Tag Archives: mental illness

Involuntary hospitalization, a response

I was perusing youtube, as I do sometimes, and stumbled across a video in which a psychiatrist talks about his approach to involuntary hospitalization, and makes some generalities about how the mental health profession approaches involuntary hospitalization as a whole. 

To put it briefly, he claims that involuntary hospitalization is only used in extremely dire cases of suicidality. Cases where the patient has immediate risk, and it looks probable that things will change in a week so it’s really a matter of getting them through that week.

And I have FEELINGS about this. Strong enough FEELINGS that I want to write about it. Now, I am going to go ahead and assume that everything this psychiatrist said is totally true for him – but it is very much NOT true for the mental health profession as a whole. 

So I’m going to go ahead and talk some about my history. I have been involuntarily hospitalized three times in my life. One of those times was honestly justified, the other two were not. None of them actually helped me. 

The first time was when I was in middle school, and I didn’t yet have any real concept of needing to hide suicidal thoughts if someone directly asked about them. I was in a special ed program due to being “emotionally disturbed” and one day my special ed teacher sat me and another student down to just have a casual conversation with us. At some point in the conversation, the teacher oh-so-casually asked us if we had ever thought about suicide. We both answered in the affirmative. Then she asked if we’d ever thought about how we would accomplish it. The other student looked a little surprised at the idea and said that she had not. I, being entirely too naive, said that I had and happily launched into an extensive explanation of all the ways I had considered of how to unalive myself and the reasons I had rejected each possibility or kept it as an actual possibility.

Now, I can certainly see this freaking the teacher out. It’s probably alarming to hear! I could definitely see recommending therapy or something in response. To be clear – I didn’t have anything resembling a plan or any kind of intent to act on it, just thoughts that, while alarming, were not immediately dangerous. In any case, maybe a day later I found myself in a hospital for “suicidal thoughts.” 

The second time was in high school. This time I really had tried to unalive myself, so it’s hardly surprising that after my ER visit I was whisked off to a psychiatric hospital for a while there.

The third time was in college. I was depressed and self-injuring (which was nothing new, I had been doing that since elementary school). That was apparently enough to wind up locked away yet again

I consider myself extremely fortunate that none of my experiences caused me significant trauma. There are many people out there who are not so lucky. I still had to deal with doctors and nurses who openly did not care about the patients, some who even had open contempt for their patients, hearing care providers loudly mock me from just past an open door, plus the overall dehumanization that seems to be part and parcel of psychiatric hospitals. 

While I can see how one of my hospital stays was justified, absolutely none of them actually did me any good. They taught me better ways to hide my pain, the importance of not actually telling people when I’m not ok, and that there are limits to how much I can trust the people who are supposed to be taking care of me. 

I am in therapy now. I am genuinely happy with my therapy and I like my therapist. But I will never, ever tell him if I’m suicidal or pondering being unalive. I have actually thought about how nice it would be if I could ask for help when I’m feeling like that, but the reality is that it’s not worth the risk. Because I will NEVER go to a psychiatric hospital ever again. I am so serious about that. Never ever ever. 

When a mental health professional says that they only consider involuntary hospitalization in the most extreme of circumstances, the primary thing I hear is that they consider involuntary hospitalization sometimes. They consider it a valid tool and they will sometimes use it. Which means that when it comes to suicidality, I will continue to go it alone. This is even more true now that I am transitioning, as I would definitely not call psychiatric hospitals to be safe for trans people.

The comments section of the video has quite a few people with experiences similar to or worse than mine. I am clearly not alone here. And I’m saddened to see that the youtuber did not appear to respond to any of those comments. This is clearly a serious issue that mental health professionals NEED to address.

I do want to add a final note that while all of this is my truth and extremely serious for me, I do know that there are also people out there who have benefitted from psychiatric hospitalization. Their truth is theirs, and I don’t intend to invalidate it. Nor am I trying to influence anyone on what is right for them. Only to say what is right for me, and to point out that regardless of what is right for any given individual, there is clearly a systemic problem going on and it needs to be addressed.

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Filed under issue, opinion

“If you know you’re crazy, you aren’t”

I’ve heard that line a lot in my life. I grew up with it, I’ve heard it from all sides. When I questioned it, I learned that there are a lot of people out there who take that idea very seriously, and consider it some sort of absolute truth.

