Tuesday, June 5, 2012

An open letter to the people I love

I really love you all. I do. I don’t mean to push you away, or reject all your attempts at help, or scare you, or hurt you, or do anything bad. In fact, I am fucking piss-terrified of doing anything to lose anyone in my life. I would probably bow down and kiss your feet at this point to keep you around. There are no ends to the degrees to which I will degrade myself, and have degraded myself, to keep from losing people in my life. This is the first thing you need to understand about Depression.

I’ve chosen to capitalize Depression because one of the misconceptions people seem to have about it is that it is not a serious disease. I understand that you all mean well with your suggestions, but I cannot cure myself with positive thinking, gratitude journaling, the Work of Byron Katie, or any other thing that boils down to deciding not to be depressed. If I could decide not to be depressed, I would have done so when my first Depression symptoms appeared in childhood. You may feel that I do not give you enough credit when I reject these suggestions. I feel that you do not give me enough credit when you assume that I am voluntarily electing to feel constant, crushing emotional pain. Understand that the very nature of my disease is that I am not capable of thinking positively or enjoying life.

I have a disease. I have Depression. If you truly love me, you must love me as a person with Depression, just as you would love me as a person with diabetes or cancer and not make your love contingent on my efforts to cure myself from those diseases. If you think only a terrible person would abandon or shame someone for having cancer, imagine how it hurts to be abandoned or shamed for having Depression, a disease whose symptoms already include punishing and shaming myself. If you cannot accept me as a person with Depression, the honorable thing to do is to admit this as a flaw in yourself, rather than saddle me with the additional burden of feeling I do not deserve your friendship. I am not exaggerating when I say that this could kill me.

If you choose to remain my friend in the face of Depression, realize that I literally need you to live. I understand that this is a large and terrifying burden. But the only hope for my survival is in realizing that I have some worth in this world, and the only way I can realize this is by being constantly reminded of my worth by other people. Contrary to popular opinion, I do not believe that it is a person’s job to love hirself first in order to earn the love of others. That is not how humans are designed: we are pack animals, and we must have value to others in order to feel valuable ourselves. I think putting the burden of self-love entirely on the sick person is reflective of our pathologically individualistic society. I need constant, obvious love in order to heal, and I need it from you.

One of the most harmful and painful things you can do to me right now is to take my symptoms personally. Please do not treat my symptoms as something I am doing to you. Do not accuse me of putting words in your mouth or telling you what to feel when I say that everyone hates me or that I’m a piece of shit. I am trying to tell you that I am in so much pain that I want to die. I am begging you to give me some reason to believe that everyone doesn’t hate me. Getting angry with me will do the opposite.

It is an unfortunate symptom of Depression that there are days when I do not have the capacity to care about anyone’s feelings but my own. I am not doing this to be selfish or because I don’t love you. I’m doing it because I have no spoons and if I spend one more than I have I could end up hospitalized or without a job or possibly dead. Remember that Depression means that I constantly flagellate myself for not being a good enough person no matter how much energy I spend on others. Remember that I want nothing more than to devote all my energy to everyone besides myself, and that in order to heal I must force myself – FORCE myself, tooth and nail - to devote energy to me. Again, I am fucking terrified of being selfish, terrified of losing you or making you mad at me.

Also remember that I am in constant psychological pain. Imagine trying to do all of your activities while in searing physical pain; imagine how this would drain you. Now imagine trying to do all of your daily activities while feeling as you would moments after finding out your closest loved one had died. Imagining these things may bring you closer to understanding how I live.

Finally, remember that if I claim to be suicidal, YES I AM SEEKING ATTENTION. IF I DID NOT SEEK ATTENTION WHEN FEELING SUICIDAL, I WOULD BE DEAD. Humans NEED ATTENTION. Capslock is intentional because I want you to imagine me screaming this. No matter how many times I claim to be feeling suicidal, do not stop taking me seriously. Remember that if I post a suicide note and then I don’t do it, THAT IS THE OUTCOME YOU WANT. THAT IS A VICTORY. It is not a sign that I was not serious. IT IS A SIGN THAT I WON THIS TIME. Be careful what you wish for. You may find my persistent suicide notes annoying and wish for a stop to them, but consider the alternative - I could not be here to post those notes at all. I could never be here to say anything again.

If there’s one thing you can do to help, it is to keep loving me. Keep showing me that it is okay to express my true feelings around you. Keep showing me that you are thinking of me. Keep checking in to see how I am doing. Keep paying attention to me in whatever way you can. Don’t stop just because I seem to be feeling better for a few hours or a few days. Give me love. I desperately, desperately need it.

1 comment:

Heart Rockin Mama said...

This is beautifully said, Elisha. And I know that I am one who needed to read it and hear it and learn from it.
I do love you, and I will be here for you. You can always tell me when I mess up, and know that I will take it as you mean it.
Thank you for showing me more clearly what you need.
jean