It All Comes Down to Me

My struggle with depression feels like a never ending mental tug-of-war. This chart that’s been making the rounds lately sums it up just about perfectly, because depression (or at least, my experience of depression) is a nuanced shifting of feelings that goes between numbness and detachment, to sadness and hopelessness:

I think a common analogy we can relate to depression is the image of drowning: one minute you’re there, kicking your legs and thrashing your arms, head staying above the water, even if just barely. And then suddenly your head goes under and you swallow a bunch of H2O and it feels like you’re never going to come up again. Depression often feels like you’re being swallowed up in deep, dark water that pulls you down, no matter how hard you try to get back up to the surface.

Sadly, some people never make it to the surface again. I feel lucky that I always manage to kick myself back up and out of the water. But, when I get depressed like I am now, life remains a struggle until I’ve reached the shore, so to speak.

When I’m depressed, I often fixate on my alone-ness and currently I’m spending a lot of time thinking about it. I’ve felt alone for as long as I can remember, because emotionally abusive partners don’t make you feel like you have support—they can’t offer you security or consistency—and things like depression get worse in an unhealthy relationship. Or, when you somehow manage to stand up to your abusive partner (which is, of course, the last thing they want you to do), you have to deal with the fall out that comes from sticking up for yourself. The retribution of an incensed emotional abuser is often powerfully devastating.

I have now divorced or broken up with my emotionally abusive partners, but I continue to deal with the consequences of being in those relationships. My tendency in all my relationships is to put an intense amount of effort into supporting the other person. This is a fault of mine that I continue to work very hard at changing, because it’s something that not only made me an easy target for narcissists and abusers; it also made it feel like I was alone in those relationships. When I’m really depressed, I often linger on these feelings of being alone and not having anyone in my life to share the burden of living with (FYI: when you’re depressed, life really does feel like a burden, not a privilege. It’s totally fucked up.).

Maybe I’ve romanticized the hell out of what it would be like to have a partner who isn’t a narcissistic and abusive asshole (maybe a little bit…). But what I see in the friends and family who support me so well is that they all have someone else in their lives who they prioritize more than me. And I can see that these people all have someone in their life who prioritizes them too. I’m not talking about worshiping your spouse or partner; I don’t mean that my friends and family have perfect relationships and get all their needs met all the time. What I’m talking about is how they each have that person, the one who knows the shit that’s going on in their life and who keeps a beat on their comings and goings. The person with whom they have built a secure baseline of love and trust; the person they can count on to be there for them.

Now, some of my friends and family who read this will likely want to say to me: “Of course I’m here for you! I support you in so many ways! You can always call me and I’m always here for you!” Please don’t think that I’m unappreciative of your love and support, or that I don’t see and feel the ways that you help me. I do! I’d be even more of a mess than I currently am without you! But at the end of the day (and I mean figuratively and literally), who are you coming home to? Who do you sit and watch Netflix with before heading to bed? Who do you remind about packing school lunches, or remembering to call your sister for her birthday, or ask “did you pick up your medication on your way home today”? Who do you organize your life around and make plans and set goals for a life together with? Who gets first billing in your life and offers you that same commitment back?

It’s not me.

And I don’t expect it to be, but I long for someone in my life who chooses to make me their priority and who expects and accepts that I do the same for them.

This feeling eats away at me every time I fail in another relationship, or I have another mental health relapse, or even just when I climb into my bed alone every night. It makes me feel like a failure, like I’m unworthy, and, since I’m being honest here, it makes me resent the very loving and supportive people in my life for having what I can’t seem to get.

The best way I can sum up these feelings, is to say that in times like this I can only think about how it all comes down to me.

There is a silver lining, though. It’s a tiny, glimmering ring of silvery dust hanging around what feels at the moment like an hellishly big rain cloud looming over my head. The silver lining is this: it all comes down to me.

You see I’m learning to recognize that in the end, all my failures AND all my successes, all my terrible relationships AND all my amazing ones, all my depression AND all of my happiness…every. fucking. thing. comes. down. to. me. And that includes the bad AND the good.

My depression often steals away my ability to notice the good parts of being independent. It feeds my feelings of loneliness and anger and sadness. It heightens my awareness of the hard parts of being alone. So I’m now trying to curb my thinking towards recognizing that it takes strength and courage to face the world on your own. That people like me, who don’t have a trusted partner in their lives, possess a huge amount of grit and determination for getting through every day solo. I’m telling myself that I am not giving up, even if I’m alone when I settle down on the couch for some Netflix at the end of the day.

I mean, at least I never have to argue about who gets to hold the remote.

xxJ

I think I’m the one.