If you haven’t guessed already, I disagree.

Of course, a lot of this is about how you choose to define “crazy.” This is YET ANOTHER strange, nebulous term that’s difficult to pin down. There are so many.

See, I think a lot of people see crazy as some sort of absolute. You’re either *all the way* crazy and every tiny bit of sanity is utterly gone, or you’re sane. It’s one or the other, there are no in-betweens. I do not see it that way at all. Not one little bit.

So first of all, what is “crazy” anyway? The dictionary mentioned “insane” and “mentally deranged.” “Insane” is basically “not sane.” “Mentally deranged” is a little more interesting. It sounds really ominous (at least, it does to me), but then when I do to “deranged” it simply means “disordered, disarranged.” So crazy means being, in some way, not sane, or having some sort of mental disorder.

Now, “crazy” is definitely a word with some baggage on it (and by “some” I mean “a whole lot”). So I get that some people think they are being nice by trying to say that I’m not crazy, but actually they are totally invalidating me. See, I, along with a number of others dealing with mental health issues, want to reclaim this word. Crazy is a thing I get to call myself.

As for why… well, let’s look at depression. Depression lies. It lies really loudly. It lies with all the wit and intelligence you have, and will turn your own brain against you. My depression tells me that I’m worthless, that I’m horrible, that everyone hates me, that everything I do is pointless, that I’m a failure, and on and on and on. When I am seeing the world and myself through said depression, I am not seeing an accurate representation of reality. I am instead seeing the lies that depression is telling me. When my connection to reality gets damaged like that, I am crazy – I am not sane.

Now, I did once ask for an explanation of why we can’t be crazy if we know we’re crazy. The answer was “well if you know you’re crazy, you’ll stop.” This is just… I think it’s a really common thing people believe about mental illness, but that’s really not the way it works. REALLY REALLY REALLY. Changing a behavior, even if it’s really really obvious that the behavior is a problem, is actually incredibly hard. It’s why there’s a special branch of therapy all about changing behaviors. Changing thoughts is even more difficult. It takes work and focus and dedication to make even small changes to disordered thinking.

It is entirely possible for me to know that I am depressed and know that I am not seeing the world as it really is. That knowledge does not magically make the depression go away, nor does it magically make me see the world the way it really is. The knowledge does not fix mental illness anymore than knowledge that one’s leg is broken fixes the leg. All it does is let you know what you need help with. Once you know your leg is broken, you can go to a hospital, get it set and put in a cast, and then heal over time. If you don’t, your leg will certainly heal wrong, and if you don’t take good care of yourself during the healing process, that will also cause you problems. And with the broken leg being all out there, obviously broken, there’s a high probability that friends or family will help you if you need it.

Mental illness similarly needs help. You can’t just say “oh, I’m going to be better now” and have it happen. You need to see a professional. You need to get treatment. You need to take care of yourself. The fact that the problem is contained within your skull absolutely does not change this! If anything, help is even harder to get. People will tell you that you should be able to just get better on your own. People will calls medications a “crutch” (as though a crutch is a bad thing. aren’t crutches good when we have a broken leg?). Depression will tell you that you aren’t worth helping. Mania will tell you that you don’t need help. Anxiety will tell you that help is too scary. And seriously, when the lies are coming from inside your own head, they are really hard to ignore.

So basically – yes, you can know you’re crazy and have it be true. The basic knowledge that something is wrong does not suddenly make it better. So people, please stop saying this. It’s not really helping.


Filed under that's not helping

Depression is a deadly illness

As I am sure everyone knows by now, Robin Williams died from depression yesterday. The internet is abuzz. I feel some need to contribute, but everyone is so articulate already, but by the time I would have the words to be articulate myself everyone will have moved on to the next thing. So I am going to try to say something, even though I don’t have the words yet.

I have thoughts. Thoughts about how depression is a deadly illness that we need to take seriously.

Thoughts about how I am heartened and surprised by the outpouring of compassion I am seeing, when I am so used to seeing the opposite when it comes to dying of depression.

Thoughts about the problems inherent in our “battle” metaphor of illness, and how those problems can be really thrown into sharp relief when it comes to mental illness, depression, and dying of depression.

