Aside: This week just gone, I wrote two blog posts. I intended to save this second one for next week but after reading another post by Wil Wheaton (this was the first) and this post by Jenny Lawson (aka The Bloggess), everything seems to be telling me to share this now. Please read their stories and share them.
When I asked my friend and fellow blogger Sinéad for her superpower of choice her answer was so perfect I wish I’d thought of it. When it comes to superpowers the obvious options are flying or super-human strength. Nope. Step aside people, Sinéad’s desired superpower was this:
“Knowing the right thing to say at every given moment – the right thing to say to help someone when they’re hurting, or when they’re struggling, or when they’re in a wild rage and likely to hurt themselves or someone else, or when a painful truth needs to be shared with a delicate person, or when a misunderstanding with potentially dreadful consequences is looming and needs to be put right before it can do harm. It doesn’t sound like a hugely important superpower, but I think it would be amazing to be able to use words like this, to stave off pain before it even begins.”
I cut out the part where she promises to use the power for good not evil, but left the rest in because obviously, it is beautifully true. Perhaps it doesn’t sound as cool as flying, or lifting a car with one hand, but knowing what to say – who doesn’t want some of that? Who doesn’t remember a time when they have given or received the wrong words?
When my grandfather died, people said things like, ‘he had a good life’, ‘he was old’, ‘he had a good innings’ and – understanding the length of his illness – they often added, ‘he’s no longer suffering’ or ‘it must be a relief’. And yes, all of this was true on some level. I felt privileged to have known him and I was undoubtedly glad he no longer suffered but while I’d nod and agree with them, every fibre of my being screamed ‘NO!’. If this was comfort, why wasn’t it comforting?
I read this beautifully raw post by Wil Wheaton and it really resonated with me. He speaks openly about the debilitating invisible weight of depression.
I come from a long line of anxious over-thinkers who suffer from bouts of depression. On occasion I’ve wondered how messed up I’d be if I hadn’t had a stable and happy childhood. Which, as us anxious self-deprecating folk know, is yet another reason to feel bad – how dare I feel this way when my life is awesome? *beats self with emotional truncheon*
I’ve sought help over the years and as I’ve grown older I’ve become better at dealing with it. But it is exhausting. It takes so much energy to reshape thoughts that are instinctive to you. Wearing a mask of smiles while holding a bomb of anxiety.
The first thing people want to do is fix you. Reassure you there’s nothing to worry about. When you’re a child, adults tell you you’re being silly then chuckle heartily to prove it. You learn to say nothing because even misguided kindness is still kindness. The thing is, you know your feelings are irrational. To be told ‘you’re being silly’ only reinforces you’re own lack of self-worth. To be told there’s ‘nothing to worry about’ only dismisses how you feel.
I had a minor anxiety episode last week. I had that nauseating ache in my chest and the only way I can deal with it is try and remember the cause. Last week’s trigger? I ordered some flowers on my mother’s behalf. Flowers.
The symptoms probably started as soon as I said, “Sure! I can organise that for you!” but they didn’t kick in until I’d ordered them and my mind started racing. Had I ordered the right ones? Was the message too impersonal? What if I got the address wrong? What if I picked the wrong colours? What if they hate carnations?
The anxiety lingers long after my brain stops asking those stupid questions, so to quash the anxiety, I have to answer them. Of course they’re the ‘right’ flowers, they’re flowers – can you even order ‘wrong’ flowers? You can’t misinterpret or be offended by ‘Thinking of you’. The woman repeated the address back to me and took their phone number, of course they’ll get there. They are not going to reject the flowers because they don’t match their curtains. I couldn’t possibly know if they hate carnations, and in all likelihood, they’ll love them. They’re just flowers. They are all they need to be – they may even be perfect. Get a grip.
And soon after, the anxiety dissipates.
This was a mild episode. It was new to my husband when he met me. First he tried fixing me with logic and told me not to worry – I bet there were times when he wanted that superpower because nothing he said seemed to help. It took him a while to understand that part of that superpower included no words, just his company or a hug. Sometimes he’d manage to find a distraction, sometimes he’d find a way to make me laugh.
Often the ‘fix’ began when someone acknowledged I was broken.
Depression lies. Need support? Contact Lifeline Australia.