I had my first conversation with a relative who has never had real depression. She said that she does have, “down days,” and that what works for her is to think positively. It was a loaded comment which I believe had connotations that if I do what she does, I will not be like I am. She did add, “maybe that doesn’t work for you” with a tone that felt like she would say any second, “…but it should!” She was inferring that if only I can “think positively,” this emotional pain that cuts my brain like an embedded fishhook will not have days where eating tastes like swallowing balls of sandpaper, where fear grips my eyes closed, where I only hear static and where the closest I come to relating is found in a spot on my grey bedroom wall.
I wanted to scream when she told me these things about how she just “switches” her thinking. As she talked about this, she swirled her delicately manicured fingers like she was twisting a soft serve waffle cone to effortlessly catch all the beautiful ribbons of creaminess. Her body language and explanation of this mood altering process was as airy, free and thoughtless. She explained the ability to shift moods and thoughts with relative ease.
I had one of those smiles with my lips upturned and my eyes blank. What was the use in trying to explain my horror? It would put me in a category of being a freak, unstable or totally unrelatable. Balancing my moods by thinking of something different is only a portion of the equation. Shifting moods and thoughts is more like trying to loosen the hot, over-tightened dirty bolts on a hubcap with your bare hands. They are unlikely to budge, but the person trying to dislodge them will expend a whole lot of effort despite the hard work. It takes an entire life of hard work. I have to watch every detail I do – food, exercise, rest, water, triggers, meds, med side effects, travel, drinking, caffeine, socializing, isolation, extremes, blood tests, weight gain, therapy, mindfulness, etc. The list continues.
In fairness, this relative does not know I have bipolar II. Most people do not. It is easier to just say, “oh, I have a bit of depression.” People get that. They think they can relate to it. Close friends I tell, “I have Depression with a big ‘D'”. Telling most people you have bipolar is comparable saying, “I have a puss-filled blister on my groin.” Nobody wants to know that shit*. People do not want you to have a nasty condition simply for the fact that it makes them uncomfortable you shared it. Those closest to me say, “I don’t know what to do” or, “I just want it [the bipolar] to go away.” The answer is that I do not really know what to do either. I think it would be swell for it to disappear. However, I think that treating someone equally, with respect, with compassion and with independently researched knowledge about their condition are the keys in knowing what to do, what to say and for bloody good reasons what not to say.
*People that really love you will want to know so they can help you survive it. They do not judge you – they lean into you. I have just a few of those folks, but they are who give me a reason for trying to stay alive even though it is hard for me and them. I hope that everyone has at least one person that “gets them” in this way. xo