Which leads into thoughts about the words I don’t want to use, like “losing his battle with depression.” The metaphor is all wrong, but I can’t articulate it yet.

Thoughts about death and grief and the nature of loss, and how public loss and private loss are different but not really.

Plus a smattering of frustration that it really does take me a while to find the proper words to express my thoughts, and everyone else seems so much faster than I am.

Maybe some of these thoughts will turn into blog posts eventually, who knows. Right now, this is the best I can do.


Filed under issue

I feel kind of defensive about this

When I see people talking about positive traits in other people, “ambition” tends to rate really highly. We’re all supposed to have ambition, and lack of ambition is seen as a personality flaw.

Of course, “ambition” always seems to be short for “career ambition.” It seems we’re all supposed to have a goal to advance in our career in some way, and if we don’t there’s something wrong with you. Something *bad* about you.

I don’t know, maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe it’s just me being twitchy and defensive, because this is an area in which I do not, at all, fit into how society tells us we are supposed to be. It’s an area that gets me judgement when people learn about it. If I’m lucky, all I’ll get is a “look.” If I’m not so lucky, I get grilled about what I’m doing instead and why I don’t have a job. I rarely want to tell these people that I’m on the autism spectrum or my history with mental illness that has kept me out of work, so it can get really uncomfortable and awkward. I mean, this is why I do not want people to ask me about work as an ice breaker.

So it’s true that I don’t have career ambition. I mean, I don’t have any career. Nor is getting a job anywhere on my short-term goals list (it’s a possibility down the line, but right now? unless something magically falls into my lap, it’s not going to happen). I don’t think this makes me bad. Nor do I think it’s cool to make “ambition” only be about careers.

Sometimes I see people who have greater struggles than I do redefine independence. Instead of independence being about not needing help, independence should be about freedom of choice. Sometimes people need help – that doesn’t mean we should be denying them the ability to have determination over their own lives.

I suppose it may be a lesser issue, but I want to do something similar with ambition. I don’t lack goals, my goals just have nothing to do with my nonexistent career. I am actively working to improve myself in all sorts of ways, and I always am. I have goals about getting more mobile, about finding more ways to contribute to my household, about volunteering at the barn where I ride, about the various crafting things I always have going on, about my writing… Honestly, you don’t get to tell me that none of that counts as ambition. Sure, it doesn’t look “normal.” Sure, things that are “just hobbies” for other people are serious business for me. Sure, I’m struggling with things most people have down by the time they’re my age. That’s kinda how it goes with me.

But it doesn’t mean I’m less than you. It doesn’t mean I’m a lazy layabout. It doesn’t mean I’m not ambitious. It just means I’m not like you, and that’s ok.



Filed under ability

More on intersections

Ages ago someone found my blog because they ran a search for “do I benefit from white privilege if I’m autistic.” I wound up noting it down in my blog topics list to get to eventually. Apparently “eventually” has arrived.

Talking about privilege is tough. I’m not good at it  – I hope to be at least somewhat better eventually, but I’m not there yet. But then, I won’t get better at talking about privilege until I actually start talking about privilege, so there you go.

To get straight to be point, before I go off on a ramble – the answer to this question is an unequivocal yes. Yes, white privilege applies when one is autistic and white. Male privilege applies when one is autistic and male. That special combination of straight, white, male privilege exists for straight, white, male autistics. Autistic people of color face an icky combination of discrimination and prejudice that white autistics do not.

Increasingly I think that privilege and oppression really needs to be talked about as an intersectional thing – when the intersections are ignored, the conversation becomes pretty much worthless. Autism sits right at the intersection of disability and mental illness. There are many ways in which this is not a nice place to be. I mean, disability is barely, if at all, seen as a social justice issue. People don’t even bat an eye when disabled people have to go down alleys, use service elevators or that sort of thing to use the the buildings all the rest of us use without even thinking about it. If you bring it up, most people will not think about it in terms of discrimination. Sure, “your entrance is in the rear” is bad for most people, but disabled people? Apparently that’s ok. Or you’ll get a place full of self-professed “egalitarians” bending over backwards to defend paying disabled people less than minimum wage.

