It started many months ago as a hypothetical question posed over coffee, as many hypothetical questions are ought. “If you knew someone was struggling–really having a tough go at it–what would you do?”
There was a quiet pause as everyone’s eyes shifted to a different location—the wall, our coffee, the corner of the table, our shoes. Then the babble began.
“Take them to a funny movie.” “Kings Island, baby!” “Have them over for dinner.” “Take them dancing.” “Girls’ night out.” “Send them a balloon bouquet.” …
Unfortunately, the data our questioner shared with us shows that most of us—almost 90 percent of us—will ignore them. We didn’t believe it. So our questioner asked us to try a little experiment. “The next time you feel down, confide in a few people and see what happens.”
I guess I’m lucky that it took so long for me to feel “down,” but “down” is exactly how I felt for about a week here recently. I’m not talking suicidal. I’m talking about depression—probably even only low-level depression at that.
Getting out of bed was a major feat that felt like it sucked out every bit of energy I had. I skipped taking showers if I didn’t have client meetings, and I only put makeup on once that week. I took—on average—two naps per day and couldn’t even manage to walk my dogs around the block. I cried—on average—90 minutes out of every day. I checked facebook –on average—every 20 minutes instead of the once-every-three-days plan I had been checking; and I posted drunk messages, promptly deleting them the next day when there was only one or no responses. I bought and ate an entire box of double-stuffed oreos and then promptly threw them up. I counted every dumb thing I’d ever done, ever said, ever thought.
And then I remembered the challenge. “Tell someone.”
I mentioned it in casual conversation with a confidant. I wrote a brief post on facebook and left it up there for four days. I told my daughter. I told my dogs. I told a few friends that I see regularly…I summed it up in an e-mail to my long-time pen pal:
Help! I’ve been feeling the sucking, draining onset of depression pulling at me. I’ve lost every bit of energy I own, and I can’t stop crying or feeling sorry for myself! Why? There’s nothing really wrong with me—I know that. But, I don’t even have the energy to go shower right now. I’m so lonely. I feel truly and completely alone, uncared for, unloved and worthless for anything but work—which makes me feel even more tired. I don’t see any joy in living. All I see is work and responsibilities and more work. Don’t worry—I’m not suicidal. But I feel like there’s no hope!
Did you ever read a short story called The Electric Ant in which a man is in a car accident only to find out he’s a robot, so he pulls his “tape” to find out how much of his life has been programmed? I read it years ago in philosophy class and somehow it’s stuck with me. The question being…was the accident programmed? Was his finding out he was programmed programmed? Anyway, I bring it up because I feel like I’ve discovered I’m a robot—programmed only to work and do what other people want—raise kids, make money, clean house, take care of parents and family. No fun, no emotions, no affection, no attention, no warmth, no rest, no reward—just work, work, work. Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve laughed? Or felt worthwhile…
My e-mail pen pal never responded to my e-mail, but several days later sent me a book recommendation about a technology book he’s reading.
My confidant told me to focus on work. One person—a person I only met once for about an hour, who lives across the country—commented on my facebook post. One of my regular friends offered to buy me a glass of wine and talk about it, but never responded to my text about meeting up. Most of the rest of my friends still haven’t responded. My dogs snuggled up with me for a nap the afternoon I told them, then promptly left me to go chase a squirrel in the yard. I admit, I did blow off one friend who didn’t know I was feeling low, but who invited me to go out…mostly because I didn’t have the energy to shower and get out of my pjs.
I must admit, Gentle Penguin, the experiment made my depression worse.
By the way—I’m feeling better now. To start with, I’m delighted to tell you that when I told my daughter I was feeling really alone and low, she dropped everything, pulled me over to the couch, put her arms around me, told me she loved me, then asked me why I felt that way. She didn’t argue with me about it, or try to be logical. She just listened. She reminded me of many people who love me. And suggested that I talk to a professional or go see my doctor. Then she told me it would be okay and hugged me again. The next day, she asked me if I had made an appointment, and told me she was glad when I said I had. “You’ll feel better soon, mom.” She hugged me again…and kept a close eye on me for the next few days.
Soon, I was feeling better. I’m fortunately to have such a wonderful girl. And that my depression is (and has always been) mild and manageable.
Now, the POINT of this isn’t to berate my friends or make anyone feel badly. The point is that the experiment was my first-hand awareness that discomfort leads to avoidance. And that is frightening.
Why is this frightening? Because research now shows that when women hear someone they work with has been diagnosed with breast cancer, they’re LESS likely to get screened themselves. College students were willing to PAY MONEY to not have blood that was already drawn tested for herpes. And according to various statistics, when an overweight person loses weight, they also lose—on average—two friends for every 14 pounds. When people break up after a relationship, they lose—on average—eight friends. When a person gets divorced, they lose—on average—twelve friends. When a person’s parents die, they lose—on average—four friends. When a person’s spouse or child dies, they lose—on average—almost 80 percent of their friends.
This is really simple to fix.
Don’t avoid discomfort. “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” said President F.D. Roosevelt. Have your mammograms and take the health tests you dread if you’re at risk. Find people you trust to talk to for support. And when you know someone is struggling, listen, respond when they ask for help, remind them you care.
I care. And I’m here if you need my help.