Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Depression and Suicide: Why don't we "just talk to someone"?

Why is it so difficult to talk to people about our problems?

Whenever suicide takes a life, there's a massed chorus on the internet to the tune of 'If only they had spoken to somebody!'. Sometimes, a celebrity suicide causes people to reach out to their loved ones, to check in on them. People tell their depressed friends: 'Call me anytime, day or night!' Maybe sometimes the depressed friend actually even reaches out to talk when it gets bad enough.

Mostly, they don't.

But why not?

I have been volunteering in mental health work for over a decade now. I fight for the acceptance and normalisation of a range of mental health issues -- including my own struggles with autism, depression, anxiety, and ADHD. I tell people all the time to get help, that it's okay to be vulnerable, to call a friend and just get it all out sometimes. I check in on people when I'm worried about them.

Even I don't talk.

The only thing keeping me from being actively suicidal right now is a sheer monumental existential rage at an existence and a brain conspiring against me to cause me to want to kill myself. I refuse to give this universe the satisfaction of getting me to snuff myself out before my time. Some days it's a close thing, though. This is not my story, but my credentials should be sufficiently established for now.

This is my life.

Despite all that, despite knowing all I know, I still struggle to talk about it.

Why do we battle with it so much? What is so gods-damned hard about talking to somebody who has already declared themselves emotionally available to you? Obviously, I can't know all the myriad reasons people have, or rationalise, for why they can't talk to someone. I do feel that I have identified a possibly fundamental underlying motivation, though.

I feel that there is a fundamental mismatch between what a mentally healthy and/or neurotypical person means when they say "Call me anytime you need to talk!", and what a mentally ill person hears. (I shall disregard the 99% of cases where this is not a genuine offer, and focus on the rest.)

To the healthy person, this feels like a genuine offer of support. They hope that the depressed person will reach out to them in their hour of need. From the privileged, blissfully ignorant position of mental wellness, they genuinely think that they're up to the task of providing a mentally ill person with emotional support.

They don't realise that mental illness rears its head at the most inconvenient of times, in every conceivable situation you can imagine. They aren't prepared for the emotional turmoil over a stupid meltdown in the shops because brain fog caused you to forget your bank card. For teary 3 a.m. calls where you're so drained from crying that you can hardly string two words together, but you don't want them to put the phone down because you need to know that one human being in the world still cares enough to listen to you breathe and cry. They are made uncomfortable by the visits to your unholy mess of a house where you're so depressed that you mostly just sit there like a stump not knowing what to say to them but not wanting to be alone either. The only emotion you can still feel is anxiety, and that's got you paranoid that they're only tolerating you out of guilt or obligation or common decency.

Their relatively charmed, mentally-healthy lives have not begun to prepare them for the sheer amount of emotional labour it takes to actually support a depressed person emotionally. They're unable to sustain the energy required to be emotionally supportive; because they haven't had to provide themselves or their loved ones with support on a daily or hourly basis, they have not developed the right mental "musculature" to deal with it. So after a while, you stop hearing from them. They stop responding to messages and don't take your calls.

Now, imagine for a moment that this might have happened to depression sufferers before. More than once. Imagine the effect on a vulnerable depressed person when somebody offers to support you and then, not long after, disappearing from your life. Imagine opening up your most vulnerable parts to people, again and again, only to have them drop you over and over like a bad habit.

Depression already has people believing that they're worthless, that nobody cares about them. Your well-intentioned offer of support could end up reinforcing the feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing in the very person you intended to help!

What does the depressed person hear? What have they learned from years of struggling with mental illness in a world that simply doesn't understand? They hear that you want to help them, sure, and that's admittedly nice to know someone cares in principle. So now we're stuck with a conundrum: Don't accept the offer, and give them the impression that you don't want to open up to them; or take them up on it, and accept that this will most likely cost you yet another friendship.

That's what it comes down to, in the end.

Why do we carry our burdens alone? Why do we carry on and keep going, shoring up our facade with humour and acting normal even as the cancer of depression hollows us out inside? Why do we keep out the people around us who want to help us?

