“You know what your problem is? You’re too proud to ask for help.” This was some years ago. I was burned out, exhausted, crying and my then-baby had just thrown up in a really unhelpful way even by the usual standards of baby vomit. Oddly, these words did not uplift me or inspire me to feel more able to seek help when I needed it. Quite the opposite happened.
Of course this event was one amongst many, and they all turn up in my head in moments of dark depression when I desperately need help. The times I most need care, comfort, support, a friendly ear, companionship and distraction are the times I am least able to mention it. Based on observation, this is true of a lot of people struggling with depression and anxiety. When we are drowning, we lie, we pretend we’re waving really. Ask us and we’ll tell you we were waving even as the water fills our mouths.
Some of this, no doubt, is to do with the very nature of depression. You look around and there’s all these other busy people with important things to do, and all these manifestly more worthy people with bigger problems, and how can you ask anyone to prioritise your small malfunction? So you don’t mention it. Pride may enter the equation sometimes for some people, but I’m prepared to bet most of the time it’s not the main reason for silence. Unfortunately silence makes it easier to stay in the bottom of the hole and increases the chances of wanting to die. Breaking the silence is hard. I can’t talk about it when I’m in the bottom of the hole. Only at times like this, when my head is in a passable state can I talk about the mechanics of what goes wrong.
Some of it is to do with why we are depressed in the first place. Like a lot of troubled people, I have a head full of other people’s voices. Things that were said to me that demoralised me when I needed support. Don’t make a fuss, don’t be such a nuisance, stop feeling sorry for yourself, lots of people are worse off than you are, stop playing the martyr, stop with the crocodile tears and the emotional blackmail. Pull yourself together. And if we haven’t heard it directly, we’ve picked up that vibe form how our government treats the sick, or we’ve run into the positivity brigade telling us the only real problem is our own attitude. It feels safer to be silent. Speak, make the misery visible, and there’s every chance someone will tell you something they think is helpful – like the quote I started with – that will leave you feeling more inclined to top yourself.
And then, the people who do break and take their own lives, lead to comments about why did they never ask for help, why didn’t they tell anyone? If you think saying ‘I feel suicidal’ will get you a ‘stop being so melodramatic’ then you don’t say it. If you think it will be treated as ‘a cry for help’, or a way of manipulating someone to get your own way, you don’t say it.
If you can, find allies who have the strength of heart and guts to hear you without judging.
If you’re on the outside of this, of course the questions go, is this person seeking attention, trying to manipulate me, lying, some kind of drama queen. They could be – it happens. However, if you’ve got to step back, try and do so gently, because these things take their toll. I’ve been the melodramatic fuss maker for a lot of people in my life, and that judgement of me has made it considerably harder to seek help when I needed it. I’m sure the people making the judgements were confident they were right, and that it was fair to not just refuse help, but also to give me a metaphorical slap, for just these reasons, but it is a bloody awful thing to be on the receiving end of when you’re already down.