Over the years, deep channels of belief in my lack of worth grew in my mind. Long-standing patterns of thought that ruled without much challenge, because I really was treated like I was worthless for many years.
I don't always know when I'm being swept away by that pattern of self-hatred, because the thoughts are so familiar that they don't feel like lies to me.
1. I often project that old pattern of self-hate on someone else, even friends, and believe they are the ones who think this way of me.
2. I believe I deserve to be disliked, and feel the need to apologize to my friends for giving them reasons to want to pull away. Even though I'm usually the only one who thinks this in the first place.
3. I respond with fear and over-react to normal changes in interaction, since my friends are sometimes busy and have social lives. Even though these friendships and activities are things I 100% support and encourage, because I love seeing my friends succeed and find happiness.
At some point over the past years, I realized it helps to contact my friends when I get into this state, instead of assuming it will burden them, though I hadn't clearly defined why ... other than noticing they do cheer me up somehow.
Now ***CONTACT FRIENDS!!!*** is the first thing on my to-do list .... when I admit I'm actually depressed and not "merely having a bad day." And that contact has to specifically admit that I'm slipping into depression.
If I hide it, I don't find the help I need.
If I don't trust/believe them, I won't benefit, either.
I need both honesty and trust to gain anything from connecting to my friends. I used to sabotage their help by saying, "You don't know!" or thinking "You must be saying this just to be nice!" ... I treated them like liars and fools instead of the trustworthy and kind people I knew they were. Incredibly, they stuck it out till I learned to believe them.
Today I'm writing out the realization I came to yesterday, sorted out in a series of conversations, starting while I was still completely blind to the fact that I was lying to myself. There's a reason why I need to contact others ... and a reason why it helps if they're good friends or at least positive and kind people.
I still don't know what set me off this time.
Emotionally, I'm always unstable at this time of month, but I usually don't end up in a blind depression anymore. (Now that I think about it, that's a huge success! There was a time when I couldn't expect even one good day in a month, and now I'm concerned when I slip into the darkness for a few hours.)
It took me nearly all day to admit I couldn't handle it by myself, though.
I kept telling myself it was only natural to feel so disappointed over a series of unexpected events, starting with missing a long-wished-for, real-life meeting with my internet friend (Slim) because my car wouldn't start.... Nick was busy this past week, so our communications were less transparent.... I've had more interaction than usual with X and even though it was positive or neutral in tone, I'm always on the edge of a breakdown when we have to connect.
The first revelation arrived during an incredible phone conversation with Seung Chan Lim (Slim) while he waited for his plane. He presents a beautiful and easily understandable perspective on building an honest connection with others in his book, Realizing Empathy. At one point he said, "At the end of my presentations, I always end up saying, 'I hope this was helpful,' and then I wonder if that's a bad thing. Do I really need to ask them? Shouldn't I just feel confident?"
Even as I told him that I think it's a mark of strength to know you need affirmation and encouragement, and to have the courage to ask for it, I realized that this is one of the reasons I need to talk to friends when I'm depressed. I would never have learned to see myself differently without them handing me a different view in a direct challenge to the negative thoughts I communicated to them.
There might come a day when Slim no longer feels the need to ask, after building a strong foundation of positive responses. And it is wise to choose to build that foundation. He might never reach a level of confidence that frees him to be even bolder with his message without gathering evidence that proves it has value to others, also. And what he has to say is something people need, desperately, to hear. Every bit of courage he gathers will enable him to share that gift with others even more.
We are social creatures and it is obvious that everything we do affects others. Since we can't read minds, it's good to ask and learn instead of assuming we can project an accurate assessment of their thoughts. We do not know unless we ask and receive honest feedback. And seeing the truth in others takes empathy.
Next in my process of revelation, take a look at what happened when I guessed at what Nick was thinking during yesterday's depression. I'm not the only one. Society trains us to think negatively first, I think. Nearly everyone I've ever interacted with has a tendency to do this to some extent, especially artists and people who see differently than the social norm.
Here are a few sections from the email I wrote Mica when I finally realized it was time to ask for help. Then I'll explain the contrast in perspective that soon followed.
I'm so lonely right now. Nick is difficult to connect with, and I think he's overwhelmed because I feel it so much when he's busy and can't talk. I'm on my period, which makes the feeling so much stronger. I hate this. Why can't I be okay with being so far away from him?I went on like this for several paragraphs, then:
I'm afraid. I'm afraid. I don't like being alone, and I wonder if I will be. If I'm too intense for Nick, then who could handle it?Note how I say, "I think he's overwhelmed," and "I'm too intense for Nick." <-- THAT, right there, is projecting my thoughts onto Nick.
Nick isn't like that. My relationship with X, however, was very much like this. Since I was caught up in my emotional residue from the past, I couldn't see that I wasn't thinking about Nick's thoughts at all. This feeling overwhelmed me in spite of the fact that we had really good conversations earlier in the day and over the past few days.
In other words, I was in the middle of an emotional landmine. Nick wasn't the cause of my feelings. And I had no clue ... at all ... that I wasn't seeing clearly. I really believed Nick must be secretly thinking these thoughts even though:
1. Nick doesn't think I'm too intense at all, and really appreciates how I think and explain things to the point where he always thanks me for it.
2. If he's overwhelmed or feeling pressured by anything I say or do, then he talks it through with me and doesn't ever keep his feelings a secret or just start avoiding me without explanation.
Finally, late last night, after posting that I was slipping into depression to a small group of good friends, and writing the email detailing my feelings to Mica ... I realized I should talk to Nick, too, and give him a chance to tell me what he really thinks.
This is the message I wrote for Mica after that phone conversation.
so you don't worry ... Nick called as soon as he left the party and we talked. He took my fears and proved they weren't worth worrying about, just like that. (By being himself.) Accepted me as I am, and made me feel safe again. He said, "We're not just best friends. It's something more, but there isn't a definition for it." He also told me that wild horses couldn't drag him away ... LOL so amazing, dear. How can I so easily forget how deeply he accepts and loves me?
Feeling lonely was real. But the fear that came out of the loneliness was just the past blinding me, and not Nick at all. I just needed to see it, and it was there all the time. Thankfully he doesn't mind reminding me.
I still think there's something wrong with me, not to see through the lies I tell myself when I'm depressed. I wonder why I can't get out of it by myself. And yet, it's amazing to realize that a huge reason I need my friends is because they see differently than I do.
When I need an alternate perspective ... especially when I'm caught up in an emotional landmine ... my friends can snap me out of it just like that. Just because they see from a different perspective. Because they actually know what they are thinking and are capable of correcting my false impressions like Nick did in our call last night.
Also .... because they can take my negative perspective on an actual disappointment:
"Slim and I couldn't visit, after all, just because of my stupid car. All he had time for was to drive up to my door, give me a hug, and drive back to the airport. Ugh ... I missed out!"
And change it to a positive realization:
"Wow! It's so cool that he thought it was important enough to meet you that he took the time to drive over and actually stop by for a minute, even though he was worried he'd be late for his flight!"
You know ... I'm not disappointed anymore, because when you look at it that way, I was given an incredible gift yesterday. And Slim and I got to have a insightful, empathetic, and honest conversation on the phone. I hope it's the first of many.
I'm so grateful for the people who see things differently than I do.
I'm thankful for my friends, who have taught me to trust them.
It's such a relief to know that when I'm lying to myself, my friends can tell me the truth.
And when I'm blind to the good things in life, they can help remove the distortions so I can see beauty again.
It's really amazingly simple, isn't it? And it works every single time, even though I STILL think it couldn't possibly help ... every single time. Heh!