Both disability and mental illness are treated in dehumanizing ways. I once wrote a post about wanting to see autistic representation in the media. It was about how cool it would be to see a cool, confident, likable character who happened to be autistic, and about how unlikely that is to happen. But really, in a way, that was setting the bar REALLY low. I mean, the character would almost certainly still be white, male, straight, able-bodied, and have a career. A strong, confident, likable character who’s in a wheelchair, or is too disabled to work, or could work in theory but can’t find a job because they can’t get through the interview process? No, that’s not happening. That’s so far from happening that even thinking about asking for it seems utterly and completely absurd.

Anyway. This is getting a little rambly. Intersections. I am on the autism spectrum. I am female. I have been too disabled to work for many years now (though with meds that might change). I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful and I did not wind up living on the streets – something that was probably more of a risk for me than I care to think about, had aspects of my life gone differently. I don’t drive. There are no people like me on TV, and I face a lot of judgement for being the way I am (that is, when I reveal these things to people who are relative strangers. which is rare, because I don’t like the way people look at me when they learn some of these things).

On the other hand, I am white. I am able-bodied. I can usually hide my differences from random strangers on the street, and just look “quirky” instead. There is privilege in that. No one will judge me because of the color of my skin, no one will make assumptions about me based on the texture of my hair, service people will notice my existence and interact with me without uncomfortable glances at mobility aids. So YES, I am benefiting from white privilege, as well as able-bodied privilege, speaking privilege, sight privilege, cisgender privilege and various other abilities I have that other people don’t.

So, random person on the internet, yes, you benefit from white privilege if you are white, regardless of what other privileges you do or do not enjoy. Privileges or lack thereof definitely intersect and impact one another, but they do not cancel each other out.


Filed under rant

I want this to be real

I don’t often get political on this blog. Not because I lack political opinions or anything – I mean, I have a blog about autism, mental illness, and disability. I think about these things a lot. I think about the consequences of living with mental illness and disability in a society that has little room for us. I think about how easy it would have been for me to wind up homeless at different parts of my life. I think about how my not being homeless is because I had friends and family and people who care about me who would support me, and if I didn’t have those things my life would have turned out VERY differently, but so many people would have blamed me for my circumstances. I think about the injustice of homelessness and how we so often criminalize and punish people for being hungry or having nowhere to go. I just don’t write about it much because, to be honest, I’m still kind of nervous to do so. So instead I stick with nice, safe topics like identity and social skills and making room in a world that has no room (ok, these things are still important and I have no intention of stopping writing about them. they’re just a lot safer than expressing my political opinions).

However, today I heard this thing about Utah. I’m worried it will turn out to be an onion-type thing and we’ve all been duped, but I really hope it’s real. I want it to be real.

That being, that Utah is well on its way towards ending homelessness not by criminalizing being homeless (which far too many places do and I am angry about it), but by providing homeless people with homes. Not just because it’s the right thing to do (which, for the record, it is) or because they’re a bunch of liberal pansies (they are not), but because it is the most economical solution. If sources are to be believed, it’s cheaper than the costs of eating emergency room bills for homeless people. An apartment and a social worker, to help those who are able to work to get work.

Which is kinda right along line with my beliefs in regards to homelessness and people who need help. I see so many people out there say that we are supposed to earn our homes and earn our healthcare and earn our food and all that. And that the earning must come first. Which always leaves me wondering – how can a person earn their right to a home if they have nowhere to sleep? (hint: they pretty much can’t)

Or how can a person earn their access to health care if they are too sick to work? (hint: they pretty much can’t)

Or how can a person earn access to food if they are too hungry to think straight? (hint: actually, I think you know where this is going)

So I hope that this is actually happening. I hope that the homeless and the hungry in Utah are getting the help they need, and I hope more people and places can learn from this and maybe start implementing actual, viable solutions rather than making homeless people into criminals simply because they have nowhere to sleep.

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Filed under rant

Strength Within Anxiety

Sometimes I write about strength and weakness, as perceived from within and without. I’m going to again.

