Dear Constance…there is a graphic floating around Facebook these days, and it creates quite a few conflicting emotions inside me. Generally speaking, it shows up on pages of people who are known to be compassionate, usually also quite passionate, and also people who are pretty gosh dang strong spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually. They are enthusiastic, with big hearts and even bigger tents, and they do not suffer fools lightly and they do not suffer shirkers at all.
I like that they post the graphic because they are doing what they do best in the action: establishing ally-ship and striving to exhort their fellow human on to better places. It is sort of a reverse litmus test for me, in that it shows me someone who cares enough to reach out…enough to listen…and most likely won’t bail when the going gets tough because they eat tough for breakfast and spit out butt-kicking for lunch.
But the graphic is problematic for me…and I suspect likely is for others as well, who have fought for our lives against that relentless Nazgul crossed with a Balrog called depression. Churchill called it his “black dog”…um, Winnie allus was known for his gift of understatement.
So the graphic itself is at the bottom of the post…scroll down and read it please, or wait til you work your way thru my thinking (your choice)…
Please know that these are my thoughts and conflicts regarding the graphic itself and are in no way, shape, or form any sort of comment on the motive or intention of anyone who posted it. As I said, I know the places I have seen it the context of that person’s online presence is as an ally and friend and nothing else.
First off, it is generally preceded by a line that says something like “I am a therapist, and I have this poster in my office. Apparently it has saved lives so I am posting it here”. Now that is the first thing that I find troubling, because the therapists I have seen wouldn’t have a poster like that in their office, because generally speaking their offices tend toward the neutral or the abstract, because therapy isn’t about the therapist, it’s about the client. And that leads me to believe that the graphic was in fact created by a well meaning person who has given their decidedly normal thoughts about a decidedly abnormal condition…one that is truly not depictable in terms of what it is, how it feels. I have tried for years and never found a way that suffices.
If you don’t suffer from depression, and I don’t mean feeling sad, or going thru a trial, or grieving, I mean depression, then you just do not really know.
Now, in general I don’t like things that are posted and purported to have occurred, even when I might like the story or the outcome…if we need to rely on a fabrication to make our point, then we are using a shortcut to relationship and not being fully authentic…I read of miracles that supposedly happen, or students who supposedly said things to professors, or any number of things like that which get passed off as real and are in fact in urban legend territory.
So to summarize my initial take, the actual poster being in an actual therapist’s office I question…it could be…but wow does it not jibe with my own experience.
Secondly…I would never say something like what is reported to someone who would then call me “somebody”…like people are just coming up right and left and saying something like that so blatantly and clearly.
No…it just isn’t like that. First off there is a huge cloud of shame that overlays a person with true depression. They have been told all their life to “snap out of it”, to “straighten up and fly right”, to “wipe that puss off yer face”… “Laugh and the world laughs with you, weep and you weep alone”… and worse. So you internalize right away that your very existence is transgressive because you feel something that is not okay and you should not feel it and thus it is a self-fulfilling prophecy about how awful you are and depression increases and over and over again.
So that shame itself would preclude such a straightforward statement. No…that reads to me like someone has an opinion and something to say about depression and about their acquaintances who suffer from it.
The cries for help are far more subtle and conflicted, and quite often are hidden…even from the one making them. It is not until after the fact that they are seen as cries for help…and here is the real killer. When I was in the worst of it, I did not think there WAS any help to be had, so I would not waste breath asking for any…it was a deadly f**king duel to the death between me and depression, and it took everything I had to make it to the next minute, and the next and the next…and it is never halftime, it is never the end of a set…it is f-ing triple match point ever g dam second of every quadruple match minute in every hail mary hour of every we need a miracle day.
And this notion of helplessness is introduced by the maker of the graphic…not the person who reportedly made the statement…notice that? Supposedly someone has reported they have severe suicidal ideation and they are asking for a reason not to do it…and from that the word helplessness is entered into the discussion…a straw man that is then whipped on the rest of the way. I won’t even get into the legal aspects of a therapist’s obligation as a mandatory reporter when someone has made such a direct statement of intent.
Helplessness has nothing to do with this. It comes from the imagination of someone outside of the cloud, who imagines what it is like for the one they imagine to care about (I am speaking of the creator of the graphic, not anyone who posts it).
