When I went back to work after taking almost 3 months off for the acute phase of ECT, my dog Elly took it hard. She had gotten used to me being home, even if I wasn’t exactly ~there~. I would roll in from treatment and climb into bed to nap for the rest of the day, which is pretty well in line with her daily routine: sleep during the day, run around briefly in the evening, and then fall into bed with the exhaustion of an animal that has done nothing to warrant it. Yes, she’s spoiled, but she also mysteriously lost her tail at some point in the four months between when she was born and when I adopted her and she’s generally well-behaved, so I’m not too worried about it. The only time she’s ever run away was right after I returned to work. I think she might have gone looking for me. Or that’s what I tell myself.
This is all to say that I am Elly’s world. I know that at any given moment, she is thrilled- thrilled– to be near me. Even better if she’s curled up on my lap, as she is at the exact time of this writing. She’s never more at peace than when she’s physically touching me- sometimes she contorts herself so her chin is resting on my leg, in a position that cannot be comfortable but that seems to make her feel that way.
People are harder. I’ve been staring at my computer for awhile now, trying to figure out how to articulate this. It’s difficult to write about because it feels like a) guilting people into friendship and/or b) trying to excuse my own bad behavior that might legitimately cause someone to keep their distance. But I’ve always held the default understanding that people are actively avoiding interaction with me. And see? That statement covers both categories. It just bleeds with self-doubt and varsity level pathetic.
The thing is, depression often manifests itself as a voice whispering into your ear all reasons why someone hasn’t reached out, or why that other someone’s message was so curt. It’s because of that thing you did that day or, other other thing that other day, or maybe they just finally caught on and learned to see through you. It’s something that I’ve heard time and time again- in articles about the disease, in Unit III group sessions, and in my own brain.
When my depression acts up, I withdraw from the real world. It all just feels like too much. I don’t go to events, I cancel plans, and it’s all I can do to peel myself out of bed to get to work (and my leave balance will show you that I’m not always successful at that). But there’s still that human need for socialization and validation, so I find myself scrolling through social media, posting photos of my dog, or reposting another Parks & Rec screencap. It’s easy to brush it off as a millennial obsession with the internet, but at least for me, it’s a way to stay connected without having to fully punch through the fog. And as ridiculous as it sounds, I can feel like I haven’t been totally lost to the void when we like each other’s posts. It’s like a quick “hello and I haven’t forgotten you.”
All of this does not exactly make me a good friend- I’m not so self involved that I can’t see that communicating via social media likes isn’t nearly enough. So you imagine how grateful I am for the people who not only stick around, but who actively make sure I know they’re here, even when it seems like I’m not. There’s no blueprint on how to do it, and really everyone is different anyway, but anything along these lines is a good place to start.
This of course places the burden of reaching out on the friend, and what a vicious cycle that is if you’re both waiting on the other person to announce that they’re still around. You’re just two dark little clouds standing nearby, but not able to see that the other one is there. I don’t know how to rectify this, and oh, I wish I did. Because I so badly want to be that friend, but not everyone creates an entire blog to help let people know it’s what they need. Seems like an awful lot of trouble, doesn’t it (and so self-absorbed)? But I’m working on it. On taking that first step, and assuming my presence isn’t the burden I think it is, but that just maybe, it’s the quick note someone needs to hear to be reminded that they’re not alone.
So thank you, everyone who is better at this than I am. Everyone who has made it clear that they’re still there, and that they understand (or that they don’t, but there still there anyway). I don’t know how you do it, but you know just what to say when I need it, and you’ve shown that I have so much support, despite often not feeling worthy of it. The little things mean so much, and help me feel a little less lost. I’m out of metaphors and like that dark cloud one the best, so I’ll just stick with that dark, foggy cloud again. You help sneak a little (or a lot) of sunshine into it. And if you find this just as difficult as I do, I understand. And I’m still here, whenever you’re ready.
If you (or anyone else) need the same thing from me, you can bet I’m right there. I might not have the best timing, but I’m nearly always willing and ready, and almost certainly near my phone looking up Leslie Knope quotes…this one is at the ready if anyone needs it 🙂