Because we want to keep them around. Because historically, sharing our burdens means even greater loneliness as we alienate friend after friend with our fucked-up emotions. Because we would rather have people around at all than to let them in, only to lose them. Because this has happened to us over and over and over again.

This is not our first rodeo, people. We've been down that road. We know exactly where it ends, and we know that that's not where we want to be.

Why are we afraid to talk about our problems? Because we are afraid of losing our friends. Afraid of being back at Disconnection Town (pop. 1), only with an even bigger pile of depression, anger, self-loathing, abandonment issues, anxiety, and sadness to process than we started out with. I'm sure you can see how that would be an unsustainable long-term strategy for dealing with depression.

I don't know where to go from here, but I have an idea where to start. We need to change how we talk about depression and to depression sufferers. To paraphrase the Matrix, perhaps we've been asking the wrong questions all along.

Think about it. You say to someone "Talk to me anytime!" because to your mind, the question of "What does a depressed person need?" returned the answer "To talk to someone, of course!". Which often helps, and is better than not talking about it, but that's not the point. You're still asking the wrong person for advice on how to support a depressed person. You should be asking them. Next time you're speaking to someone struggling with depression, or someone confesses to you that they're thinking of committing suicide, don't simply give them the standard knee-jerk offer to let them talk to you. Let go of your assumptions, except to assume that they know more about their disorder than you do.

Instead, lead with a question. "What do you need?" or "How can I help?" or "What can I do?" should be a good start. When they answer you, listen. Internalise it. We spend most of our lives being talked over and told what to do to feel better. We have tried all the well-intentioned advice in the world. We're still depressed.

I think a lot of the burnout that leads to healthy people withdrawing from a depressed person's life has to do with a perception that if they do it right, we won't be depressed anymore. When their efforts fail to produce a mentally healthy friend, they give up... because if they expect their help to make us better, and that doesn't happen, they either feel like a failure or believe that the depressed person isn't even trying.

You don't need to fix us. It's pointless and it will drain you dry. We're not broken. We're disconnected. Help us feel like a part of humanity again.

Each day that we're still alive, every single fucking day that we choose to wait just one more day before ending it, is a victory. Every day that we choose to take care of ourselves instead of treating ourselves with abuse and neglect, is a victory. Every time that we feel we can reach out to you is a victory. Help us fight the small battles, win the small victories.

Connect with us. Help us reconnect with humanity.

It might be the last chance you get.

(NOTES: I admit to employing some broad generalisations in this piece in order to make a larger point. I am also not othering anyone with the they/us distinctions in the text; this is simply an attempt to illustrate certain differences and disconnects as clearly and simply as possible. Please bear in mind that I am autistic and struggle to express my feelings at the best of times; especially so when it's an emotional topic for me.)

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Depression and social contract

My struggle with depression looks like this right now... I want to write a post about it, but a big part of me is telling me how cliché and stupid that is. How everybody struggles and they get through it, why can't I?

Fuck that. I'm struggling. You don't have to read this, if you don't want to.

Depression is being unable to get up despite already being awake for hours because you couldn't sleep because you wake up stressed in the night and can't drift off again because your mind wouldn't switch off thinking. Especially about the stuff that's making you feel overwhelmed.

Depression is being unable to give a shit about anything, no feelings at all... And then crying your eyes out at an episode of Doctor Who because it reminded you of some sad thing. And then to go straight back to experiencing no emotional affect at all in myself.

I can't sleep at night. I usually fall asleep okay, but then wake up very early and can't sleep again. I'm very dependent on getting my eight plus hours, and right now I bloody well am not. I have taken two days off work, today being the second, simply to rest and sleep. The phrase "too little, too late" comes to mind. What I need isn't a couple days off, what I need is to change my life.

I can't stay awake in the day. My job has no purpose or meaning. I fell asleep at my desk recently, and got caught at it by my boss. I can't bring myself to care enough about that... I know it's important, but I have too little emotional energy left to care.

