Minding the Gaps

#depression

After finishing grad school in May, I had nothing to do until I found a job, so I came home to Ohio to live with my family until something happened. At first, I was dreading the shit out of this and even had an enormous breakdown on my first night back home, because you know, what’s the point of living if you’re not in New York and all that.

But then I discovered that it wasn’t so bad. I read a lot. I biked and swam and laid out by the pool. I went to Columbus and sort of even had a social life there. Getting everywhere wasn’t such a fucking trek, and people actually had time to hang out with me. The days grew long and the corn grew tall, and I was having a nice enough time to start thinking about why I’d moved to New York in the first place.

(This isn’t some Ohio version of Sweet Home Alabama, especially since there’s no childhood sweetheart involved. Yuck. [But did you know that there are in fact queer women in Ohio? I didn’t.] I may in fact end up staying here, but it’ll be for job reasons, not life reasons.)

I made the decision to move to New York at a very particular time in my life. I was very depressed, I had no sense of belonging or community and few (if any) stable friendships, I was pretty convinced that I would never find a partner who wanted anything other than occasional casual sex, and I firmly believed that no matter which field I chose, work would be a miserable lifelong slog that I would hate. I had pretty much given up on fixing any of the above problems. It just seemed like a given.

Maybe on some level I thought that moving to a place like New York would allow me to finally find the friends I’d been longing for all my life–people like me certainly didn’t fit in in the Midwest. But more than that, I thought that moving to a place like New York would make my loneliness more or less irrelevant.

Where else would I be so utterly unremarkable as a queer progressive Jewish atheist? Where else could I blend into the crowds, even late at night? Where else would there always be things to do, even if I had to do them by myself? Where else could I walk for miles and still not reach the edge of the city? Where else is it socially acceptable to cry on the subway? Where else can I safely go wherever I want without the protection of some dude? Where else could I stay out all night if that’s what I wanted to do? Where else can you go when you have no friends and don’t belong to anything or anyone?

What I honestly couldn’t consider at the time was that one day I might have friends, and communities, and even partners. I thought I had to pick a place to live based solely on how happy I could be there entirely alone. Being alone in New York is better, in my opinion, than being alone anywhere else.

That is one of the clearest examples I’ve ever had of the way depression warps your thinking. Depression made me assume that I would never have these things that I wanted, so I would have to create my life while keeping in mind that there would be these obvious holes in it. Mind the gaps. Move to a city where nobody will notice that you have no stable attachments to human beings outside of your immediate family. Who needs community when there are museums and parks and bookstores?

(Of course, that doesn’t mean that moving to New York was the wrong choice, or that staying there would be the wrong choice now. I may have chosen it for some pretty fucked-up reasons like I will never ever have actual people in my life who give a fuck about me, but the fact remains that New York is an amazing place, especially for a queer atheist. I love it more than any other place I have ever been.)

By the time I actually moved to New York, my actual life circumstances had been much better for about a year. I had friends and partners and communities, and there was no reason to assume I would lose all of them anytime soon. But I’ve stayed stuck in that way of thinking. When I initially contemplated moving to Columbus (since finding work there is much easier) my whole brain recoiled at the thought. It made me nauseous. I imagined driving to work and working and driving home and maybe stopping by Kroger for some groceries and then sitting in my apartment (admittedly much nicer than any I could afford in New York), alone, all night, with nowhere to go because there is nothing to do.

Of course, that’s not how anyone I know actually spends their time in Columbus. They go to meetup groups (or run meetup groups), play in bands and orchestras, go to bar trivia, watch sports, play tabletop games, ride bikes, take classes. Yeah, you probably won’t have that great a time if you try to walk 14 miles through Columbus in one day, like I’ve done several times in New York (alone, of course). There is no Central Park. There are much fewer museums and I’ll see them all pretty quickly. There aren’t a dozen or more indie bookstores, and certainly no Strand. There’s no Starbucks on every corner where you can go read or write alone. It’s not beautiful.

