An article popped up in my Facebook newsfeed a few days ago, shared by a friend who suffers depression as well as going through a break-up. The article was about loneliness and “self care” and it struck me how thin the line is between setting healthy boundaries and morphing into a self absorbed twat. It was written by a health coach and the message was aimed at people who witness a friend or family member go through something, be it mental health or addiction issues. To say it was harsh is an understatement and it made me think of my friend Kitten, who often reaches out to me as she battles her demons and whom I’m doing my best to be there for.
To those going through something difficult, the advice is to put themselves first and if people supporting them don’t do so with a never ending supply of energy and time, they’re shits. “Don’t offer support if you can’t give it 100% on your loved one’s terms” reads the instruction to those who are trying to be supportive. It states that you should ask yourself if you can totally put your own needs to the side for the time that it will take. I take issue with this. Massively so.
Either, it is the case that only people who have lives akin to an episode of My Little Pony should ever offer support, or it’s total bollocks. Perhaps the author of the article would be aghast that I, a recovering alcoholic, am attempting to be there for a friend in need? We all have our own lives and most of the time said lives come with varying degrees of good and bad. When I read the article I almost felt like in order to do it right, you’d have no problems whatsoever and wake up wearing an Instagram filter, plus have no other commitments in life so you can dedicate yourself fully to your loved one in need and always at the exact time they need you to. You’d basically probably have to be royalty with staff to run everything in your life for you as well as be excused from public commitments and ceremonial duties as required. So the Queen would potentially be good enough for this type of support role but only if she was prepared to call in sick a lot.
I think there is such a thing as taking it too far. Yes, mental health and addiction issues are really, really difficult things to go through and require an enormous amount of strength to overcome. Of course it would be terrible to have friends and family judging you or refusing to support you – even I get that. But to demand they should only do so if they can completely neglect their own needs is bloody preposterous. “Don’t give advice based on your experience,” the article tells me. Uhm, I’m doing my best to just listen and let Kitten know I’m here for her, but when she does ask me what I think she should do, what else can I bloody base it on than what I feel or have experienced myself? Perhaps I got defensive reading it because I do feel pretty rubbish in terms of supporting Kitten. Once I even apologised for being too harsh – I felt awful and wanted to say sorry after she’d come to me with what appeared to be an additional heap of problems stemming from a bunch of incredibly poor decisions and I told her that her decisions were poor.
But here’s the deal, and what I try to always say to Kitten. Depression – I’ve not been there. I don’t know how it feels. I don’t know what it’s like. So I always ask her to tell me how I can best support her. I try to always underline that what I suggest when she asks for advice is based on myself – I suggested walks because walking and running are my results guaranteed solution for feeling low, and creating something with your hands (be it knitting or ceramics or jewellery making) as that always calms my mind. I do my best to say “how about” instead of “do this“. Call me stupid, but this requires a lot of effort for me and not least because depression is freaking frustrating to deal with. I don’t get it! How can the world possibly look so gloomy and hopeless? It’s like she’s actively looking for things to be sad about and be a victim! ….but that’s probably what depression looks like to those of us who don’t truly get what it’s like, right? So I do my best and part of doing my best is accepting that I don’t get it – and I tell Kitten so, as well as ask her what she needs.
In return, I would never dream of asking someone to only be supportive if they can give me 100%. To be honest, I had no idea how people would react so I guess it’d be fair to say that it would probably have been enough if no one had hated me. Instead, I was of course met with only kindness and love, but not everyone is that lucky. But we have a Kitten-&-I-Situation with me and hubby. He’s not an alcoholic and therefore he’ll have no idea how it actually feels. To him it must seem, when I try to explain what I’m going through, exactly the way it does to me when Kitten is trying to explain her depression to me. Bloody hell, girl! Just stop after a couple of drinks! Just say no, what’s the big deal? Get a grip! Hubby is the best person on the planet and has asked and asked and asked again. It must seem so alien to him yet he’s forever getting up in my grill and wanting to know what’s happening in my mind. And do you know what? Sometimes he’ll NOT get something or ask me something I find ridiculous, but for God’s sake so what? Just because he is my greatest supporter doesn’t mean he has to get it all and behave precisely the way I (me, me, me!) need him to at every hour every day. And that’s what this article seems to suggest – namely that in hubby’s case, he should just dedicate his whole damn existence to my recovery or frankly, butt out. Perhaps I’m reading it all wrong but that’s what jumps out of me and it winds me up enormously.
