Long before I was finally diagnosed with depression 1 year ago, I struggled with intense feelings of stress and self-loathing, feelings that were overwhelming me, because I could not really understand what and why I was experiencing. I consider myself privileged to be born into a comfortable middle class life, to have a supportive family and friends, no academic problems. In theory, I was supposed to be happy. So why was I feeling so paralysed and helpless? Considering there are so many people who have it much worse than me, feeling sad seemed irrational, unjustified and shameful.
Everyone around me seemed to manage just fine, effortlessly juggling scholastic and social expectations. So I thought it must be my fault that I was barely holding it together. I was ashamed to admit that I was struggling and ask for help. When I finally gathered enough courage to talk openly about my problems with my friends and family members, I was stunned how much it resonated. Once I had shared my troubles, many of them would admit some of their own. These were people that I had known for more than 10 years, people that I thought I knew inside out, suddenly telling me about insecurities of theirs that I never even suspected them to have. Such moments of connection were a very special experience.
However, at times it was also exhilarating. It’s not easy for either party. Opening up, even to the people I trust most, took a great deal of mental effort. Then, I didn’t know how to properly express what I felt. And they didn’t know how to react. I didn’t know what kind of reaction I was hoping for. I didn’t want to burden or worry anyone. How often did I find myself alone in my room bawling my eyes out, finally calling my mother or my best friend, just to hang up 5 minutes later even more frustrated and miserable and guilty than before. They were only trying to help me to the best of their abilities, but somehow all well-meant compliments and advice only made me feel worse. I didn’t think they could truly understand me and it was so difficult to communicate what I wanted to say, when I didn’t even really know what that was myself. When they tried to relate their own experiences to mine, it felt like they were comparing a broken arm to a papercut. When they were trying to give me tips on health and well-being, it felt patronizing, as if I didn’t know and try that already. This was nothing that doing a round of Yoga or 8 hours of sleep or being more social could simply ‘fix’. Just thinking such things added to my guilt and shame, because it was like I was taking their attempts of help for granted. Devils circle.
What helped me most in the end wasn’t necessarily talking about anything in those situations. Discussing these things with a neutral person such as a therapist was a much better framework for me to sort out my thoughts without the added complications of emotional attachment. The greatest help for me was just someone being there and giving me a hug. Telling me that they know it sucks and just sharing a little bit of the suckiness in that moment.
How do you deal with emotional issues? In what situations do you share your thoughts with others? How does this make you feel? What might prevent you from seeking support?