Accountability: Bigger on the inside

Its been a while since I updated. Life has become slightly busier as I have more commitments right now than I did when I first started writing. The last couple of weeks have also been fairly turbulent, which has held me up from getting on here. For that reason, I’m going to centre this update on my mental health rather than physical. The latter part is also not going terribly well.

I am still unable to exercise, moreso right now because my left foot has swollen up and even walking is a challenge, let alone much else. I had my first physio appointment on Wednesday and I wasn’t even in there for five minutes… I showed the nice lady my foot and she said there was nothing we could do today and I should go to the urgent care centre. I did, and doc said there’s a build up of fluid or something where I’ve been putting too much pressure on that foot to avoid leaning on my bad leg. I kind of have to laugh at this point. It’s Saturday night and I’m sat in my flat with a bag of frozen veg on my elevated foot. I am feeling like quite the lamer. It seems to be getting slightly better at least.

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SOURCE: Goodreads/CBS

So, the last couple of weeks. Again, I have to laugh. I’m better the last few days, but otherwise emotionally, I’ve been very wobbly. Fighting to get out of bed in the morning, crying at inappropriate moments, putting off showering, comfort eating… All the stuff that tells me I’m heading for a dark place. I don’t really want to go into details of what triggered it here but it culminated in a huge blip last weekend. I had a night out on the Friday that went pear shaped – alcohol was involved – and I ended the night going home early and feeling very sad. I know that I shouldn’t drink when I’m already not doing good, it’s the worst idea… I wanted to go out and have a good night and just feel normal. I’m going dry again for a while. Why do it to myself? I didn’t have a huge amount to drink, even, but it didn’t matter. The result was still the same.

The next day – mentally more than physically – I felt like absolute hell. I didn’t move from the sofa, just sort of laid there and cried some and slept a bit and thought a lot. I could have done that all day. I could still be there right now, a week later – it’s not unheard of – except I forced myself to do something I’ve only recently learned to do. I picked up my phone.

I messaged my close friend who lives nearby and asked if she was free to come over. I felt silly, I felt scared, I felt vulnerable – but she came. She sat with me all evening. We watched American Pie and talked about crisps. It was so nice just having her there with me; a reminder that I’m not alone, no matter how much that bitch voice in my head tells me I am. Just a few hours of hanging out with my friend, shooting the shit and being normal – it helped so much. I felt better. Reminded that there are good things and good people in life and what goes on in my head is not the be all and end all.

The next day my mum came over; again, I asked her. I asked for help. Just doing that, made me feel powerful again. Reminded me that I’m not helpless to this stupid illness. Part of it too is that my mum has an amazing way of putting things in perspective. She’s very pragmatic about things, which is what I need sometimes when I get caught up purely with the emotions. I talked about a lot of stuff with her – things that had been happening, things I was feeling, and she listened patiently. I didn’t feel like a burden and I realised I didn’t need to – this is my mum, for Christ’s sake – but it was still such a big deal for me to message my friend, to call my mum, to say, ‘I need help.’

I’m so glad I did. After my mum left, I managed to get off the sofa. I then packed my bag for the next day, had a shower and set my alarm. I was still feeling like a big bag of dicks – but feeling, at the very least, like I could carry on, like I could cope. Maybe it will never feel comfortable asking for my help, but I proved to myself that I could do it. I’m learning.

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Source: Twitter/BBC

People have told that I’m a fighter, that I’m brave. When I’m just going through the motions, it doesn’t feel like that at all. I do all I can; I take my meds, I use all the self help going, but I’ve accepted that for me, depression as a chronic illness that all I can do is manage. And that’s okay. I have a damn fucking good life. I cant always see that, especially when I’m really down, but I really, really do. For people like me, recovery isn’t going to be something that happens once then I never think about it again  Recovery is going to be a constant process. I’ve not failed because I have a blip for a few days. I’m just not doing as good on those days as I do on other days. And that’s okay too. My friends and family have been amazingly supportive over the past few months, and I will never stop feeling grateful for that – for all the people who sat with me, listened to me, put themselves out for me. I am so, so lucky and I don’t know where I would be without them. I couldn’t fight at all without that support. It’s important. There is some guilt that comes with that; fear that I’m a burden, that I’m taking an emotional dump, that I’m just silly and whiny. But I know if any member of my friends or family were in that place – I’d be there too. I wouldn’t think that about them. So why am I so fucking hard on myself?

I’m lucky. But I’m conflicted.

Even just admitting sometimes that I’m not doing so good is very difficult. I am pushing myself hard to be open on this blog. In day to day life, I have no problem telling people I have a trapped nerve. But telling them I have depression? That’s different. I fear judgement. I fear they’ll see me differently. Yet usually, they’re just really surprised. They say things like, ‘really? But you seem so happy.’