By the way, it’s in Swedish so perhaps a bit pointless to link to it, but I suppose you can always stick it into Google Translate: Hälsocoachen Åsa Nyvall.
It largely talks about the sense of being alone, which I can definitely relate to with my own addiction – only a year ago I was still trapped and the idea of reaching out and asking those around me to understand seemed like climbing Mount Everest. I get all of that and I have been there. But I also consider it MY DUTY to communicate what I need, and if I’m in such a bad place that even this is impossible, I cannot possibly resent my loved ones for being at a loss as to how to help me. I just don’t think that’s fair – how could they possibly know?
I genuinely believe the vast majority of people have good hearts. I’m absolutely certain that most people would do anything to help. But we’re all different and if I’m honest I think e.g. my father is probably one of the people who, with regards to my drinking, feels it’s “just” a matter of not drinking. And guess what? That’s OK. He’s done his best to understand but it’s also up to me to understand that his world is a lot more black and white than mine is. And of course, he – like hubby – isn’t an alcoholic so for him the way to control alcohol is to control alcohol. Yah? For him it really is a matter of just declining another drink. Easy peasy, lemon squeezy. It’s more than OK because as much as it actually irritates me when he decides to be the Wine Police and loudly proclaims NO ALCOHOL FOR ANNA in social situations, he’s actually got my back and doing his best to support me. I think it’d be really shitty of me to be unappreciative. Perhaps I personally would prefer him to not be so bloody loud but mostly I just love him that little bit more for wanting to help, because that’s what he’s trying to do and what I try to recognise.
The article also talks about when friends and family fall away, how people eventually become sick of trying to support you if you don’t recover fast enough. That’s a shame but again, people do their best and supporting someone in recovery must be hugely draining. I often say to hubby “let’s talk about something else now” if we’ve spent lots of time discussing recovery related things, and I say it because I’m aware that my recovery IS and HAS been very central over this past year. It will always be central to me and therefore also to hubby given he’s married to me. However, he is in this marriage too and has stuff that’s important that he needs to vent and discuss. Even if he was that royal who had everything done for them and could skip public engagements at the drop of a hat to be there for me, he also has his own needs. It just can’t be one way. For brief periods, yes. Of course if Kitten has a crisis I will make time for her, and I imagine most people would do this for someone they care about but we all have our own lives and needs too.
Also, being there for someone can be exhausting and this goes back to a previous post I wrote with regards to being there for Kitten. There is sometimes a limit to how much I can give. I’ll probably go to hell, but after a long exchange I can feel myself getting pulled down and need a break. Sounds awful and perhaps I’m just a shit friend, but sometimes I need to come up for air or I’ll drown too. It’s a balance, I think. As much as Kitten should focus on self care, so should I and I simply don’t want to end up feeling selfish if I need to step away momentarily. And I think those of us who are in recovery from addictions need to always be mindful and considerate of those who support us in the same way we want them to be mindful and considerate of us. I’m willing to suggest that there is not one person on this planet who does not have their own needs. I’m willing to state as fact that if we demanded this of someone, they’d eventually – and probably even quite quickly – fall away, just like this article suggests. So surely the whole concept of demanding or giving 100% all the time is absurd?
I don’t know if I am getting it right with Kitten but I make damn sure I don’t promise her something I can’t give her. Giving her 100% isn’t possible. I wouldn’t even expect that from my spouse on a beyond-temporary-crisis basis. Is it just me or is the suggestion we should only offer support if we’re willing to forsake all our own needs ridiculous! Surely it’s a matter of offering what you can and delivering on just that: giving what you can.
Ah, there it is again! Balance. It’s all down to balance.
Well, there’s a rant on a Monday for you but there we are. Perhaps this pinched at some insecurity in me, I don’t know, but I really did find myself getting my back up when I read that article.
Today I’m not going to drink.