Sunday, February 28, 2016

When people don't acknowledge your pain.

This was posted on The Mighty on February 28, 2016. (http://themighty.com/2016/02/when-friends-dont-acknowledge-the-pain-of-depression/)

Recently, I’ve been trying to be more open about my struggles with depression, particularly about what happened to me last year when a particularly bad bout of depression made life at school a living nightmare and eventually forced me to leave my college home of three years. The hardest thing about opening up has been people’s hesitancy to, well, acknowledge that I had a hard time. It may sound petty and attention-seeking, but it is really painful to finally open up to people and share that I was hurting and have them, well, not really do anything. It makes one question: Do I matter? Is my pain real? Is what I’m going through not hard enough to actually count as a legitimate struggle?

Back when I was still at school, the typical response I got to telling close friends that I was in a bad place would be one of grief and sympathy: “I’m so sorry to hear! I hope things get better! I will pray for you!” But the person would never really ask me about it again. The dirty secret was swept back under the rug in spite of my attempts to be honest about what was going on in hopes of keeping them from spiraling even more out of control due to loneliness. Although I had always been one to invite people to meals, to ask about what was going on in their lives, to listen and offer sympathy, to try and follow up, to write notes of encouragement…I found little of that returned, even in my darkest hours. 

The feeling of being let down by friends added even more pain to what I was already feeling.
Today, thanks to time, treatment, perseverance, and my family’s support, I am doing immensely better and am starting to build a new life again, but the ghosts of those past hurts still come back to haunt me at times while on the road to recovery. For example, when I announced to school friends that I was leaving college due to my ongoing struggle, I only received a few replies acknowledging my choice. I still look back on this from time to time and feel a mixture of heartbreak, betrayal, and rage unwittingly boil up within me. Did they not care that I had to give up my life there because of this awful pain I never asked for? When friends contacted me out of the blue after months of silence, saying they missed me but never really addressing why I had left, I would write back pleasant replies, part of me sorely missing their companionship, but also another part of me wondering what had took them so long to say something and how they could just act like nothing had happened.

Tonight, as that bitter taste of disappointment, hurt, and anger once again linger in my mouth, I want so much to move past this old wound, but it hit too close to the heart. I wish I had answers on how to deal with this hurt that is a common thread through many people’s stories, but I don’t. I guess some just don’t know what to do with other people’s pain, particularly if they can’t relate to it. People feel uncomfortable not knowing what to do with others’ hurt, so they just say or do nothing. It’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget to check up on others. It’s painful to be on the receiving end of that though, especially when you are in the darkest time in your life where you really need to just know that someone cares.

For those who have survived tough times and are on the path to recovery or are recovered, know that you are a survivor. It’s sometimes easy to let distance from pain persuade us that maybe what happened wasn’t so bad after all. Or skeptical people make us downplay our courage. You stood through the raging storm and didn’t call it quits. You took the first frightening step to reach out for help. You pulled yourself through the much and mire of bad habits, harmful thought patterns, and old wounds to pick up the pieces, rebuild and reclaim your life, all while grieving the opportunities you lost. You are a warrior, no matter what anybody says (or stays silent about).

If you’re hurting and no one seems to be listening, I hope you can read this (and other stories on this site) and that know you are not alone and there are many people out there who would love to listen, whose heart would break for your pain. You are valuable even if people don’t acknowledge it. If you are feeling pain, it is legitimate and it is awful that you are suffering, even if people don’t say so.
If you know someone who might be hurting or have a friend who reached out to you recently and shared that things weren’t going great, please consider reaching out. Just a “How are things” or “Just wanted you to know I was thinking of you”. Maybe invite them to hang out. If they open up, you don’t have to have answers, just listen and be willing to say “That must be hard” or “I’m really sorry”. You don’t have to make their happiness your responsibility or anything, just let them know you care.

There are a lot of lonely people out there. Let’s show them that someone cares.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Four things I wish someone had told me when I was depressed.

I was very excited to have a piece I wrote published on The Mighty, which is a great resource for people sharing their personal experiences and lessons learned from dealing with mental illness, disability, and other issues in their own life or a loved one's. The piece was edited, of course, though since I'm a little long-winded (and maybe got too vindictive...?) which made me a little sad. It feels like less of my own work. So I thought I would publish the original piece here.

But first, here's the link to the published article: http://themighty.com/2016/02/4-things-i-wish-someone-told-me-when-i-was-struggling-with-depression/ 

And below is what I originally sent in:

A Letter to Myself a Year Ago
By Becca Joy
I’ve been meaning for some time to write a piece reflecting on my experience with a severe bout of depression last year. I had struggled with depression since my early adolescence, but a bad reaction to (ironically) the antidepressant I was taking put me into a worse state of physical and mental depression than I had ever been before, all while living at university several hours from home. When I realized that it was this week a year ago that I had to leave college unexpectedly for about a week and go home because things had gotten so bad, I was inspired to write a few things that I wish I could have heard at that time when life looked so bleak.
1.       People will be oddly silent when you tell them what’s going on for real, which is disappointing and hurtful. They don’t know what to say. It is a lot to take in, after all. They feel uncomfortable. They are young. It’s lame of them to do and it will make you will feel even lonelier. I’m so sorry. But you are strong and self-reliant and there will be a few people who try to help. No one can fix you, but eventually you and your family will figure out the changes that need to be made that will help life slowly get better, and though the struggle will never fully fade, you will be a survivor, even if people don’t recognize the battle. Don’t forget your own strength and don’t let other people’s weakness keep you from being honest.
2.       You have value even if you are ignored, excluded, glossed over, belittled, and rejected. Even though you like yourself deep down, you question your value and put yourself down because others don’t seem to care about you or think you’re good enough. Your mind goes in circles trying to figure out why you didn’t get chosen for that club or elected for that office or asked out by that boy. Why people ignore you or don’t seem interested in being friends. People can be lame, selfish, and cliquish. I’m sorry about that, self. It really sucks and will frustrate you for the rest of your life. But you are strong and talented and you will find your place one day. People don’t have to recognize your strength and value for it to be true. You wouldn’t stand to see other people’s value belittled, so why do you berate and abuse yourself?
3.       People may even be total jerks sometimes, but that is a reflection on who they are, not who you are. The underhanded digs friends sometimes make about how you sleep all the time. You know that you can’t help how constantly exhausted you feel, that something has changed inside your body. So don’t let their lack of compassion get to you. If they were a real friend, they would be concerned, not critical. And that supposed friend who says you don’t deserve for a guy to be nice to you just because you’re nice to him? That says a world about what kind of person he is, so don’t believe a word of it. The guy you like who subtly puts you down for as many times as he says something kind of nice? He is insecure and immature and you deserve better. You were kind and reached out to help all of these people who have insulted and ignored you and that is a reflection on your character. Don’t let others’ insecurity dictate your value.
4.      It will be a long journey to healing, and you will lose a lot that is precious to you, but you will also gain so much. While it has been undeniably painful to have so many doors closed in your face and you will ultimately have to give up a dream you had and leave the school you had such high hopes for being happy at, you will eventually find new opportunities and blessings in the unexpected detour you are forced to take. You will have a story to tell. You will develop a more compassionate heart. You will learn to live a healthier life. You will find new dreams to chase.
For anyone else out there who is struggling, here are some words I wish I could have heard when I felt there was no hope: Your life matters. You are valuable. Your life is worth living. Your problems are legitimate. You are not alone. You deserve better.  You are loved.