Story Time: The Story of the Girl Who Felt Too Much

Once upon a time there was a little girl who had enormous feelings. To her, the sky was never just blue: every day it amazed her with different shades of sapphire, azure, violet, ultramarine, or indigo. To her, a sunset was never just a sunset: it was a daily dose of unspeakable beauty and magic. To her, happiness was never just happiness: it was exuberant, all-encompassing joy! To her, sadness was never just sadness: it was a deep feeling of despair, sorrow, and anguish. To her, love was never just love: it was a profound commitment of devotion, adoration, and affection.

To this girl, everything felt big, BIG, BIG.

But the girl quickly learned that few people felt the world like she did and that most people couldn’t understand what it was like to be a Big-Feeling person in a Little-Feeling world.

When she was very young, her big feelings would come out as stubbornness, passion, or exuberance.

“Don’t be too sensitive.” she was told.

“Don’t be so shy.” they said.

“You need to stop crying so much.”

“It’s not a big deal; just get over it.”

So the girl tried her best to hold back her big feelings—she learned that big feelings aren’t appropriate. She learned to be polite and cautious, and giving and passive. She listened to the Little-Feelers and did what they asked of her.

But this got the little girl into trouble. Because when the little girl grew into a bigger girl, she became someone who was always doing what everyone else wanted her to do, instead of taking care of herself.

Soon, some No-Feeling people came along and started to take advantage of her. Since the girl was now used to holding back her enormous feelings and had become so good at ignoring what she wanted or needed, she let these people, the No-Feelers and the Misunderstand-ers, do and say bad things to her for many years. From them she learned that even when she tried her best to be a Little-Feeler, she was still Far Too Much. And that being Far Too Much somehow also meant that she was Never Enough—she went from being a Too-Much-Feeler to a Never-Enough-Feeler.

The girl was taught to be obedient and submissive and quiet. She never knew what the No-Feelers were going to demand of her, or what harsh words they were going to say, but she still wanted to feel something, so she did everything they asked, trying to earn love from those No-Feelers. She gave and she gave and she gave…and eventually she gave so much of herself, that there was hardly anything left.

Then, on a cold, winter’s night, one of the No-Feelers let her down and hurt her badly enough that something inside her shook to life. She finally became aware that the people around her weren’t actually giving her love; that they were selfish, No-Feelers and that she needed to escape from her life with them.

On that night, the girl-now-woman reached deep down inside of herself and found a small piece of the stubborn, passionate, exuberant little girl she used to be. She decided, somehow, that she no longer wanted to be Not Enough. And she put that tiny piece back into its place.

She tried to hold it there carefully, but sometimes she lost it as she fought against the No-Feelers, who refused to let her go. Thankfully, she always found the little piece again and amazingly, this piece, so fragile and nearly forgotten before, began to grow.

Clutching that tiny shred of her childhood, and drawing on the Big Feelings she had found again, the woman was able to get away from all the bad, No-Feeling people she had become entangled with.

Sadly, the damage that the No-Feelers and the Misunderstand-ers had done was so much that the woman still didn’t feel like enough. But she practiced, every day, and she started to learn that there were people who loved her, even though she was a Big-Feeler and even if they weren’t.

The woman kept practicing, still often feeling like a Too-Much-er in a Too-Little world, but also enjoying a reunion with her big feelings. She began to see the sky as infinite shades of blue again. Sunsets and sunrises made her pause with their enchanting beauty. She laughed sometimes and she cried a lot. And she slowly started to embrace being a Big-Feeler, because she had finally realized that she couldn’t change how she felt the world and that she didn’t need to.

xxJ



“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.” – Roald Dahl

Fear Part 3: Things That Have Not Yet Come to Pass

This is instalment 3 of a three-part series on fear. If you missed the first two posts, you can read them here and here. I’m looking at how fear affects life in the past, present, and future. In this final post, I’m talking about how fear affects the future and the impact fear of the future has day to day. Thanks for reading! xxJ


I’ve been dreading this post.

Ha ha…

That was funny, right??

It’s also true! The anticipation of completing this discussion about fear, and the very raw and vulnerable feelings it brings up, is not something I’m keen to face.

Which is actually why I’m doing it, ironically enough.

Today, as I’m sitting at my desk with my “Happy Light” turned on full blast, a huge stainless steel bottle full of water next to me, and a completely quiet household (my kids are away with their father for the second half of their spring break), I’m trying to muster the courage to keep talking about my fear.