Sometimes people see anxiety as weakness. Externally, it’s hard to see the barriers that anxiety puts up that we need to hurdle. What’s seen is often simply that a person with anxiety is having an extremely difficult time with something that most people don’t find that bad. At times I’ve had encountered with people who sincerely believed that I should be able to just do it. That it was weakness on my part that was holding me back. If I say it’s anxiety, they only heard that anxiety = weakness.

I always protested this mentality. It’s simply wrong. However, now that I am finding my anxiety dramatically reduced and I am more easily doing things that used to be so hard, I protest it even more. As much as I tried to protest it, I also internalized it. I thought of myself as weak all too often. That’s crap. I wasn’t weak then and I’m not weak now.

Let me tell you about horseback riding. There is a legitimate amount of nervous-making when pretending that you can control a massive, muscular animal (they *let* us control them, seriously). However, my anxiety was massive. Frequently learning to do new things was more about maintaining control over my body as intense feelings of fear coursed through me than about actually learning the thing. Cantering was a huge challenge. Not because cantering is difficult, but because it’s really hard to be loose when a terror knife is stabbing through my chest.

People say “well just do it anyway!” but it isn’t that easy. I have had many experiences of trying to “just do it anyway” and failing because my limbs refused to respond. I would feel fearful, take a deep breath, decide to do it anyway, send the commands to my limbs, and not move. I had to battle my anxiety just to have control of my body at all. And to ride a horse, to ride the way I want to ride, requires quite a lot of fairly fine-tuned control. I had to battle my anxiety and win, and I had to keep winning and keep fighting, and I had to have enough left over to actually do the thing and do it well.

Expletive’s sake, that’s HARD. You think it’s at all possible to do that when you’re weak? No! It isn’t! But I did it.

And now, now that it’s not so hard due to my anti-anxiety meds… I’m barreling forward in my riding. I do things that used to give me panic attacks with only a minor twitch of nervousness. When I get nervous about a thing, I can take a deep breath and just *do it* when before I would need to fight. The hurdles are so much smaller.

Just to make it clear, I am no stronger now than I was then. These pills I’m taking, they don’t magically increase my reserves of internal strength. I am the only being in the universe that can directly change that. No, my medication shrinks the obstacles. What used to be a brick wall is now just a regular hurdle. This means I have to spend far less effort than I used to in order to get through those obstacles, which means I have more strength and energy left over to move forward with other things. With the things I want to do.

Anxiety isn’t weakness. Anxious people are not weak people. Anxious people are probably strong, because it’s hard to learn to live with anxiety without also developing significant reserves of internal strength.

In fact, I’d broaden that. Fear, in general, does not make you weak. Dealing with that fear, moving forward even when you feel it – that is strength.

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Filed under personal

Adjusting to my new emotional range

Ok, there’s probably going to be a lot more in here than just talk of my adjusted emotional range. Since I process via writing and I have a blog about mental illness (among other things) apparently there will be posts about this strange anti-depressant, anti-anxiety journey I’m on.

I’ll confess, when I first started these, I really wasn’t sure what they were going to do to me. I was hopeful, but also leery. Sometimes I see people talking about changes in lifelong depression as changes in personality, in “self,” and that was alarming. All over the internet, I see people claiming that “some people just have melancholy personalities” as a way of claiming that we shouldn’t be using antidepressants. And I wondered if maybe that was just me. If those terrible, dark times I had, complete with scary levels of suicidal ideation and severe amounts of self hatred and other horrible nasties, was just my “melancholy personality” that I should just learn to live with.

Only, as I’ve blogged about already, I did try to live with it. I really tried. And in return, my brain tried to kill me, until in the midst of one of the worst depressions that I can remember I finally decided to try something in pill form.

So, leery or not, personality changes or not, I’m trying it.

A big thing I wasn’t sure of was how it would impact feelings of sadness or anxiety that were externally caused. I was worried about it masking my emotions or making it so that I just didn’t feel. Would my sads still be sad? Would I still get nervous on a horse?

It’s tricky because many things were kind of intertwined with my depression. Or maybe it’s more that my depression reached out with it’s icky depression tentacles and wound its way around everything it could touch. What would it be like with that gone?

