Drowning, Lying, Waving

“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.


About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

12 responses to “Drowning, Lying, Waving

  • footpathsintotheforest

    Just what I needed to hear today. I’m in bed and I can’t get out today. I can’t explain why but I feel like a deflated blob of nothingness. It’s hard to ask for help on days like this, so I hide in bed.

    • Nimue Brown

      Rest is a great cure for many things, take it if you can. I think exhaustion is more normal than we notice, and there’s only so far a boy can run before it has to stop. When we’re allowed a more natural pace and more regular stops, burning out is less of an issue. I hope you feel better soon, and/or that you have the time and space to do what you need to do until you get to feeling better.

  • lornasmithers

    ‘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.’

    Powerful words. This is the situation our current social expectations create for people. We’re supposed to smile and get on with things even when too unwell, when we actually can’t cope in one way or another. We’re currently living in a reality where it’s very difficult for sensitive or unwell people to cope. And it needs to change.

  • Jane Bled

    This is what I needed to read. Thank you, Nimue.

  • Ellas.Infinite.Realm

    Your lovely words bring such resonance, and Oh how on spot. Only, I got “You’re being so selfish” “Pull yourself up by the bootstraps and get on with it…Life is Hard.” Then to sit with that statement of wisdom {????}, and wonder, always silently, while the other person tells us what is wrong with our view of life and how they could make our lives worthy if they had control of it: WHAT THE HELL ARE BOOTSTRAPS?????
    Just sayin. I waved, as you so poetically express, until I nearly died of an illness that had a lovely side effect of creating depressive symptoms, among many others. It is time for our society to change, to move toward acceptance, understanding, genuine compassion and away from one giant bullying behemoth. The good news is this: If the bully cannot see you, he cannot get to you. Cloak of invisibility anyone?

  • juliebond

    You’re absolutely right. Just when you need the help the most it’s most difficult to ask for it. It’s then when you’re also most vulnerable to damage from ‘helpful’ statements like, ‘just look at a nice sunset’, or ‘Try some more B vitamins’.

  • Sparkles

    I was working on a post that says exactly this! You’ve said it so much better though. If a depressed person could just snap out of it then they would. No one enjoys feeling crappy. When I feel depressed I’m not even sure there is anything that will help and asking for help would only make me feel more depressed for some stupid reason. I would feel weak and useless which is utter crap but that’s how we’ve been taught. You have to be strong and independent to be admires and we all pity and revile the ones who need help, which by the way ends up being everyone at one time or another. Thanks for posting this, love it!

    • Nimue Brown

      glad it helped, but don’t let it out you off writing. I think the issue with help is that there can be a subtext of pressure to be fixed by the help, and the risk of a backlash if you don’t. Real help would offer care and just let you do what you can with it, people expecting to have a magical effect can do quite the opposite.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        Being bi-polar I have had my share of depression, but it was only horrific thoughts about violence, and the fact that VA opened a free clinic sixty miles from me, that made it possible for me to both seek help and get it, because my local town does not have effective emotional/mental health program for poor people. But I was terrified at my own thoughts and the opportunity suddenly opened up to do something. Once I told them my thoughts, they decided not to worry if it was war related or not. Otherwise I might well ended up dead or in prison and would not be a cheerful person that I have become in my old age. So it is not just can you go to get help, but also if help is actually available where you are based on your economic situation here in the States. Even our middle class has problems getting effective mental health care that they can afford, most health insurance offers only limited time restrained help at high price.

  • Christopher Blackwell

    Always good to have someone, who has never been seriously depressed, telling you how to handle it. When someone like that is your boss, I call it being a stupidvisor. Regardless of total lack of knowledge, or experience, they will still give useless and sometimes contradictory advice.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s frightening how little help and support there can be around serious mental health issues. Mental health is health.

      • Christopher Blackwell

        Exactly, which is why I would no more stop taking the meds that mellow my emotions out, then then I would stop taking the insulin that does the same for my blood sugar content.

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