Valentine’s day is tomorrow, right? These are pretty much still my thoughts about that. It’s a terrible night to eat out. Don’t buy anyone an expensive necklace that looks like two butts stuck together. People like to be told that they matter.
Today’s question is also a love story.
Dear Capt. Awkward,
I have depression. It’s diagnosed, I’m on happy pills and everything. It varies, sometimes I’ll be completely fine, other times I’ll have a sobbing emotional breakdown in the middle of a bar. The breakdowns don’t happen very often, and I’ve talked to my drug!shrink about my medication. Unfortunately it appears my options are to be more drugged during the good times in order to compensate for the bad times, which are sporadic and unpredictable. Since I don’t really like being on drugs in the first place, we decided to continue the meds I’m on and cope with the bad episodes.
One of the (few) really good, awesome things I have in my life is a group of friends that is nurturing, loving and completely sympathetic to my issues. Several of them have either been diagnosed with depression or had depressive episodes following breakups or extreme stress, so they understand what I’m dealing with.
My problem is that I fear that I’m becoming too reliant on them. I have a few things I do that I recognize in hindsight are signals that I’m about to spiral down the depression hallway: forgetting to eat is one; *hiding* that I’m not eating is a HUGE one. I told one friend this a while ago, and now whenever he thinks I’m not doing too well he makes a point of asking when the last time I ate was, and what I ate, and if he doesn’t like my answer he makes me food. I truly appreciate that I have friends who are observant enough to notice and caring enough to make sure I’m ok. In the middle of my sobbing breakdown last week I told two friends that I had taken my medications that I thought might be harmful to the docs to be disposed of, but then I told the doc that I wasn’t sleeping and she prescribed me 30 pills of ambien, and they told me if I wanted to keep the pills at one of their places so I could still have access if I need it, but don’t have a whole bottle in the case of a bad day, they’d be happy to help me out.
But how do I keep from depending on them too much? When I’m in the middle of an episode, it’s not that I don’t notice that I’m having issues, it’s that I don’t care, or it’s too much effort to do anything besides stay in bed and cry. I’m worried that I’m becoming “that friend,” the one who no one actually wants to be around and who gets made fun of when I’m not around. On my more rational days, I realize that, having dealt with psychiatric issues before, my friends are likely to just tell me if I’m becoming needy or asking too much of them. On my less rational days, I convince myself that I’m crazy and no one likes me and I should just hide in my room and not pester them because then they won’t like me anymore and I’ll be all alone in this city, in addition to being unemployed and single.
I was seeing a talk!shrink for a while. She gave me some useful tools for dealing with myself and recognizing the way I set myself up for failure. Unfortunately, I was limited to a certain number of sessions, which I’ve reached.
So, my question is basically, how do I set boundaries for *myself* with my friends in order to ensure that I’m not overly reliant on them, but still able to reach out when I need help?
I need my friends, but I don’t want to *need* my friends
I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.“
I’m sorry your Jerkbrain is translating that differently for you. I think it is hearing “I love you…for now…as long as you don’t actually like start to depend on that love and count on it too much and maybe become a burden? Enjoy this grilled cheese of temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment.“
But your friends? They’re just saying “I love you.” Really.
There’s a scene in the novel Smilla’s Sense of Snow between Smilla and her father, in Smilla’s childhood. Someone has my copy so I can’t quote it exactly, but Smilla was raised by her mother, a famous hunter and navigator in Greenland, and after her mother’s death she ends up with her father in Denmark. There’s some party where cookies are served, and she takes “too many” of them for politeness, and he tries to shame her about it. “Keep taking cookies until you feel ashamed,” so she locks eyes with him and takes more and more and more and more and more until he can’t stand it and stops her.
Your letter made me think of that scene. There is something in there about a primal need – for comfort, for sustenance, for sweetness – that goes beyond politeness. The part of ourselves that will lock eyes with someone and say “Yeah, I need everything from you, what are you going to do about that?” and the part of ourselves that is socially conditioned to feel shame about expressing unseemly desires or worry that if we give ourselves permission (to take a few cookies)(to really need and count on someone else) that we’ll never, ever stop.
We joke a little bit about Party Smeagol around these parts, because Smeagol is so pathetic and gross and he will do a weird dance if given the tiniest scrap of affection and we don’t want to be like him: constantly hungry and ruled by that hunger. If anyone knew how gross and hungry we were, how could they ever love us? So we let our inner Gollum smack Smeagol around. “Stop being so pathetic, Smeagol. They don’t REALLY like you. Go ahead. Ask them if they really like you and see what they say.” The problem is, if you turn every act of kindness from your friends into an emotional audit of your relationship and an opportunity to abase yourself and indulge your jerkbrain’s belief that you are not lovable – “Are you really sure you want to make me that sandwich? Like, really really sure?” – it IS tiresome and distancing.
Let’s throw more literary references at this problem.
“People ask me: Why do you write about food, and eating, and drinking? Why don’t you write about the struggle for power and security and about love, the way others do?
They ask it accusingly, as if I were somehow gross, unfaithful to the honor of my craft.
The easiest answer is to say that, like most other humans, I am hungry. But there is more than that. It seems to me that our three basic needs, for food and security and love, are so mixed and mingled and entwined that we cannot straightly think of one without the others. So it happens that when I write of hunger, I am really writing about love and the hunger for it, and warmth and the love of it and the hunger for it…and then the warmth and richness and fine reality of hunger satisfied…and it is all one.” – MFK Fisher, The Gastronomical Me.
Humans are hungry. Inside us there is a shriveled, slimy, disgusting turd of a heart or a soul or a self or whatever you want to call it, and it’s just fucking hungry as hell. The only way to feed it is to love people and let yourself be loved.
The way you set boundaries around this is to accept what’s offered with grace and gratitude. You’re loved. Your friends are proving it to you all the time in small, cool ways that are not hard for them. They’ve been where you’ve been. They would not offer these things if they didn’t want to do them. Stop looking for evidence that you’re unworthy of this, and stop questioning these acts of kindness. Maybe your little turd-heart doesn’t deserve this love. Tough shit. You’re loved anyway. Deal with it. Let your friends feed you, and when you can in whatever way you can, feed them back.
And because this is my blog and I get to write anything I want here, let me just say to my own friends:
I love you all so much with a bottomless, awkward love. Happy Valentine’s Day.