In my previous posts, I shared that fear is pervasive in my life. Looking at my past and how I feel about it now, and looking at my present circumstances and how fear plays into my daily life, has been challenging and I’ve appreciated the sincere and thoughtful feedback readers of this blog have given me! It’s hard to admit when you’re afraid. It feels like a show of weakness, doesn’t it?

I’ve talked about having an anxiety disorder before and I tend to see my anxiety as an ongoing sense of fear that rises and falls depending on what’s going on in my life. Anxiety to me is about the anticipation of things that haven’t happened yet, whether that means things happening a few minutes from now, or things happening a few decades from now. If you’re not a person with anxiety, then I imagine it must be hard to relate to the idea that someone can live in constant fear, especially if outwardly it appears that they have nothing to be afraid of.

But my worry about the future…my anticipation of stress and difficulties and unmet expectations and disappointments and struggles…is something I battle against in virtually every moment of my life. Even my dreams are full of anxious moments! Unfortunately, my past experience has taught me that I can’t trust the future. And this is what brings the most fear into my life—being unable to predict and feel secure about what comes next (or not feeling secure about my ability to handle whatever comes next) is what fuels my anxiety.

Do you live with anxiety? Do you possess a constant and growing fear of the future? Does this fear drive your anxiety and perpetuate the cycle of fear in your life?

If you live in North America or another “developed” nation (ugh…that’s such a gross term!), then surely you’ve noticed how adept our society is at sensationalizing things and using fear as a tactic to achieve greater political, legal, financial, emotional, or social power. We live in a world of bullies and fearmongers who constantly shove doubt, uncertainty, and discord down our throats.

Add to that the individual experiences of people in abusive relationships, those of us with legitimate mental health issues, people with learning differences, and anyone living in poverty, hunger, or addiction…it creates a terrifying picture and all of us start (or continue) to feel unequipped to even begin to manage the fear that surrounds us.

So what do we do?

Short term? Distract ourselves. We do some yoga, or we eat a snack, or we have a cup of tea, or a beer, or we go for a walk, or watch some TV, and we push our fears about the future aside temporarily.

We need long-term strategies to cope better though! And I think the way to address fear of and in the future long term is one of those things that’s simple but complicated at the same time.

Because the way to address our fears of the future is to face them and model the kinds of behaviour that reduce insecurity and support community and communication. That sounds kind of easy to do! Just be a decent person—don’t spread fear or panic—and say what you want or need, and we can nip this in the bud!

That idea gets holes poked in it by someone like me almost immediately! Like, how the fuck am I as one person, in a sea of billions of other people, who faces significant and highly individual struggles, supposed to enact the level of change required to address our society’s ongoing addiction to keeping people afraid?

Like, how the hell am I supposed to do that? Can anyone do that??

I was talking with a good friend last night. She and I have these amazingly real and vulnerable conversations together and yesterday we talked about how difficult it is to live our best lives because of our personal struggles and what we would have to face or give up in order to “save the world” (so to speak). Trying to face my future fears often feels incredibly hopeless. Just like it feels hopeless to look at the state of our world today and see the potential for positive and responsible change.

BUT

I don’t think that means that I should stop trying.

I don’t think that means that I should give up and let my fear consume me.

I do think that if we as individuals tune into our fears, recognize, and begin to address them, we could see change on a bigger scale.

Every time I get thinking about how I can reduce fear in my life and be a positive and contributing member of society, I come back to only one reasonable course of action: take care of myself as an individual first, so that I can then offer more to those around me and in the wider world.

To me, this means speaking up about my needs and wants. It means ensuring that I have reliable support in my life when I need it. It means educating my children about being empathetic and talking about world issues and how they can be thoughtful and responsible citizens. I means putting what little money I have available into the goods and services that I think are best. It means voting. It means protesting. It means writing authentically here on head/strong!

The “Things that Have Not Yet Come to Pass” aren’t real yet. But the fear that surrounds these things, that creates the fearful anticipation of these things, IS real and has real consequences in our lives. So in the end, addressing our individual fears of the future is, I think, the best and only way to change things for ourselves and for our communities.

If there were a magic button, or pill, or treatment that would help me stop being fearful of the future, I would be first in line to try it. But that’s not reality. Reality is that future fear affects me every day, and I suspect it affects many other people every day too. Be we can acknowledge our fear. We can talk about our fear. We can put things in place so that when we are feeling afraid we have something to fall back on. We can kick future-fear in the ass, even if it’s a fight we have to keep having until our fear is overcome by an authentic sense of security and safeness. I hope for you, as I hope for myself, that that level of security is attainable and that we can keep trying and not let fear be the ultimate winner.

xxJ


Reminder: FEAR IS A LIAR. You got this *fist bump*