Several friends of mine are dealing with some pretty bad Seasonal Affective Disorder right now. Depression is such a strange state of mind, going beyond just sadness. It seems to be like fingerprints, with no two experiences quite the same.
I see my friends struggling, and I have to remind myself that when they talk about their struggles, it isn’t an open invitation for advice on how to fix it. Which is hard for me to accept. I’m a fixer; it’s how I deal with problems, constantly trying to figure out which variable to change to achieve a better outcome.
But I have to tell myself that my method for dealing with things doesn’t work for everyone, and it sucks to be shoehorned into someone else’s coping mechanism. For example, when I feel upset or depressed or anxious, I want to be alone, but when many of my friends are upset, they want to be around people. So they see me upset, and cling to me in an attempt to comfort me. I can’t fault them for it, I know they’re trying to help, and I appreciate the gesture, but the gesture is also exactly the opposite of helpful.
This isn’t about me, this isn’t about me, this isn’t about me. Someone hand me a Sharpie so I can write that in big block letters on my arm. Or better yet, a tattoo machine. I may feel horrible watching my friends be sad, but I can’t make myself feel better if it means they feel worse. I think this is where so many attitudes of “Well, I tried my best to help; they must just be doomed; they must not really want help,” come from. In some ways, listening and paying attention are more hard work than if the cure for their condition was to eat a spaceship.
It isn’t something I can force into a solution, even if I knew what the solution was. I feel powerless, but I have to remind myself that this feeling is my own problem, and the solution is not “fix other people” but to come to terms with that powerlessness. Or rather to remind myself that there is worth in a simple “I’m here for you.”
In so many ways, it is more helpful to be a cheerleader than a coach.
“I think this is where so many attitudes of ‘Well, I tried my best to help; they must just be doomed; they must not really want help,’ come from. In some ways, listening and paying attention are more hard work than if the cure for their condition was to eat a spaceship.”
This is such a hilariously awkward metaphor, but it rings so, so true for me. I have friends with depression and friends with personal problems and all other kinds of issues, and I don’t think I’ve ever been able to actually figure out how to help any of them, let alone “come to terms with that powerlessness.” Sometimes even asking if I can listen feels like exactly the wrong answer.