Thursday, February 27, 2014

"Come Back Down"- Be a Mouse, Not a Fox

In the past, I've used songs to talk about myself, but I keep hearing this "Come Back Down" by Greg Laswell, featuring Sarah Bareillis, at work... and it's an upsetting song to hear. If  you haven't heard it, here's a video:

Catchy, yeah, but listen to those lyrics. They're like the poster child for stigmatization of depression and mental health issues. 

Come on now, your good friends are here waiting this one out
You've gotta come back down (2x)
Look around you, you're the only one dragging this out
You've gotta come back down (2x)

All of your wallowing is unbecoming (2x)

You've gotta take it on your own from here
It's getting pathetic and I'm almost done here
(Repeat previous two lines)

What you set out to kill off has been gone some time now
You've gotta come back down (2x)
Head out any further and you just might forget how
You've gotta come back down (2x)

You've gotta take it on your own from here
It's getting pathetic and I'm almost done here
You've gotta take it on your own from here
It's getting pathetic and I'm almost done here


I mean okay, this song really only  has eight individual lines, half of which are repeated so many times they make up all but four lines sung in total... So it's not all that, um, creative or lyrically complex. But the message it sends is pretty terrible.

On its own, the song seems to be about a person that can't seem to be positive enough to satisfy the singer. We'll call her Nancy, and the singer, she  can be Pam. Pam is telling Nancy that she's so tired of Nancy being depressed, she's pretty much done being her friend. Pam goes so far as to drag their other friends into it, too, by saying they're "all waiting this one out." The implication is that everybody else is doing  just fine, so unless Nancy picks herself up from her bootstraps and gets her shit together, she (Nancy) will have nobody left. There's an insinuation about a rabbit hole of sorts ("Head out any further and you might just forget how"), as if to say that if Nancy isn't careful, this cycle of "wallowing" and  "unbecoming" state will be all she knows.

More broadly speaking, this relates directly to what I said before about mental health stigmatization in the US. An example, straight out of the pop charts. The whole song blames the person it's directed toward for what they're going through, rather than trying to understand, let alone be supportive. It's accusatory, not nurturing. Everything this person  "says" in this song is the opposite of what you should say if someone you care about (or at least profess to care about) is experiencing mental and/or emotional health difficulties.

Instead of focusing on the capitalistic dogma embedded here, I'm instead going to go at this from the "what to do" angle. And this starts with understanding and perspective. I think that even if we have our own bits of depression, anxiety, etc., it's still nigh impossible for us to fathom it when someone else has it in severe amounts. The dehabilitating nature of mental health difficulties is just... foreign to most people that haven't experienced them  personally. A picture went around Facebook a while back that I think does a lovely job demonstrating this, and I'll embed it next (and yeah, I got it from here): 

I was considering making it one of my little footnotes, but no, I actually think there's something worth discussing in detail about this picture. Originally, I said, "Pedantic arguments over the species of the animals involved aside," but the truth is, I think those arguments are just as demonstrative of the problem as the way  the fox treats the owl in the first place. See, in every. Single. Place. I saw this image, the fact that an owl would be able to fly over the wall because, well, it's an owl, came up in the comments. The picture would "make more sense" or "have more credibility" if the species were reversed or at least if both were flightless. And I think this is important because it shows how most people are so quick to tear apart and delegitemize any explanation from a person with depression or anxiety when what they're dealing with becomes big enough to enter into their interpersonal relationships. There  isn't even an attempt to understand, but instead just harping on what's subjectively problematic about it in order to dismiss the whole thing, and undertones of accusation and blame, irresponsibility and selfishness. "It shouldn't be an owl," is the  equivalent of, "I didn't run into any walls on my way over here," and not much better than, "Excuses, excuses, excuses."

And I actually think having an owl unable to get over a wall is more powerful than if the owl was a fox or a squirrel or another fleet-footed fuzzy*. Because that's what anxiety, depression, and other mental health conditions can do to a person. There are days when a person just cannot get out of bed, and it literally takes something happening around them to get them to move; or other days, knowing staying put would affect someone else great enough is what it takes. And I know people reading this blog have felt that way before. I've felt that way before. When it gets bad enough, sometimes it's hard to move, even if you want to. Even if you want to get up so badly it hurts, you just can't. And explaining it is hard because it's what you've lived with and felt, and it's like explaining to someone that has never tasted any sort of dairy product what eating Gorgonzola is like, taste- and texture-wise. 

