I’ve mentioned before that I’m an atheist. Or an agnostic, depending on the day. I don’t really believe any more that there is some divine, all-powerful being who created us and the world (and basically everything else). I used to believe, but it’s been a while. I haven’t tried to ask god, or God, or however you want to write out the title of your preferred divine being, for anything in a long time. But I have friends who believe, and there’s never been a problem there; my lack of belief is personal, not a total denial of the possibility of a creator. So when a friend tells me that prayer might be helpful, I listen.

It’s been a long time since I’ve prayed, for anyone or anything. I do remember, though, that it is not the correct order of words or gestures that matter, but rather the feeling and intent behind them. So, on behalf of my friends, I’ll give this a try.

Fæder ure, þu þe eart on heofonum,
Si þin nama gehalgod;
to becume þin rice,
gewurþe ðin willa,
on eorðan swa swa on heofonum.
urne gedæghwamlican hlaf syle us todæg
and forgyf us ure gyltas,
swa swa we forgyfað urum gyltendum;
and ne gelæd þu us on costnunge,
ac alys us of yfele. Soþlice.

I know it’s been a long time, and I’m still not sure of much. I don’t have much faith in the divine, and I don’t know that I will anytime soon. But my words aren’t meant for me, but for my friends. I have done what I can, and I just can’t do enough. It hurts to admit that I can’t help my friends, but I know they could use more than what I can offer. They deserve better than what they’ve been dealt; there is only so much we can do on our own. I hope that you are listening, because I am praying for my friends; they could use the help, however much you are willing to give. Protect them, guide them, help them, give them the ability to see through the darkness they are in and beyond it to where the light begins. I will beg if you want; I am begging. Please. I just want my friends to feel better, to feel hope.

Non nobis, domine, non nobis sed nomine tuo da gloriam.

Stay Safe

Sorry for the late entry. I tried to go to sleep, but I couldn’t stay there. While I seem to be having a relatively good time, I have some friends who aren’t doing as well. In fact, they seem to be doing pretty badly. And as hard as I try and as much as I wish, there isn’t much I can do to help them. Most of what I can do is be willing to listen if they want to talk, or just be willing to sit with them if it makes them feel comfortable. But man, not being able to do anything to make my friends feel better is almost physically painful.

Let’s be clear – I don’t feel anything like pity for my friends. For the most part, their problems are depression-related, and if you’ve read this blog, you know I have plenty of experience with that particular monster. I empathize with my friends, because I know the kind of hell depression can be, and just because I’m not there now doesn’t mean I don’t remember how it felt.It’s because I know how it feels that I would say that I would cut off my own arm if it would mean I could do something helpful.

Since I can’t do anything to help, I guess all I can do is offer mental, emotional, and moral support. I can offer to be here if they need me, to listen if they want, and to let them know that I know how terrible depression can be and I feel so badly that it keeps me up at night. I can hope that they read this, and maybe decide to talk to me about it. But what I really want to say is right to them, and it is this: stay safe. Please. You are my friends, and I love you and care about you. You are not alone.

What not to say

What not to say.

This is a reblog talking about things that people should not say to people with mental illnesses. Just because you can’t see what is wrong, doesn’t mean something isn’t wrong, and just because someone else might have felt sad, or hyper, or angry, or confused and gotten over it, doesn’t mean someone with a corresponding mental illness. Most of us want to get better, we just don’t know how or don’t have the tools. And we can’t just snap out of it – an imbalance of chemicals in our brains isn’t something we can just change.

If you wouldn’t say these things to someone who has cancer, why would you to say them to someone who has mental illness?

On My Own

So just recently I moved into my own apartment. This may not seem like a big deal, but it has to be seen in context. Despite being 33, I have never lived on my own; I have always lived with either friends, roommates, or family. It isn’t something I have spent a lot of time thinking about in the past; I always just accepted the presence of others. No, it’s more than that, I always wanted other people around.

Isolation has, for essentially the entire time I have suffered from depression, been one of the biggest triggers for my depression. When I spend too long away from other people, especially friends or family or other people I care about, depression rears its ugly head. But it almost never does so in a big, showy way. My depression takes its time – it works slowly and subtly, taking months to set in, so that I don’t notice what is happening to me. 

By the time I do notice my depression has been slowly taking control, most of the time I am too far gone to do much about it – or even care. One thing I do know is that, while I may not know what is going on with my slow downward spiral, the people around me tend to. My friends and family notice long before I do that I am getting depressed – at least, when I am not making an effort to hide it. So being around them has been a sort of safety net for me – I don’t have to watch myself if they do it for me.

But, as much as I love my friends and family, it isn’t their job to watch me for signs. It is my life, and I can’t rely on them for my well-being. That’s a lot of pressure to put on my friends, and it isn’t pressure they need. I would like them to watch and see, but it shouldn’t be because I am not bothering to look at myself, which is what I have done in the past – it should only happen as a last resort, when I am simply too oblivious to see what is happening to me.

I’ll be honest, this living alone scares me. Yes, I can, in theory, have women over without worrying about my parents walking in. I don’t have to check with anyone else about any company I have over, I can watch what I want, decorate how I want. But I also have to rely on other people being willing to come over and visit me. I don’t have anyone who is guaranteed to be spending time here with me; I have to be the person to go out and invite others over, and I have to be the one who deals with it when some of them inevitably say no. I don’t deal with rejection well, historically, so that is intimidating. 

I’m generally a pretty passive person. I don’t have the energy or the personality to be constantly asking people if they want to come over. Like at least one other former client in the ste-down program I left last week, I essentially just issued an open invitation to all the people I know around here to come over and hang out whenever I’m around, because the door is always open. It hasn’t really caught on yet. I don’t know if it will. I would love for someone to just come over and walk in and hang out, like I have done with the other former client, but I don’t know if that will happen.

