I was in a pretty great friggin' mood toward the end of my shift at the office supply place I work at recently. Why? Well, I was offered an interview at a place I would love to work and could see myself making a career out of, more so than my clothing store... and certainly more so than the office supply place (oh yeah... I got a second job... in July...). So with less than an hour left, there was a happy bounce to my step and I didn't even care I wasn't going to get my last break.
Then, and without going into too much detail, a man needed my assistance, and he was invasive to the point of causing physical contact more than once, and where I felt sexually threatened. And unfortunately, I was like a trapped animal and too afraid to call for my manager, so, long story short, I just did everything I could to get him out of there as fast as possible. When he was gone and I could talk freely to the manager, I kind of emotionally vomitted all over him and another worker/friend about it.* And the latter person stuck with me as I started doing my end-of-shift stuff and I told him something I don't tell a lot of people about myself.
I am a liar.
|You, right now.|
But wait, let me explain. See, the kind of depression I have, it's not bipolar, no, but I have manic episodes, and I can go from very high to exceptionally low in a short timeframe. When I'm in a good mood, I'm loving and caring and tender and funnny and bubbly and all these other sugary adjectives. So people expect that of me, because that's far easier and more pleasant than pouty. It's even preferable to just... neutral or indifferent. I mean, c'mon, I know not everyone would agree, but if you had to see one of these faces regularly, which would it be:
Which means that if I perform any less than that first choice, they start to worry, and if I ever even let a little bit of a truly dark or down mood show... everyone flips their goddamned shit and thinks I'm going to off myself or something ridiculously off the mark.
"Oh, Gab, are you okay? You aren't smiling today!"
"You're not as cheery as you usually are, what's going on?"
"Is there anything I can do for you? You don't seem like yourself today."
Etc. And that kind of annoys me, because it says there are these expectations people have of me and I can't set a toe out of line. Like rather than being how I feel, I have to be what everybody wants me to be, instead. It's frustrating, and the moment someone says something like that, I do my best to step back in-line, and I also thank them profusely for caring. Which in itself is another act, because while externally, I'm like
Internally, I'm all
So I fake it. All the time. I'm frequently not nearly as chipper internally as I make it seem externally, but I'd rather pretend and have people off my case than actually let it show.
And, weird as it is, I do this out of love. Because while it's annoying to be fussed over, the truth is, I don't like being fussed over (for that, anyway) because I don't want to burden people with worry over me. The moment I start caring about you, that's the moment I try not to ask much, if anything from you, so the last thing I want is to become frustrating or a bummer or whatever. I want people to feel like they're gaining something from knowing me, now losing. And I know how taxing being close to someone with depression is, if nothing else because I know how frustrated with myself I get sometimes.
What sucks is that I've become very good at lying like this, though. To the point where I even fool myself sometimes. Where I'm not sure what "myself" should even be like anymore. Am I actually chipper, or do I just think I am because I know I'm "supposed" to be?
Then I go to bed, and my back, shoulders, and neck burn and ache and are sore and stiff. And I realize no, I'm faking it. And carrying all of the negative energy in my muscles. Seriously, I have a friend that's a massage therapist, and she said she could see the lumps and tightness, even without taking off any clothing.
But here's the kicker. The "I Can't Have Nice Things" part of my brain steps back, looks at the situation (hypothetically- not one in particular... you know what I mean!), and goes
Why? Well, see, and those of you familiar with me and/or this blog prolly see this coming... It's ableism. No, seriously, it is. Because the whole reason people hide being sad is that pressure they get. And that pressure stems from societal norms and expectations on what "proper" behavior looks like. Why can't people be sad? Because sad isn't "normal." People fake not being depressed because they don't want to be looked down upon, and because we treat people with mental illness as if they're burdensome. So if course I'm going to be afraid that me being depressed around others is going to cause a burden, I'm trained to think it will because they're trained to treat it as such.
And the twisted thing is, the people getting all helicopter on me/anyone else, they're doing it out of love, too. Because yes, they most likely really, truly are concerned with the person. But the trouble is in the phrasing. I'll retype the above statements for clarification's sake, but I want you to really analyze them yourself before I spell it out for you:
1) Are you okay? You aren't smiling today.
2)You're not as cheery as you usually are, what's going on?
3) Is there anything I can do for you? You aren't yourself today.
1) Admittedly, the least bad. But the focus is on the lack of smile, pointing out the absence of an expected behavior. And it's that expectation part that makes it ableist. Implicitly, "you aren't smiling like a normal person today." Switch "smiling" with "walking" and it'll make it a lot easier to grasp.