In a way, I am happy. Life is good. I just have an illness. And that illness is not who I am. It’s also down to the fact that chronically sad people learn from a young age to pretend everything is fine, even to act as if we’re more chipper than the average. We have to mask it, otherwise we wouldn’t get by in this world. We would just be crushed. Sometimes I feel ashamed that I feel things so much more intensely than other people. I feel like a freak. Intellectually I know I’m not. I purely have a chemical imbalance in my brain. But emotionally? Forget it. I’m working on it. The stigma against mental illness will never change without openness. Be the change you want to see in the world and all that noise. It’s just not always that easy.

Speaking of quotes, there’s a song by Amanda Palmer called Bigger on the Inside that I haven’t listened to for ages, but it popped up as a random earworm the other day. I started thinking a bit about what that phrase meant. Presumably from the lyrics she wrote the song in response to all the horrible cyber bullying she was a victim of a few years back. I really like the phrase, though: I am bigger on the inside. I can handle more than I realise. I am stronger than I think. That’s how I choose to interpret it. I’ve adopted it as my new affirmation.

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Source: Rebloggy/Disney

Tonight I made myself a nice healthy clean meal for the first time in several days… And I already feel better from the simple pleasure of cooking. Also just from getting some food inside me… I have little appetite at the moment. I’m trying to remember this feeling; that nice, contented relaxed feeling of being full of healthy food I made all by myself. There’s no reason why I can’t do that every day. And I didn’t even make too much mess in the kitchen. My flatmate will be pleased.

Exercise wise, I hope I can start doing some yoga at least when my foot is better. Physio says I can indeed do some exercise with my leg, just that I need to lay off the HIIT. That’s a double edged sword…

I digress. I’ll end with this: If you want to help someone who is depressed, know that you cant fix us. We dont expect you to. Ultimately, just be beside us. If we need to talk, listen; if we don’t want to talk, just be there. Your presence is comforting.

Equally, sometimes your presence isn’t comforting and we need to be alone. That’s about us, not you. The best way to help in this situation is to give us space.

And please, if you need to: set boundaries with us. Do it gently. Sometimes we’ll drain you. Sometimes you’ll feel helpless. Call us out if our behaviour hurts you – again, gently – there’s no point in both of us being depressed.

But above all, remember us how we are when we’re well. That’s the real us. And above, above all – please, please don’t give up on us. We’re still in there. We’re fighting. It may not look like it sometimes – but every second we’re still here, we’re fighting.

And if you’re depressed – if you can bear it, please reach out. To anyone – a friend, a family member, an organisation, a helpline… The list is endless. And it’s so worth it. I promise

“I’m sorry you feel that way”: How not to apologise

The apology is something that seems to baffle us as human beings. Some of us do it too much, for example, the classic ‘I-said-sorry-when-she-stepped-on-my-foot.’ Some of us avoid it because it forces us to admit we did something wrong and we find that very uncomfortable. Some of us do it out of the corner of our mouths while looking at our shoes. Apologies are difficult to get right, and they take practice. However, there is one way definitely NOT to do it – EVER. By saying one of the most condescending, invalidating, borderline gaslighting phrases in the English language:

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

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Source: BBC/giphy.com

Ladies, gentleman and all in between: this is not a fucking apology.

“I’m sorry you feel that way” translates, loosely, to “I don’t think you have a reason to be upset but here is a half assed attempt to like acknowledge your feelings or some shit. I don’t think what you feel is relevant to what I supposedly did and I don’t have time to sit down and talk through this with you so that I might empathise with your viewpoint.”

Fair enough, sometimes we might think people’s anger or hurt is irrational. We might not think what we did was that bad, especially if it was an accident, or that we had no way of knowing that our behaviour might hurt someone. And we are, of course, entitled to think that. But if we have behaved in a way that HAS hurt someone close to us – which sometimes we ALL do – we need to acknowledge that fact, listen and try to work something out so that the hurt doesn’t happen again. Of course, this takes two willing people who can discuss something rationally to work out – and it isn’t always possible – but even if you think the person you have upset or offended must be smoking crack to feel that way, never, ever tell them that you’re simply sorry they feel that way. It is invalidating and will cause more hurt.

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Source: Paramount Pictures/giphy.com

(As an aside, if you really do suspect someone you know is on crack, you might also want to deal with that).

Here’s an example of why “I’m sorry you feel that way” is so shitty when you have, unintentionally or otherwise, caused somebody harm:

Bill and Ben were once good friends. One day Bill, feeling that he wasn’t progressing in his office job, fancied a career change. So he decided to become an axe murderer. So he bought an axe and decided Ben should be his first victim. After all, Ben’s a pretty understanding guy and tends to support everything he does.