Thirdly…depression is more like mustard gas than it is like Hitler. It is a fog, a smothering force that slips thru your fingers when you seek to wrestle it and defeat it. It doesn’t “beat you up” or call you names…it just chokes you, drains you, takes you captive and enthrall…and after you have breathed it long enough, for all intents and purposes you are those things, ugly…stupid…pathetic…or in my case, you simply think it would be better if you simply had never been. Suicide is tempting but it doesn’t fix anything because then you hurt everyone else around you and it is the utter proof of your failure…so you just hang there like Prometheus, ravens and vultures gnawing away at you…and you suffer…and suffer…and suffer…
Fourth…my tummy hurts when I read the simile of a marine…honestly, I detest that comparison first of all, and secondly the marine has it easy by comparison. The reality is more like this: you are America and you have the might of history’s greatest military at your disposal…and your enemy is immune to every attempt to repel it…without exception. So you would never be like this “Give me a stick. I’m not dying out here.” (Nevermind how this contradicts the beginning place of the person who has ideated suicide to the place of a plan even…)
Here is where I started to get agitated…the assumption that a cry for help is an obligation to the listener to “take pity on you”. And do you see the phraseology in the graphic…the writer says “…makes it sound like I’m supposed to take pity on you.” There is a bit of a combative undercurrent here…a peeved ness that masquerades as exhortation and bucking up someone…it pretends to be a “hail fellow well met” bonhomie and backslapping encouragement…but the back slapping is that too hard by half walloping that the tricky conniving bully gives the lil kid so as not to get caught…and it communicates to me “hmmm…better be more careful to keep my guard up around this person. Mustn’t let them see beneath cus they feel like what I may or may not say creates a “supposed to” for them.
I have never asked for pity…that is a worthless appearance that says more about the giver than who it is offered to. In fact, part of the issue with depression is you never ask anything of anyone! And to have someone think that they know the slightest thing about my insides and that war and then characterize their perception as me asking for pity!!??
And then the last lil part sadly feels like a mini-lecture to me…correcting me in however I might be mischaracterizing things as depression when in truth I am mistaken: my depression is just the manifestation of the will to stay alive.
Wow…it is hard for me to look at the sunny in disposition, the asskickers and asskissers who get thru life with an emotional get out of jail free card…and have them lecture me about the will to survive. It soo reminds me of men who mansplain how “not all men” and privileged people who complain at how hard they have it and see how they overcame so just do like I did and yada yada yada…
and then at the end…after the walloping, having the whole thing said to be someone handing out a stick…rather than hitting me with one.
The end result of this is that I just avoid those sorts of people. They are so far into their own desire to quantify my depression so that they feel better about it that they do not even see the bruises their words have raised.
I have survived it…and I think at last I am coming to some deep places of strength. Suicide rarely crosses my mind these days, after living inside my bone marrow half a century…this is a literal truth: one of my earliest remembered thoughts is that I should not ever have been born, and the fact I was even here was a huge disorder in the universe…and that all would be better if I just had never been…I was about 3 and a half when I thought that.
I used to walk around the house crying and wailing at that age and when asked what was the matter, I just said “It’s the end of the world”…and that story told hundreds of time as pertaining to how overly dramatic I was and overly sensitive and so we need to tease her more and toughen her up (except it was “him” in those days…)
It is beyond my abilities to communicate to you what it is like…but I will be damnified if I would ever even be capable of saying what the graphic purports to be a common communication…let alone undignify myself that much to say something like that…I would be far more likely to say something like in my poetry. But that’s just me. I speak only for me…depression has its own unique horrors for every one of its slaves…and if you are in its grip and still here you deserve something far more than platitudes purporting to be sticks…and by the way? Why sticks? Why not a gun, a knife, a nuclear bomb?
Because to me, as a sufferer of depression, that graphic is actually a mere placeholder for something like that Carl’s Jr advertisement that says “Don’t bother me…I’m eating”.
Centuries ago, a man named Job suffered horribly. He had some friends who came to him…they started off so well. They sat with him over 3 weeks in the ashes without saying a word. But then they went to giving out sticks and the phrase “Job’s comforters” was born.
“So Charissa, what should we do, then?” Well, first of all, whenever you feel a “should”, you should just leave me alone…I am not your mission field. I made it this far without your help, and if you come in the power of should your corn will be mealy anyway.
But if you wanna know “what can I do?” Well…looks straight into the eyes that show compassion and kindness and also some black humor…those are great. Hugs without words are fabulous. A tear in the eye that you let me see. A card. A timely visit or phone call checking in on friendship…a willingness to sit in the blackness together.
And then just follow your heart.
But really…shortcut graphics designed to communicate a priori what is okay and what is not is a bit like dressing in certain fashions to let everyone know how you roll so they don’t bother you while you eat. Take that spark which makes you attracted to the graphic, and refine it, identify it, and feed it with the fuel of true friendship.
As I conclude, I want to emphasize this: I am not judging anyone here! I am showing the insides of me…how I react when I see this graphic and what I think about it in light of my own life. I take all insistences of good faith as exactly what they are. Oh…and if anyone can give me provenance for the poster and therapist, I would happily correct that part of things, my feelings and reactions about it notwithstanding.
Do justice. Love mercy. Walk humbly.