It’s a little disappointing to have virtually nobody respond to invitations like that. It’s something I find hard to do, because I don’t want to seem needy or pathetic; I just want to hang out with people, and have other people feel comfortable enough with me to just come over. But it’s only been about two weeks, and I have no idea how long it took for that idea to catch on with others, so maybe it will start soon. Maybe I just have to keep reminding people that it’s a cool, safe place to hang out.

Maybe I’m just afraid to spend too much time alone. Maybe the reason my apartment seems empty is because, apart from me, there is almost never anyone else here. I don’t know, and I don’t know when I’ll find out. But until then, for those of you who know me and are reading this – you are always welcome at my place. If I have a book you want to read, a movie you want to watch, a game you want to play, feel free to borrow it. What’s mine is yours; what good is stuff if I can’t share it with friends?

Mr. Personality

For a long time, I felt the need to essentially maintain several distinct personas. The person I was around my friends was not the person I was around my family. I was a different person in class than I was outside of it. I never really thought much of it; it was just the way I dealt with things. I never questioned why I did it, or why it didn’t seem that the other people I knew really did it.

After coming to treatment, that has been one of the things I have been working on – being the same person with everyone. I don’t want to have to be a different person around my family than I am with my friends. I would rather not be a different Jamie at work than I am at home. It’s a lot of work keeping up those kinds of facade, because you have to constantly keep checking, consciously or unconsciously, to see whether what you are doing matches the situation you are in. It might be as simple as just remembering not to swear around my parents, or something more difficult like trying to keep any real expression from ever showing on my face. I divided my life up into little compartments, and in each compartment, I was a different person.

I wasn’t a totally different person – I don’t have multiple independent personalities. Most of who I was stayed the same; it was just a matter of choosing how to present myself that changed. Some people saw a different side of me than others did. When you do something like that, you tend to pick up lying well as a habit; you can’t separate your personas without it. Then you end up letting too many people see a particular side of you, and you lose control. Sometimes, that control over who saw what part of me was all that I felt I had control over, so I held on tight.

I have been realizing, though, that that control was one of the things that was keeping people away from me. People were never sure which side of me they would see, so they wouldn’t approach me. Or I felt that it wasn’t a good idea to walk up to someone and chat while I was with certain people, because it would break character, and so I didn’t. My control only helped to isolate me, and didn’t give me much control over my life at all. The problem was letting the walls down, and letting the people around me see the rest of me, the parts I kept hidden.

Being vulnerable is hard. Everyone feels it. Some people are extremely sensitive to it; one harsh word and they fall apart. Some people just don’t really have any secrets; they live their lives out in the open. I was never a particularly open person, and so learning to be vulnerable was hard for me. It took me a couple weeks to say anything personal in group psychotherapy; I was scared to talk about myself, because I didn’t know how people would react. I didn’t want to be judged by people I was just getting to know – I worried that what I said would be so stupid, or crass, or unpleasant, or boring that I would  be seen as unworthy.

That was kind of silly, thinking back. It seemed like a very realistic fear at the time, but having gotten to know the people who were in group with me, I don’t think they would ever judge me as harshly as I did. If anything, talking in group, sharing something I had felt in secret and hidden for a long time, not only brought me relief, but it helped the people there not to judge me, but to get to know me better. And when I trusted them with my thoughts and feelings, they began to trust me with theirs.

So, now that I am out of treatment – well, intensive treatment – I want to continue that work. I know how freeing it was to be able to tell my narrative a few weeks after I started at the step-down; it let me get a lot out in the open, and it helped the other people around me to know me. Now, I’m not going to open up to everyone I meet – I am still, in general, a pretty cynical person. But I am trying to keep my life, and my persona, an honest and open one. 

Hiding myself away, and compartmentalizing my life, and who I was, depending on who I was with was a strategy that didn’t really work for me. It made my depression worse, and it confused the people around me. So now I am trying to work in a different direction, and see where that leads me.

Happy Days

Today was a pretty good day for me. I didn’t get a job, but I did get to spend most of the day with people I care about, and get to do some things I wouldn’t do by myself. It’s days like today that I really enjoy, because they kind of make me feel like I’m normal. I didn’t feel depressed today, really at all. It’s a good feeling.

I spent most of the day with friends. I got to go shop for groceries, grab coffee, get lunch at a local Thai restaurant, watch a couple episodes of the HBO show Newsroom, and go shopping at Forever 21. Since I just got a car, it was nice to get out to a new restaurant, and interesting to head to a shop I would normally avoid. I actually had someone else ask me if I was a cross-dresser because I went to Forever 21, which I found pretty funny.

After a bit of time by myself, I went over to spend time with another friend who has been having a rough time lately. We sat quietly and watched TV, making occasional cracks about bizarre commercials. No deep conversation; not really a whole lot of conversation at all. But it was still comforting to be spending time with a friend. Quality time with friends is one of the things I value most; it doesn’t matter if we’re doing anything important, just being around friends makes me feel physically better.

I wish more of my days were like this. I hope that once I do get a job, I can still spend this kind of quality time with my friends. This isn’t deep, psychological stuff here; I don’t seem to be having huge mental or emotional problems much these days. Mostly, I seem to be going to groups, looking for jobs, and doing what I can for the people I care about. I’m not alone, I’m not isolated, and I’m not feeling like crap all the time. Seven months out of a suicide attempt, I don’t know that I would have predicted this. But things are going well for me; I want to help them go well for everyone else.