I can't go shopping for myself. The sheer amount of decisions needed to navigate a shopping trip is overwhelming to the point where I am extremely glad that I can ask my housemates to pick up stuff from the shop for me. I used to love doing my own shopping, but now what with having to cycle to and navigate the store, and interact with people, I rather just avoid it. Even though my cupboard and fridge are looking pretty fucking barren right now. That's anxiety for you.

And here I'm hiding in my comfy bed from all of that and the rest of the world, because I'm so anxious and depressed and overwhelmed that I struggle to even take basic care of myself. I barely keep myself fed right now. Even brushing my teeth is a major chore. I'm just barely managing to keep up with taking my antidepressant meds.

It's really hard when you're all alone. I mean, I have housemates around and all, but it feels like my life could collapse and nobody would notice. Maybe it's already done so, and nobody did.

I need help.

I feel like I've reached a point where I want to say to (or even advertise for) someone...  be my partner and carer. For, say, six months or a year. Live with me rent free. Help me out with stuff like admin and chores. Be around for the big bad loneliness. Be the real close friend I need right now. Let's see how that goes.

Is that weird? I don't care. It's what I need right now. I'm just trying to be vulnerable and real here.

In short... I feel like I'm sinking and there's no solid ground in sight. I'm alone and scared. There's too much life to live and too little of me.

Somebody drop me a line here.

Tuesday, 23 August 2016

About Comments

Good morning, gentle readers all!

Thank you for the responses to my blog posts, both online and off. They really mean a lot to me. It helps to know that I'm not alone -- that I'm not just talking to myself in a vacuum.

I just have one request though: please, if you leave a comment, could you sign in or do something else to identify yourselves? I would dearly love to know who I'm having a conversation with... Who actually reads this, you know?

That's it for now. I hope today is a brilliant day for you all!

Monday, 22 August 2016

When I get low...

I need to talk to someone. Not about anything specific. I am in such a messed up space that I don't know who to talk to, though...

So I figured out what's possibly the number one reason I struggle to write on my blog. It's the same problem I have with relating to people. I am scared to death of opening up myself to anybody.

That said, I'm trying to be different. To be better than my prior self. And so, without any further ado...

I don't know what's wrong with me. I feel pathetic and lonely and I want -- need -- to talk to somebody, but I am too depressed and anxious and shy to initiate conversation. That little voice telling me I'm a stupid burden is VERY loud tonight. I know I need to say something to someone, but right now I honestly can't process emotion well enough to even figure out who would care enough to chat with me.

Yes, I am experiencing self pity, low self esteem, and sadness. No, it's not voluntary. If I could choose to feel otherwise, I would. I am trying to see past this mountain of fucked up emotions to where I need to be cooking dinner, having a bath, and getting ready for work tomorrow... Instead, I burned my food because I couldn't manage to get up and save it in time, I broke my favourite wooden spoon, and I honestly can't scrape together any enthusiasm for the tepid half-bath which is all our geyser is capable of.

All I want to do right now is lie in bed until I pass out from low blood sugar. Unconsciousness is kind of like sleep, right?

Depression is so fucked up.

If you have the spoons, I sure would appreciate a few kind words.

Saturday, 18 June 2016

On creativity and narcissism

It makes me anxious to put something out there in the world. I lose control of it. It takes on a life and reality of its own. It is as if I both birth and lose a child. Not to mention the anxiety of having to face people who might find this mindspawn and come knocking on your metaphorical or literal door.

It also worried me that most of my ideas feel like they're not creative at all, just mix ups of stereotypes and ideals. Then a part of me went "Well, isn't that about 98% of creativity anyway?".  And I do think I have some thoughts worth writing down, so I'm just going to have to lean into the discomfort and get over the fact that writing is an incredibly narcissistic act. I have spent all of my rational life cultivating a rich inner world, so I might as well share some of it with you.

(Thank you to that friend who told me in your drunken sweary way that I must do this! You know who you are.)

So I might be ranting a lot more here. For now, I'm out. Gotta go paint my nails and go shopping. It's lunchtime and it's still pretty fucking chilly out, so 'twere best done sooner than later. I'll be back...