So, Bill shows up at Ben’s place with crazed axe murderer eyes. Ben feels a bit hurt when Bill charges at him all ‘RARGH I’MMA AXE YOU’ and the following conversation ensues:

Ben: Dude why are you murdering me I had so much to live fooor

Bill: I’m just trying something new why can’t you just be happy for me

Ben: I am but I am also feeling hurt by your behaviour I feel like you didn’t consider how I might feel about you murdering me and that hurts and I wish you would have talked to me first

Bill: I’m sorry you feel that way!

Okay. So here we can see that Ben is laying dying and is quite pissed off that Bill went ahead and acted without thinking about the impact his actions might have on Ben. Instead of exploring Ben’s feelings about how his thoughtless behaviour (which harmed him whilst he benefited himself, whether or not this was Bill’s intention) has affected Ben, Bill shrugs it off with ‘I’m sorry you feel that way’ to smooth over the situation without taking any responsibility for Ben’s feelings. Therefore, the implication is that Ben is feeling bad of his own accord, ignoring two golden rules: every action has a reaction and everything you do affects other people.

But, I mean, Bill apologised, right? Ben will probably be cool. Except, he’s kind of dead…

So, whilst Ben was still alive, Bill’s behaviour made Ben feel as though Bill cares more about what Bill himself wants than how the way he’s gone out to get it has hurt him. Bill may not have intended this, and sometimes we all hurt people without meaning to – Bill is only human. It’s what he does next that matters.

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Source: Paramount Pictures/eonline.com

Picture the situation differently. Bill is laying into Ben with his newly purchased axe:

Ben: I had so much to live for I feel sad that you didn’t consider how you killing me might affect me

Bill: Oah, shit man I had no idea. I’m sorry that I hurt your feelings with my thoughtless behaviour. Let me help you up and lets go talk.

So. The outcome here is that Bill and Ben talked and they were able to communicate openly, make amends and move pat it. And Ben didn’t die. Huzzah.

Bill wasn’t considering how Ben might feel  if he murdered him. He wasn’t considering that he was so excited about his new axe murdering career that Ben’s needs (i.e. safety) fell by the wayside. Bill is not merely sorry Ben feels that way: he’s sorry his behaviour hurt his friend and he takes responsibility for this.

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Bill and Ben the Flowerpot Men: Creepyass British puppets. Source: BBC

So… when is it okay to say “I’m sorry you feel that way?”

It’s not.

“But what if I am genuinely not the cause of the feeling?”

Well, you don’t need to be sorry, do you?

Here’s a slightly different situation involving Bill and Ben:

Bill: Dude I think I’m in love with you
Ben: Don’t feel the same way soz
Bill: K I hate you now bye

Should Ben be sorry Bill feels that way? No! He doesn’t need to be sorry because in this situation, Ben has not done anything to cause Bill’s feelings. He is not responsible for how Bill feels. You can’t make someone fall in love with you. People just do because people are odd and we are complicated and we don’t always feel the same way about each other, and that’s nobody’s fault. It’s just the way things are.

Now let’s consider that phrase again: ‘I am not responsible for how you feel.’

Sigh. That is a phrase that gets misused far, far too much in the wrong context. It does NOT apply when it’s related to you evading responsibility for your shitty behaviour.

Let us consider Bill killing Ben with an axe again:

Ben: Bill you are such a dick for killing me with this axe I am so annoyed with you right now
Bill: Nvm I’m not responsible for how you feel.

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Source: HBO/gifsoup.com

Um, Bill? You’re killing the guy with an axe. That’s all on you, man. So you’re not responsible for how he’s going to feel in his dying moments? You’re not responsible for how his family and friends are going to feel that Ben has died in an axe murder perpetrated by his bestie? You’re not responsible for the fear that will create in your local community if there’s an axe murder on the loose?

The point is, everything we do has an effect on other people. Sometimes we act like douchebags – I do, you do, your grandma does. We’re all human, and it’s often understandable. But repair it by learning to give a genuine, sincere, heartfelt apology. Most of us never mean to hurt people, but we do, even if at the time we are totally oblivious to it. Even if it was never our intention. Don’t brush off someone you care about. Talk to them and work it out.

Don’t be sorry someone feels that way. They are already taking care of feeling sorry that they feel that way. If the person is of sound mind and is feeling hurt by your behaviour, acknowledge what they are feeling and apologise for being the cause of the feeling – even if you think it wouldn’t upset you personally or you think they’re making a fuss over nothing. It’s the classic ‘you’re too sensitive.’ ‘You’re overreacting.’

None of us are perfect. We all have thoughtless, mean and downright stupid sides. Respect for people’s feelings and open, honest communication will keep your relationships strong.