2018 was wretched.
Where I used to round off each year with a quick recap of what happened, a thought about what I could do better, maybe a “wishlist” of things that I wanted to achieve in the coming months, 2018 ended pretty much on a “Burn It To The Ground, Don’t Even Talk To Me About It” note. Family trouble, health going down the gutter, and then, because the universe is random like that, the sudden death and funeral of someone near and dear to me. Someone I missed, someone I kept promising myself I would go and visit, and whom I never did.
Hopes for the future? What the fuck is that even?
This is usually the point in the article where I turn it around and explain how you, Gentle Reader, might motivate yourself to go beyond the negativity to do the thing you have been putting off doing. But I can’t really do that.
Of course, if I gave you a detailed blow-by-blow of the year, it was not all terrible. I got a new job; I made many new friends and started seeing someone I am actually excited about; for every down moment I had, I also had people reaching out to support me and help me out. I am very lucky — extremely lucky, even — to have the problems I do.
So why can I not give you some words of wisdom to enable you to do the same?
Because I still feel like shit.
The depressed brain prefers negativity. If I try to feel my feelings — sadness, anxiety, bereavement — it will jump in, telling me that I’m being melodramatic and that I only care about myself. If I force myself to focus on the positive, it’ll say, “You’re fake, you don’t deserve good things.”
At the same time, our culture hates weakness. Often the advice given — advice I have dispensed myself at times — puts all the emphasis on the individual, suggesting that if you just force yourself to get on with life, eventually the good feelings will come. It makes some sense that carrying on is better than being inert — at least you’re doing something. Yet, in practice, the more I tried to be thankful, to project confidence and assurance, the more I died inside.
“Oh, it’s really sad that someone close to you has died. But there’s no time to be sad now. Someone needs to organise things, be emotional support, scrub sinks, run loads of laundry, all the while keeping up pleasant small talk. Nobody needs to deal with you crying, do they?”
You’d never say something this cruel to another human being. Yet this is the sort of talk we give ourselves all the time. Getting better is seen as a matter of willpower, when in reality, even the strongest of us crumple if enough pressure is applied.
I’m telling you this not to justify you never leaving the house, but to drive a point through: we can’t always deal with things alone. We have to learn to accept other people’s help, no matter how hard it is for us to admit we need it, no matter how much trying to reach out hurts.
I keep trying now — fighting, writing, working, studying, loving — because I’m surrounded by good people and I’m too tired to reject their help. My “willpower” that I was so protective of was just another face of the depression that fills my mental landscape, a combination of stubborn pride and a petrifying fear of being seen as weak. It wasn’t until I dropped the pretence and started asking for what I needed that I caught a break. And then another. And then another.
At the end of the day, we still have to do the work. We put on clothes even though we feel like hiding in bed, we brush our teeth, we face the world, we fight the fights. But we don’t fight with bravado; we don’t run on empty. Our way out starts here:
“I’m not okay. And I need your help.”