Monday, 25 January 2016

Stupid avoidant personality bullshit

I am so fucked. I'm freaking out and I don't know what to do. Because our house power (literally!) burned out last night, I was running late for going to the clinic and then my boss called when I was on the bus to the clinic and I panicked and lied to her and she saw me and she knows I lied and I'm probably going to lose my job now and I'm so fucked.

I shouldn't even be posting this here because it's my own stupid fault and my problem and nobody else can deal with this. I just want to run away or end it all so that I can't fuck up any more. I don't know what's going to happen when I get to work later but it's probably going to be horrible and I'm already preparing myself for unemployment. I'm scared.

Monday, 9 March 2015

I don't know where else to turn

I need to talk to somebody about my depression. Right now I can't talk to my wife because a fuck up caused partly by my muddled thinking (due to depression) has caused a big bad fight between us. I can also not talk to my girlfriend because she's already ill and also I can't exactly tell her that I feel suicidal since it's a trigger for her due to her stepfather having committed suicide not even a year ago. I vaguely recall this topic coming up between us before, but right now the act of recalling memories feels much like swimming across the Atlantic if that great ocean was filled with syrup or glue or something. So I don't know how she will react if I bring this up.
Anyway, what is the point of telling anybody else? "I'm depressed and want to kill myself so that I stop hurting the ones I love." What do you say to something like that, anyway? "Oh. Yeah, don't kill yourself. There there, it'll be okay." Whoop de fucking do. I feel better already. <sarcasm mark>
So now I'm sitting on the bathroom floor hiding from everyone so that I don't dehydrate from all the crying.
I don't know who among my friends I can reach out to, either. I'm usually the one supporting then through their troubles, so I have no handle on who could even begin to handle the load of my depression without them cracking up too.
I don't even have any pets I could cuddle to help me feel better. So yeah, now I'm pretty much stuck between a toilet bowl and a black void I want to jump into to escape being me.

Monday, 14 April 2014

On slavery and the Bible

This post grew out of a recent comment thread on a certain social network. Without any ado, hereunder the full text of my final response:

"Yes, let's not cherry pick at slavery alone. There are many better arguments against God and the Bible. Compared to all the other sins we can chalk up on the scoreboard, slavery is a minor point. Let's see now...

Claiming equality because everyone is equally unworthy of grace and forgiveness misses the point. We are all equally worthy of existence because we share an existence on a tiny speck of wet dust in a universe so vast that we cannot comprehend the size of it but for the abstraction of advanced mathematics. That's what makes us brothers, not that none of us are "worthy" in the eyes of a being whose existence is asserted by certain Church-sanctioned ancients. Not to mention that the splinter of crimes against humanity in even the worst type of human's eye is microscopic compared to the astronomical beam, nay, forest in the eye of the being who (by all accounts) ironically arrogates to itself the right to judge everyone else. Israelites are fond of acting like they are have been made to suffer because they are the only ones whose god exists, but fail to address the fact that their "promised land" was obtained on the orders of a supposedly-loving god who ordered them to butcher each and every man, woman and child in a land grab exponentially bigger than anything in their history.

The Bible posits the existence of and supposedly reflects the character of the Judaeo-Christian god. That is still fine, many holy books do likewise with their own notions of a divine being. Unfortunately, the character of the god of the Bible is portrayed as being a deity who is capricious, fickle, cruel, xenophobic, patriarchal, homophobic, misogynistic, genocidal, hypocritical, racist and generally bigoted being guilty of the worst sort of war crimes known to man. If you can genuinely love a god who would condemn you to everlasting damnation and suffering because you fail to believe and jump through certain ritual and spiritual hoops, that speaks much better of you than of said god. If we have any absolute moral responsibility in life, it is not to become like God but to become morally superior to God."