Well for a while, it just felt empty and echo-y. I used to have to fight for the space I took up in my own head, constantly pushing back against the nastiness in my head that wanted to get rid of me (and at this point, I feel no qualms phrasing it that way). Suddenly, nearly overnight when they finally started working, I didn’t have to push back anymore. It was weird. Like there was all this space in my head with nothing in it. I’ve slowly been expanding into my own head, testing new boundaries of thought and feeling, and it’s interesting.

Anyway, as per the title of this post, I feel like my emotional range has shifted. I can still feel intense emotional pain, but it no longer triggers the intense self-hatred that it used to. I can still get nervous, but it no longer taps into wall of terror. Also, I find my capacity for enjoyment is suddenly immensely increased. My happyfeels are far closer to the surface and have a much easier time showing up and sticking around. One thing that’s really made me notice the change is actually my cat.

See, my cat likes to spend a lot of time napping in my lap. He and I know each other quite well by now, and he’s used to how I breathe and move and talk. Well suddenly, I can laugh. I can laugh easily. Even in my good times, laughing used to be difficult. My feelings of amusement were all smushed way deep inside, and getting to the surface where they could show involved a bit of a journey, and they had to be strong to get there. Now they’re right here on the surface. I watch TV and see something funny, and I laugh. And my cat, poor guy, has no idea what is going on. Luckily, he seems to like it and mostly responds by trying to rub his face against mine, rather than getting offended or anything like that.

I do, however, think that a lifetime of depression, and depressed ways of thinking, have left neurological effects on me that I need to deal with. My brain finds it very easy to go down pathways of unhappy thoughts, even without The Voice egging me on and adding its special brand of hate and pain. Travelling along happy thoughts is still strange and new and unknown, and is kind of scary simply due to that unknown status. I don’t always quite know what to do with myself or my thoughts or my feelings.

Oh, another thing I’ve found. My emotions change more easily than they used to. Well… sort of. Used to be, I could get unhappy very quickly and very easily. One stray, careless thought, and The Voice would latch on and take me on a journey of self hatred. Breaking out of those cycles, though, was incredibly difficult. So my emotional state could very rapidly go bad, but getting to anything positive again was a very different thing. Now I find that those unhappy states do not cling to me the way they used to. I can bounce back up far more easily. This is also strange and new, and I feel like I’m needing to find a whole new emotional equilibrium and I’m not really there yet.

I’m not really sure what I was expecting, but I am definitely adjusting in ways I was not entirely prepared for. Maybe I could never really be prepared, I just had to be willing to take the plunge and see what happens.


Filed under personal

Talking to sad people

Sometimes people are sad. There can be all sorts of reasons why a person might be sad, ranging from intense personal loss to an imbalance in one’s brain chemicals and all sorts of other things. I don’t mean this to be targeted to any specific type of sadness, but more just sadness in general.

I’ve been running into an increasing number of people wondering about how to talk to or interact with loved ones who are sad, and I’ve also had a lot of experiences with times I have been sad, and people who care about me not knowing how to react or what to say. I know, the internet already has guides for talking to depressed people and whatnot out there, but I figured I might as well throw another one into the mix.

Now, I am not an authority on sadness, or on talking to sad people. The most I can claim is a whole lot of experience being sad, and experience with people saying helpful things and unhelpful things. However, people are individuals and no one answer will work for everyone. The best I can offer is general guidelines and directions to go when talking to someone you love who is sad. Ultimately, though, your best bet is to ask them what they need, and then believe them.

All that said, the first thing I want to address is a really big no-no; a mistake I see far too often. Never ever try to fix it. I think, when faced with someone who is extremely sad, people get uncomfortable. You may want to help but not know how, so you go into “fix it” mode. This is a Very Bad Idea.

With most of the types of sadness that I know about, there really is no fix. And even if there is a possible path to fixing it, the path is almost certainly long and stressful and fraught with difficulty, and the sad person will have to do most or all of the work themselves. If they are sad due to loss or mean brain chemicals or something, there really is no fixing it. There is only going through it. Trying to fix, while you may be trying to be helpful, can actually just come across as belittling. Don’t do it.

So what can you do instead?

Well, it may seem like a useless, not-helping thing to do, but you can offer comfort, acknowledge their pain and sadness, and be willing to sit with them and love them anyway.

