements are often the best way to go with this.
Let people know what’s wrong with you as quickly as possible:
“I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable with so many people gathered around me.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t feel comfortable being touched by people I don’t know well.”
All the time you spend trying to explain is time where you’re still in an uncomfortable situation. Also, if you keep trying to explain after people have got the idea it can seem like you’re making excuses rather than just letting people know.
– If possible take steps to avoid the discomfort while you explain.
Take a step back from someone who’s too close, while explaining that it triggers your anxiety. If you’re still getting flustered while you are trying to explain then you’re less likely to be able to put your point across neatly. There’s also no point in leaving yourself in an uncomfortable situation any longer than necessary.
– Be sure that what you’re asking for won’t cause discomfort to them
It’s one thing to ask someone to take a step back, or to give you some time, or to lower their voice, but if you want something that will require them to go out of their comfort zone then be accepting if they say no. If you’re having a problem and they’re not comfortable with your suggested solution then it’s probably best for both of you to extract yourself from the situation!
That’s not to say you can’t ask, mind you. But be aware that what you’re asking may be a big deal to them.
– If people don’t co-operate with your first request then say it again. But this time firmer.
I would tend to escalate my requests something like this:
“I’m sorry, I’m feeling a little crowded. Could you step back please?” (stepping back a bit myself if possible)
“Please step back.” (In a firmer voice, with maintained eye-contact)
“You’re in my personal space. Step back.” (At this point it is a criticism of them 😛 )
If by the third request they still haven’t responded, or have come closer to you (or in some other way made the situation worse) then it’s time to take yourself out of the situation completely. Leave the room, or in some other way take yourself out of their company. By this stage you’ve made your point clear, and if they’re continuing to upset you then it’s best to avoid them until either you or they or both are thinking more clearly. (Or, in some extreme cases, entirely)
– Have back up.
The more people you tell about your triggers the more likely it is that one of them will step in and explain on your behalf. Or at least speak to the person upsetting you while you extract yourself from the situation and calm down.
– Ask for some time.
Even if the person (or people) in question really don’t get what’s bothering you about their actions they’ll often understand a simple request for some time and space. Proper explanation can be left until later when you’re not reacting to triggers.
It’s easy to feel that you’re being unreasonable, or that you somehow shouldn’t be upset by these things, but the fact is that they ARE upsetting. It can be awkward to bring up the fact that they’re upsetting with others, but I’ve found that most people are really accepting of the fact, and once they know what does and doesn’t bother you they often feel much more comfortable.
Remember, your close friends can often tell when you’re upset and don’t like to upset you, so being told clearly and simply exactly what is upsetting you and how to avoid it can be a huge relief for them as well as for you!