How to answer questions when you’re not “good”
Since I had a breakdown a few months ago, conversations have become harder. It’s like there’s an invisible time limit to sympathy that no one has expressed to me, but I’m conscious of not wearing my friends out like I’m worn out. I don’t want to lose anyone else. I’ve lost so many in the last year.
I gave up on having a mother-daughter relationship and by both my choice and the choices of my parents, I am effectively an emotional orphan, even though they are both alive and well.
I’ve been through two breakups, one mutual, one very much not, with men who I cared about. One is still a friend, though we rarely talk, as is the way of these things. The other I tried to be friends with, but there was too much residual hurt, so I cut that off, which felt like a loss all over again, and I’m not sure if it was harder or easier that it was my choice to end things this time.
I lost a friend and I’m not sure why. I think me being sad coincided with her getting wrapped up with a new boyfriend, but whatever it was, she disappeared.
I lost another friend over a disagreement that I should just forgive and forget, but it’s too late, I have switched off.
I gave up on the idea of ever having another baby or child, because I’m so afraid of pregnancy, and because I am ready to have a career now. Now that I have a fairly independent seven year old, the idea of being consumed by babyhood sounds like a nightmare, even though I love babies. All my life I’ve imagined a daughter, and though she never existed, I’ve lost her too. I gave up on fostering after looking after one beautiful toddler and quickly reaching burnout.
I don’t want to lose anyone else. And yet I’m conscious that when I’m hurting, I push people away. It’s a perfectly logical self-protective mechanism, but it doesn’t do me any good in the long run. Being aware of it isn’t enough to stop me doing it. I do it without fail, I always have. I switch off and shut down, or I don’t communicate properly during conflict, or I act in overly emotional ways that are hard for others to deal with.
So now that it’s been a few months that I’ve been struggling with my mental wellness on a daily – hourly – basis, I no longer know what to say when someone asks me how my day has been, or how am I feeling? Should I tell them about the times my insides are hollow, or the times when they’re an overflowing tangle? Do they know how it feels when your chest is so tight you can’t breathe properly, and how confusing it is that it happens for no apparent reason?
“Good,” is a lie.
“I’ve been a trembling, teary mess all day,” is more likely to be the truth. “My knees shake and sometimes I can’t breathe,” is another truth. “I’m frustrated that I can’t stop feeling like this,” is another.
“I’m ok,” isn’t really an answer at all, but it’s what I usually say. It means: I’m as ok as I ever am at the moment. It means: you don’t need to worry, I’m not worse. It means: I want to tell you because you asked, but I don’t want to burden you with the details of how bad I feel. It means: I got out of bed before lunch today, and achieved some small thing, fighting myself all the way.
When I first became sad, it was because I was dumped. I thought “it’s ok to be sad when someone you like doesn’t want to spend time with you anymore. It would be weird to be fine about that.” But then the sadness went on, and on, and became blacker and more hopeless, and turned from sadness into depression.
If you’ve ever had depression, you know the difference. Sadness is fresh, depression is black mould. Sadness has a reason, depression doesn’t. Sadness stings, depression aches. Sadness comes and goes, depression stays. It is heavy, it weighs you down, it makes you tremble when you’re just driving along or doing the dishes or going to sleep or waking up. Sadness can be forgotten with a comedy movie or a fun night out with friends. Depression makes you go home early because otherwise you’ll cry in public.
I’ve had depression and anxiety before, but nothing like this. Things spiralled out of control in a way they never have before. Maybe it was a breakdown? I don’t know but it seems like an applicable term. Whatever it is or was, I’m still struggling, but I don’t want anyone to struggle with me. I don’t want to wear down my friends’ patience by telling the truth about how I feel every long bleak day, and I don’t want to distance myself from them by hiding it. I know they will all say I’m not a burden, that they want to know how I am, that they are here to support me. But I’m afraid. I don’t want to be someone who is always complaining. I don’t want to lose anyone else. I want to rewind to the beginning of the year when I was content, and strong, and fun. I miss being genuinely OK, rather than I-don’t-know-what-else-to-say-OK. I want myself back.
I’m so overwhelmed by how I feel that it feels like a lie to talk about anything else. But there’s not much to say about that. And I go about my days. I work, I write, I take good care of my son, I do Things. Externally, I guess I appear to be ok. Internally, I’m anything but. So I’m a bit confused about how to have conversations these days.
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