Tuesday, June 11, 2013

the "yeah-buts"

Mental Health Awareness Month ended in May, and there’s still a large segment of the population unaware. I call them the yeah-buts.

The yeah-buts as I have encountered them over my decades dealing with mental illness are folks who haven’t ever struggled with the stuff themselves, but feel able to tell you what to do about it.

My favorites are the ones who are compelled somehow to get me to the gym. Yes, yes, exercise can help your mood, though it doesn’t always, no matter what the yeah-buts say.

“Yeah, but you’ll feel so much better,” they insist.

“When I’m blindingly depressed, I don’t even want to get out of bed,” I insist. “I don’t want to shower. I don’t want to get dressed. I don’t want to do anything but lay there and focus on feeling like crap.”

“Yeah, but that’s exactly the time you should be getting up and exercising,” they say, usually adding another favorite – “I know I’ve never been depressed, but…”

Right. So if you have no concept of what it feels like, how can you tell me how to fix it? I got news: It’s not fixable. Meds and therapy only go so far. Once an episode begins, you pretty much just have to ride it out. And as soon as it’s over? Guess what? It’s going to come back. Almost nobody gets a one-and-done deal with a depressive episode. If you’re lucky, you can figure out how to make the time between episodes relatively lengthy. Exercise isn’t it, at least not by itself.

The yeah-buts mean well, I know. It’s just like taking advice from an unmarried marriage counselor. They never seem to realize that they’d be much more credible if they’d experienced that which they’re trying to convince you of.

I have a friend who’s a yeah-but. She does at least preface her remarks with “I know I don’t have depression,” which is something of a sop. But she still doesn’t really understand. She’s an expert in another area I struggle with, though, and there I’m all ears every time she wants to tell me something, because I know both that she’s been there personally and that she has academic knowledge as well. And I know she cares, hence the yeah-but-ism. Most yeah-buts do it out of concern for a friend or family member, I’m sure. I think maybe the afflicted just should reinforce the need to find another way to express it. No matter how well my psychiatrist and therapist and friends know me, I am still the expert on me. No ifs, ands or yeah-buts.

Aimless? Not Quite

I had a friend tell me the other day that he worries about me a lot because I seem “lost.”

Taken aback, I asked another friend what she thought of that, and she agreed.

There’s this old Polish proverb, “If three people tell you you’re drunk, you’d better sit down,” so I’m waiting for one more person to tell me I’m lost before I quite believe it. I think what people are mistaking for aimlessness is something else entirely.

I’ve been on disability for 13 months now. In a nutshell, this means I do not get up and go to work from 8 to 5, Monday through Friday, like most other adults over the age of 22. It means the government deemed me incapable of that, thanks to a severe illness, and so I get a check once a month from Uncle Sam and spend my days going to doctor appointments and the like. And I do have a job, just for the record. There are just rules about how much time I can spend on it, and there are days I’m too sick to do it. I have a very understanding boss, luckily, who gets that.

But because I don’t spend my time like “regular” grownups, I get dinged for the lack of structure to my days. Yes, it is troublesome sometimes, trying to figure out what to do next. Sometimes I’m not interested in going to the grocery store, no matter how badly I need to. Sometimes I don’t want to do laundry, no matter how badly I need to. Sometimes I just want to stay in bed and wallow in how bad I feel, and that’s part of the disease that nobody really understands. (I get a lot of the “think happy! Pull yourself up by your bootstraps!” type crap. IT. IS. NOT. THAT. EASY.)

Do I need a schedule? Probably. Is it easy to make and keep to one when you’re in the condition I’m in? Not even close. So do I need to hear that I’m “lost” and people don’t notice me because I’m just standing off to the side, doing nothing? Au contraire. Nothing is the most I can do sometimes.

Next time you see me looking aimless, come say hi and find out what I’m really doing. Betcha it’s something. Even if it looks like nothing to you, it’s probably taking everything out of me I have to get it done.

When I was a kid in Kansas City, there was a commercial for a car dealer named Frank Ancona. His tag line was, “PLEASE be kind to Frank Ancona!” Please be kind to me too. You might find out something you didn’t know.