ASKING FOR HELP IS TOO EXCRUCIATING
Mental health pamphlets make it sound like asking for help is easy.
They are lying.
Asking for help is horrible.
Try thinking of it this way, though:
When you tell a trusted person about the horror show in your head, you are giving them a chance to feel trusted and needed. That is one of the best feelings available within the human condition. (The feeling of eating chocolate ice cream is also pretty nice.)
Your person might open the curtains in your dim apartment and let the light flood in. Or they might put on a dumb comedy and eat chocolate ice cream with you on the couch. They might hand you a towel and gently suggest that it’s shower time. In an act of cruel love, they might drag you outside for a walk.
Right now, you probably need to make an appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist.
The Labyrinth of the American Mental Health System is daunting even when you are operating at full capacity. Your trusted person can help you scroll through a list of preferred providers. Or they can take a turn waiting on hold with your insurance company. No one should face the labyrinth alone.
It took me forty-five minutes to compose a text asking my brother to come over. I felt like I had to get the tone just right--I didn’t want to sound alarming or needy or dramatic. Eventually, after much typing and deleting, I sent something along the lines of, “Hey, I’m having a rough day depression-wise. If you’re not busy can you come hang out here? I could use some company.”
My brother was like, “sure, I’ll come over, okay if I finish my workout first?”
I texted back that it was totally chill, no big deal, no pressure, no rush at all.
I have a very hard time asking for help.
While I waited for my brother to come over, I dragged myself into the garage and trudged on my treadmill while shopping online for secondhand clothes. Then I became worried that if my brother came over and saw me walking on my treadmill, I wouldn’t look very depressed, which would make my request for his presence seem unnecessary. I wondered if I should be sitting on the couch and staring into space when he got there, so that he would feel like the half-hour drive to my house was justified.
Did I mention that depressed brains don’t think well?
When my brother came over, he helped me plot out what to do next. He suggested I write for an hour, since he knew that usually helps me feel better. This idea had not occurred to me. I told him about a profound dilemma that was before me: I had a play date planned for later in the afternoon. I was supposed to bring my daughters over to a friend’s house, and have tea with the friend while our daughters played.
The problem: I was a depression werewolf, not a person. To interact socially, I would have to do an impersonation of a person, and I didn’t have the wherewithal to put on an act. My brother pointed out that pretending to be a person might help me to feel more like a person.
I took my kids to the play date. I didn’t mention that I was in a chasm of despair. My friend and I just talked about the classes we were teaching, and marveled at the number of Oreos our children were consuming, and smiled indulgently as our daughters interrupted our conversation multiple times with impromptu musical performances.
When I drove home from the play date, the chattering doom-cloud had lifted. My brother was right: hanging out with a friend helped.
My brother’s intervention was not dramatic. He didn’t talk me off of a ledge or offer a profound philosophical rebuke to the logic of despair. He was just there with a functioning brain. He helped me navigate a bad day.
If you’re in the pit of doom, text a trusted person and ask them to come over. If it takes you less than forty-five minutes to compose your text, you win a fun-size bag of gummy bears. Email me with your address, and I will send you your prize. (The gummy bears may arrive in a week, or three years. Depends on my energy level.)
The problem is that when you are in a bad place, finding the words to ask for help can seem impossible. During my last serious bout of depression, I sat on my bedroom floor, attempting to muster the willpower to put on my tennis shoes. After staring into space for thirty minutes, silently arguing with my depressed thoughts, it occurred to me that it might be better if I weren’t alone. I knew my younger brother was home from college and not particularly busy. I knew he would be fine coming over to hang out with me until it was time to pick my kids up from school.
Bipolar Bear & the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Health Insurance: a Fable for Grown Ups is a graphic novel about a bipolar bear who gets lost in the Labyrinth of Health Insurance Claims.
When Mystical Creatures Attack! is a novel about an idealistic teacher who has a nervous breakdown and corresponds with her former students from an inpatient psychiatric facility.