To live in Columbus, I would have to do something very scary, which is actually allow myself to rely on other human beings for connection and fun and a sense of belonging.

Three years ago, depression would’ve said that that’s completely impossible for someone as awful and despised as me.

Now I know better.

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I Don’t Want To Talk About It

#depression #mentalillness

I feel like an ungrateful jerk when I say this, but I dread the moment when a friend says, “Do you want to talk about it?”

I dread it because I have to lie and say no. I do want to talk about it, at least sometimes. But I can’t.

It used to be that I measured the strength of a friendship or relationship purely by how willing the person was to listen to my bullshit and how well they responded when I vented it. I truly believed in the idea that True Friends will be able to listen to me at my most raw and vulnerable, because that’s how True Friendship is often described when it comes down to it. You can Be Yourself around a True Friend. Well, Myself was often very, very sad.

“If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best,” and all that.

And then I lost a ton of friends and partners who couldn’t handle me at my worst.

They were good people, maybe not as good at communication and boundary-setting as they could’ve been, but then who is at that age? This wasn’t a case of shitty shallow people just not being willing to deal with any negativity; this was a case of normal people not being able to deal with someone’s mental illness.

Eventually something in me snapped, and my entire outlook on it changed. I no longer judge the strength of a friendship by how much the person can listen to me vent and cry. I almost never do anything I’d describe as “venting.” I do not consider it important to have someone I can “vent” to. I do not consider it important for friends and partners to see that side of me.

Am I bitter? Yes, a little bit. Many people who suffer from mental illness tell me that they don’t know where they’d be without their loving friends and partners who listen supportively to all of their completely unfiltered crap. It seems that my crap is of such an especially strong variety that nobody is able to handle it for long.

As if to test my resolve, plenty of people in my life try to convince me that they really can listen. “Yes,” they all say, “I know other people have let you down, but trust me, I want to be there for you.”

For a few years I fell for a few of these lines. Inevitably, “listening” and “being there” went along with “being determined to fix,” and you can’t fix a mental illness. So they’d try to fix me and they’d fail and they’d get frustrated and sooner or later I was such a source of negative feelings and it wasn’t worth it anymore.

It became a boy-cried-wolf situation. Every once in a while someone still tells me that, really, they’re a very good listener and they won’t get frustrated and they won’t expect to fix me and I really can talk to them.

I don’t fall for it anymore.

What is it about me? What is it that makes people so desperate to fix me that they lose the ability to set appropriate emotional boundaries and take a step back when they need to? What is it about my particular problems that make people think that they must fix them immediately or else it’s the end of the world?

I mean, certainly depression makes me feel that way, but as I said, plenty of people with depression nevertheless manage to vent to their friends without destroying everything.

There is a lovely Captain Awkward post that my friends and I often pass around at relevant times, called “The Sandwich Means I Love You.” It’s about a person with depression who worries that they are becoming too much of a burden on their friends, who are always helping them and generally being really great and supportive.

I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.

I’m sorry your Jerkbrain is translating that differently for you. I think it is hearing “I love you…for now…as long as you don’t actually like start to depend on that love and count on it too much and maybe become a burden? Enjoy this grilled cheese of temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment.

But your friends? They’re just saying “I love you.” Really.

This post consistently makes me cry happily, but the truth is that I don’t really believe in it. I mean, I believe that the people who post it on my Facebook wall are being as honest as they can be, but I also believe that when they support me it’s more of the “temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment” thing. Because that’s how it has historically been.

And it makes me sad when I share this and people accuse those ex-friends/-partners of being horrible or selfish or ableist or any number of other bad things. The truth is that dealing with depression is fucking horrible, and if a person with depression is telling you all of their thoughts and feelings, that’s not very far off from the experience of actually having it. The hopelessness. The going around in circles. The fact that nothing seems to ever help at all.

You are not a bad person if you can’t deal with this.

But this is why I feel like I can never fully open up to anyone again. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s adulthood.

Except, I guess, for all the other adults who seem to manage it just fine.