Here goes then. No preamble. No leading in joke. No relevant quote. No beating about the bush. No gentle introduction. No faffing about. No procrastinating. No long rambling anecdote. I’m just going to say it.
Gratitude is exhausting.
Not all of the time. Not in every human interaction. Not in each exchange, taken individually. But in some cases, it can be.
When The Black Dog decided to pounce on me again towards the end of last year, there was a fairly standard pattern I followed:
Boiling piss anger at myself, my brain, you, her, him, that bloke over there with the hat, the teenagers on the bus, Uncle Charles, Queen Victoria, the boy I sat next to in Yr9 Geography… just everyone.
Brainswimming horror at the realisation of just how badly I had been behaving recently.
Wearied trip to the GP to demand more drugs, and be admonished for not having come in sooner.
And then, the retreat.
Always, the retreat. Into myself, away from real life, that rude and impertinent impostor. I kept up contact with people on twitter, and facebook to a lesser extent. But emails, phone calls, and seeing people, nup. Especially those closest to me.
Which you might think is not the best course of action to take. The advice for people with depression is always to talk. Keep talking. Talk to people about how you’re feeling. Let them know what’s going on with you. Let them help.
And that’s where we hit the problem. No one can help. No one. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s my illness. And what fixes it are drugs. Not emails. Not phone calls. Not having a considerate friend call round. I know that people have the best intentions. I know they are doing it because they care. But it doesn’t help. When I feel bad, I don’t want to talk about how bad I’m feeling. I need instead to be distracted. I don’t need to be reminded of how bad I feel. What I want to do when people try to help is shrug, and say ‘meh’. Because I don’t feel better for the help. But of course, I can’t do that. Because if I did, then the person trying to help, my helper, would be hurt, confused, bewildered, thinking ‘But I did a nice thing for you! I tried to help you! I want to make you feel better! Even if you’re down, at least you know that someone cares!’
And then I would feel worse, for hurting someone trying to help me. I would feel guilty, and filled with more self-loathing at my presumption that my feelings were more important than theirs.
So instead, I fake gratitude. I fake a smile, and give a double thumbs up. But inside, I feel worse. Because someone tried to help, they didn’t, and now I’m faking feeling better. When I don’t. Which is another thing to feel bad about. My energy reserves – already running on fumes – take another slump. So, with the best of intentions, my helper has made me feel worse. See? Gratitude can be exhausting. And I don’t need the weight of someone else’s feelings when I’m already down.
I don’t push people away to be hurtful. It’s not me lashing out. All I’m doing is falling in on myself, just for a while, until the bleakness goes.
I push you away because I care about you. Because I don’t want to hurt you. And then to be told that I am hurting you… again, it doesn’t help. I know I sound selfish. I know to most people it probably doesn’t make sense. I know it hurts you to know that I’m down, and that you’re trying to improve things for me. I know you think talking will help. But by pushing me into a situation where I feel either I have to fake gratitude, or be made to talk when I’m not ready to, the opposite is achieved. I know you care, you want to help. But the best way of helping me, is to not.