There's a smart, funny, dynamic, and loving woman who follows my blog. We knew each other only as very loose acquaintances before I launched Laughing in Traffic. But now I really know her, because she trusts me with her truths, which she shares by email. One of her secrets is that, unbeknownst to many around her, she struggles tremendously with depression, the kind where it's hard to get out bed. We've written a little back and forth about how critically important it is to REACH OUT, to let those around you know you're suffering.
But she's really grappling with the question of who to trust her heart with, who can hang with it, and who "gets uncomfortable and tries to just immediately turn things positive, which drives me fucking bonkers." Me too, me too.
It's really, really hard to sit with someone else's pain without trying to fix it or obliterate it or to try to put a cherry on top. Our intentions to help are so good and so dear and bursting with love. And yet, when you're the one suffering, when someone wants to "solve" your struggle, it can feel like a big fat abandonment. "Wait, please come back. Please just sit here with me in the mess for a little while. Let me do the best I can to tell you how lonely and hard it is in here. If you can't idle with me for a small moment, how do you expect me to live with it every single day?" This might just be the belief I'm most passionate about in life: when we listen to each other's heartaches, really listen, it's the absolute best chance for our pain to loosen its' grip. And one of the most precious gifts we can give. I'm not so naive to suggest this is a panacea for depression. It's not. But it sure as hell will make a difference. I'd bet my dog on that. That little white one, the creature I love more than life itself. That's just how sure I am. And here's the gratuitous photo to prove it.
But there WILL be times, in fact many of them, when people can't sit with our pain for a variety of reasons, like maybe it reminds them too painfully of their own. And they might even inadvertently try to shame us for our feelings because they're just that uncomfortable. And to answer your question, my dear new blog reader friend, about how to decide who's safe to share your struggle with, and who's not, The Therapist would say that "we're always safer with our hearts open".
He often reminds me of this mantra when I'm feeling particularly down, and I usually want to smack him upside the head when he does. But I totally get it. And dig it. Even if I hate it. One of my own spins on this open-hearted idea is that if we keep at the toughest work there is, to learn how to give ourselves the loving attention we crave so deeply from another, it will matter less and less how someone reacts to our stuff. It doesn't mean we should stop reaching out (never!), but maybe it will sting less when someone doesn't respond in the way we hoped for or needed. Because there will always be the inner Mama Bear to come home to.
But I know it can feel like a long, long road from deep depression to self-love. In the meantime? Hang the fuck on. I'm so used to thinking of myself as weak and too sensitive and unworthy, because of my health and depression struggles. In fact some of you have heard me say before "I just don't think I was designed for human form." But these days, even in the midst of the struggle, I see my strength abounding everywhere. Each time you reach out and survive the reaching, in a culture that tells you to keep your struggle to yourself, you realize just how powerful and brave you are. And slowly the self-effacing thoughts that are the lifeline of depression, will be replaced by thoughts like "I'm a warrior. Watch the fuck out." I wish I knew how to put a little smiley face emoticon RIGHT HERE.