2) This one is the worst of the three I chose. Here, the big problem is the assumption that it just has to be something specific. This is a real big fuckup that ableism has caused, this false notion that depression or sadness always has to have a specific cause. And as someone with depression, I cannot tell you how frustrating it is to try to explain to someone else that no, nothing in particular happened, I just feel like shit, can we drop it? Usually I don't bother trying and make something up or pick something going on as the catalyst for my sadness at the time, even if it isn't. (Or I just use the timelessly classical line of, "I'm just tired/have a headache.") Because usually if I try to say I dunno, I just feel icky, the other person starts digging and trying to come up with something. "Is it X? Is it Y?" Because we just have to know what causes it. It's very medical. And God, it makes a person feel even worse to be asked something like that if they can't give a precise answer, because again, we don't want to be a burden or let the other person down by not fulfilling yet another expectation (it's bad enough we weren't cheery for them). Of course, sometimes there may indeed be a legit answer to give, but I just hate that people's instinct is pretty much always that there is.
4) This one's in the middle. Starts out right, but turns, because again, the question pointing to an absence of expected behavior is present. And that's crap.
But the thing is, the expectations and need to find a "cause," they come from love. At least, I like to think they do. Because people want each other to be happy- we're trained to believe happy is the Best State to Be In. And we're also trained to believe that if we can figure out a cause, we can find a cure (just look at all of the hype over vaccines and autism, even though the original paper that started it all was pulled, the researchers lost their licenses, and one of the authors retracted and apologized). So if being sad is a "disease" or "illness," then we need to make sure people don't "get" it anymore! It's for their own good, right? We want people to be happy, so we push and prod and do what we're led to believe will be helpful.
But ultimately, it's not. At least for some. For people like me, anyway.
I'd like to see a dystopian satire where being happy is considered an anomaly, while feeling meh is the societal norm. I'd love it, but I fear most people wouldn't get it. Happiness vs. sadness isn't usually associated with ableism, so even people all up in arms over stuff like accessibility and services may not think like I am about it. But here's the thing. If disability itself is porous (which lots of disability scholars themselves say) and you can go from having it to not to back again, I don't see how temporary bouts of sadness shouldn't be considered temporary disability. I mean, yes, there's a difference between clinical depression and being in a crappy mood, but both are looked down upon for the same reasons, reacted to in the same ways, and those societal responses come from hierarchical, socially constructed institutions that dictate how we "should" behave on a regular basis.
And I don't like that. I don't like that at all. I should have a right to be sad if I want to, and a person that loves me shouldn't automatically assume the worst, nor should they feel like it's their obligation to "fix" the problem.
Now, do I think we should thus ignore people that are sad? Pretend nothing's going on? No, I'm not saying that, either. I'm just saying we need to be careful how we approach people that "aren't acting like themselves"... and avoid using phrasing like that. Rather than alluding to past behaviors (which means assumptions or expectations), observe current behavior. "You seem a little down, is there anything I can do for you?" Or rather than assuming there is a specific cause, give the person room to say there isn't. "Anything in particular, or is it just a general icky feeling?" I can't anticipate every "wrong" inquiry and every "right" counter, but I'd just encourage you to think carefully about how you talk to someone you think is sad. Because it may not just be "sad," it may be manic, it may be clinical...
And, honestly, it's not your business to know. If the person wants you to know, they'll tell you. If you know them well enough, you may be able to figure it out on your own. But if you can't, for whatever reason, don't assume, and don't insist.
Of course, this can get tricky. I know I sometimes insist I want to be alone when all I want to do is be held. When depression makes us say the opposite of what we want or need, the best case scenario is the person on the other end knows us well enough to see through that. It's difficult, though, because society has trained us all to be such good liars.
We lie because we don't want to hurt the people we love. And because we're afraid they'll hurt us if we're honest. We lie because no, sometimes we don't really know what is wrong, we feel like it's us in and of ourselves. And we don't know what we want, we don't know what we need, we just know we're sad and we wish we weren't. But sometimes, we're lucky, and we get someone that loves us enough to know to do this, and that we trust enough to allow it to happen:
And painful honesty. It's much harder to admit you don't know why you're sad than to make something up or pretend you're not. Honesty is so much more difficult than lying.
And it's joyful, even if sorrowful, too. Because both people know only true love and a bond too tight for words could produce that much trust and loyalty.
So, what am I getting at, here? I'm not saying I expect blanket forts every time I'm frowning (although dude, that would be kind of awesome...). And I'm not asking anyone to walk on eggshells around me or anyone else they care about. But I guess I just wanted to get things off of my chest, about myself, and about how I think this is a Thing, and not just something I deal with.
And because my neck and back hurt so badly I can't sleep right now. Which says I've been bottling a lot up. And given how much I've cried lately, that's saying something.
And I'm refraining from the disclaimer about all of the positive things I'm happy and grateful about, too, because that's another ableist piece of garbage- I shouldn't have to justify feeling depressed or counter-balance it with a bunch of happy stuff. We don't go around saying a bunch of bad stuff to counter the effects of being in a good mood, it's crap that we feel the need to counter bad ones. I do have stuff to be happy about, and I'm legit thinking of it right now. I'm just sad and can't get out of it and am rambling. And tired, so tired, in every way.
*This incident of sexual harassment isn't the focus of the post, so please don't freak out. I'm fine now, and my manager and I figured out what to do if he comes back.