So no, the owl shouldn't be a different species. 

The graphic may be about anxiety specifically, but the way that whole thing plays out is exactly what it's like for people with any sort of emotional or mental health difficulties. I'd say the fox is the more common person to encounter, and the mouse is that one rare friend or family member that doesn't judge and doesn't even ask a lot of questions... but just is there, for and in whatever capacity the owl (i.e. the person having trouble) needs.

Here's the thing: I just said explaining the pain is hard, nigh impossible a lot of times. So then trying to force the person to talk to you, even if all you're trying to do is help, very well could make things worse. I've talked before about comforting someone that's sad or going through a rough patch. When you know the friend/lover/family member in need sometimes has debilitating episodes of depression or anxiety, even more gentility is required, though. I really like how the mouse in the image says just enough to demonstrate they know what's going on but doesn't push for details- details aren't and shouldn't be  necessary for comforting someone. Pushing for details is likely to just cause more stress and upset for them, because you've never had a glass of milk and would have no idea what the fuck cheese is like, and trying to find the words to describe it to you would exhaust the person more than they're already exhausted.

Because depression is exhausting. 

And the mouse apologizes, not because they had a hand in putting that wall there, but, as a dear friend of mine says to me about my life when yet another thing goes wrong, "I'm sorry. That's the apology the universe refuses to give to you." You can be sorry without being guilty, and without pity, feeling sorry for them in a degrading way. It's called empathy. Showing empathy is the best thing you can possibly do. I wish more people could practice empathy without sounding like they feel sorry for the person. I don't know if it can be taught once you're past a certain age, and I honestly don't know how much of my copious amounts of it are nature versus nurture. I wish I could create a five-ish step process on learning to be an  empath like me, but at best, all I can come up with is it's something you learn by experience. But regardless, it's empathy that helps someone that's depressed, not pity, and certainly not judgment. 

The tricky thing is knowing the person you're with. Like with any situation where someone may need comforting, you need to understand that person, sometimes better than they  understand theirself. You may need to know them well enough to be aware that even if they say they don't need a hug, they do. That even if they say one thing, what they really need is another. You have to be strong enough for them to tell them what they  need to hear, not just what they want to hear- and that requires knowing, and a delicate dance on a tight wire. The whole interaction is that, really.

And when I use that analogy, understand I'm not saying anything poorly about a person with depression. Rather, I'm saying (as they themselves know), the whole situation is pretty gorram shitty, and their vulnerability could lead to misunderstandings on either end, and even a person trying not to be  a fox may still come across as at least somewhat canine.

That's why the mouse is perfect. It doesn't even really need to ask what happened, it knows the owl well enough to know what's going on. It doesn't pass any judgment, just says enough matter-of-fact like to demonstrate everything to the owl. The simple act of being there is what matters. And, speaking from experience, from being on both ends, having a mouse in your life is sometimes one of the few things worth fighting for, even when you're ready to give up on yourself. 

And don't believe people when they say depression, anxiety- or even suicide is "selfish." When you're in that much pain, it's not about overtly putting yourself over others, it's about, well, being in pain, damnit. You can't solve math equations while having your fingernails pulled out, unless you're, like, Jason Bourne or something. If you you had an artery squirting all over the place, you wouldn't be begrudged for taking a towel someone  else was using to clean up the blood and instead pressing  it against the wound- better to stop the blood from gushing, even if the carpet gets a little stained.

Frankly, I think it's selfish to accuse people that are depressed of being selfish. Because that says you're more concerned about how their pain will affect you than how it's affecting them. Sure, it's okay for you to be sad or upset you don't see them or whatever, but accusing  them of being selfish implies they've ignored you, either deliberately or because they're self-centered or narcissistic. And that's hogwash. It's not narcissistic to want to stop being in pain. It's human nature. 

I'm not saying avoid people that are depressed. A lot of the time, being with people is the best medicine. What I am saying, though, is that if their depression starts to become prohibitive for them, don't act like they're doing it on purpose. Don't act like they have any choice in the matter. Just be there for them. Remind them they can ask anything of you, and provide it when they do.

I'm going to end  with  another image from that Boggle site. Boggle the  owl is doing the talking, here, so it's not the mouse anymore, but the caption here is perfect for the sorts of things a body should say  if they really want to help someone. 

*And  if you look at other graphics on the site, you see the owl's ability to fly being more directly addressed, such as the image of the owl saying it prefers stairs to flying up into its tree.

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