YES. DO THIS. image by the fabulous robot-hugs

I know that when I am sad, these are the things that people can offer that help me the most. These are the things I crave. These are the things that are surprisingly hard to come by because people are too busy either not knowing what to say, or trying to fix that which they cannot fix.

It’s like that Hyperbole and a Half metaphor with the dead fish. People kept (metaphorically) trying to help her find her fish or reassure her that her fish weren’t dead or otherwise try to fix the problem but these were ultimately completely useless things. Just acknowledging the very dead state of the fish, and telling her that you like her anyway was all she wanted, but people were too busy trying to look on the bright side or be cheerful or fix things to do that.

Sometimes a person will be sad because they are dealing with something in their life that is very stressful. I’ve seen people feel guilty for spending time with a friend who is dealing with Stressful Thing, or wish they could help but felt helpless to do so. So I just want to say – if a friend of yours is dealing with a Stressful Thing, time with you can be time off from The Thing. Maybe they’ll want to talk about being sad, or maybe they’ll want distraction and someone cheerful to be around, or maybe something else entirely. I don’t know. The point is, you can be very helpful just by being a friend, even if you aren’t doing anything extraordinary. So if you want to help a sad friend, be willing to do that.

Feeling helpless or useless or uncomfortable when someone you love is sad is fairly normal. It can be hard to deal with. Also normal but BAD – don’t do this – is dumping all those feels onto the sad person that you want to help. Never, ever put the person you should be comforting into a position where they feel the need to comfort you. If you need to talk about your feels in this context, go to your own support network. Or as Susan Silk and Barry Goldman say, comfort in, dump out.

You may have seen this. I love this diagram. Wherever you are in those circles, send comfort IN, do your dumping OUT.

Finally, always take care of yourself. It’s really awesome if you want to be supportive to someone you love, even if they are very sad, and I congratulate your for it most heartily. The world needs more people like you. An important step in this process is making sure you are stable and ok; if you sometimes need to take a step back to breathe and recover, then do so.

If I was going to try to sum this up, I’d say let go of trying to do big gestures, and remember that the small gestures are a lot bigger than you might think.


Filed under social skills

Depression isn’t fair

I’m going to be a little contrary today. When I see people talking about depression, sometimes I see people say things that, while I’m sure they are true for them, are not at all true for me. They sound to me like things people say to feel better about depression, or make depression less threatening. The two basic categories seem to be people saying depression lets them appreciate their happiness more, and people saying that their depression is just the other side of the highs they get – that their extreme lows just means they also get extreme highs.

Neither of those things are true for me. For one, my lows can be very low indeed. When depression hits it can essentially be my brain trying to kill me, and it can be utterly, entirely awful. The highest of my highs, though, do not even come close to matching the extremes of my lows. Also, the highest of my highs are always fairly brief. My lowest of lows can last for months at a time before I get any relief.

Years ago someone introduced me to the concept of a “time horizon” which has been very useful in dealing with my depression. Basically, one’s time horizon is one’s ability to “see” forward or backward in time. When not depressed, a person’s time horizon is usually fairly long. We can remember into the past and reasonably project the future. It shrinks our perception of the now and makes it easy to see that things change over time. Depression tends to shrink our time horizon. This means that whatever we are feeling right now will seem like it’s what we’ve felt forever, and what we will feel forever. Our perception of the right now becomes huge, and not in a healthy way.

End result? The dark clouds of depression loom over me a disproportionate amount of time, while the times of happiness are disproportionately shrunken. I am *always* aware of depression, but not always aware of happiness. That is just not cool.

In addition, I have recently noticed that I do not think of my various times as “happy” and “depressed.” No, I am either “depressed” or “not depressed.” My lifetime of depression has effectively eaten up my life, so that now I define myself by it even when I’m doing ok. And why not? I can always see those dark clouds, whether they are directly overhead or looming on the horizon. Depression’s impact on me never goes away.

I’ll be honest, it’s hard for me to really enjoy happiness when I am always aware that it will go away and things will get bad again. I don’t feel like I appreciate my happiness more, I just feel like my happiness is lessened (or ‘tainted’ if I’m feeling particularly grumpy about it) due to my recurring depression. I cannot give any kind of feel-good sound bite about how depression has added something good to my life. It’s just been a badness, one that I’d much rather simply get rid of.


Filed under personal