Monday, 3 March 2014

Lost: Packed lunch, and bits of my soul

This morning, I finally had something of a personal breakthrough as pertains taking my writing seriously. I would use all my odd hurry-up-and-wait moments, those instances where one has moments of downtime while scripts or maintenance jobs ran, to input my scribblings and scraps of poetry, prose, insights and ramblings, scattered about my notebooks of the last half-dozen or so years. So I packed every single one of my notebooks, except not into my (full) backpack. Instead, I decided to use  a special lunch bag given me some months before. Some promotional thing, whose chief attraction for purposes of notebook storage was that it was exactly the right size.

You can probably spot where this goes wrong.

I arrived at work and noted its absence, but believed myself to have forgotten it at home. I remember wondering if my lunch would go off for being left outside the fridge.

I looked for it when I got home. My room was still locked. The lunch bag was not there. Neither was it in the rest of the apartment, not even after 27 consecutive searches.

I am seldom given to fanciful language, but I feel as if a chunk of my soul had been ripped out.

Keats or somebody, asked what a poem of his meant, said: "When I wrote that poem, God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows."

My poems are snapshots of moments and mind states gone by. They were written by a different person in a different time and place. Irreproducible and priceless to me, trash to anyone else. Who steals my purse steals trash, but who steals my words robs me of bits of my past. I had all but forgotten how it feels like to be numb yet raw. Hello again....

The bag is a teal-ish promotional item from some garage chain. The notebooks are A5 96-page ruled notebooks in spiral bound and stitched flavours. There's one A6 item with a Winnie the Pooh sticker on the back. If you're reading this and if you use public (road) transport in Cape Town's southern suburbs, and believes you might have found something... please get in touch. A reward is not out of the question. If you can't mail me, please leave a comment below.

Dinner tonight: chocolate covered in chocolatey chocolate sauce. With vodka and grapefruit juice. And a banana. Judge not.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Apology for a birthday wishlist

Those of you that know me, know that I struggle to ask for what I need. The reasons behind that deserve a whole 'nother blag post by their lonesome, so I won't go into that. What is important is that this here piece represents my trying another way. I am going to put my wishes out there, even if I am the only one who ever reads it. Some of it, I can only grant / realise myself. (The rest of you can also peek.) 

If the universe is listening, though, and if it truly matters which words we surround ourselves with:

I do not ask but speak my truth
if I dream true and selflessly
my dreams will soon reality be.

Without overthinking it, here's the list in no particular order:
  • A bicycle, and resultant exercise. Because I need to both get to work and get/stay in shape, because I can't perform impact exercise, and rollerblades aren't practical in Winter.
  • A roof over our heads, come September. We've got to move out and house hunting has been a farce of lazy half-assed work from rental agents, misnamed advertisements (a garden flat on the owner's property is NOT a "Semi-detached house!), and simple bad upkeep. (Protip: Musty smell = asthmatic HELL.)
  • Regular massages. For somebody that's always urging others to make work of this, I've treated myself rather poorly thus far. Touch isn't just fun, it's essential.
  • Less insecurity, more self appreciation. More self discipline hopefully an outcome here. Someone wonderful recently confirmed this for me -- If I believe that I am worthy of love and belonging, and deserve good things, I will work hard to give myself what I want and need.
  • A meditation space. Because right now, my life and environment pretty much completely lacks a tranquil space. I don't need to explain the problem there, do I?
  • A swimming pool to use on a regular basis. Partly for exercise as per above, partly because I am a water baby and going too long without regular full bodily immersion makes me feel sad and disassociated (from myself and reality).
  • A distraction-free writing space. Possibly overlapping with meditation space. My head is overfull of ideas and words that need out. I am unable to not write, and not realising this need in my life is causing major emotional overload.
  • New seeing-eye spectacles. My current pair is over 2 years old now. The constant eye strain and headaches just aren't funny any more. I am seriously considering switching to the blind interface on my work computer, and have already done so on my Droidlet.
  • A publisher. For the steamy romance novel that I'm working on, and its successors. Somebody wrote "What you do when procrastinating is what you should be doing for the rest of your life". Well... suffice it to say that I have nimble fingers and an eloquent tongue.
And that's me for now. Speak soon!