Monday, October 30, 2017

Monday, Monday -- Of Moods and Friends and The Possibilities of Reaching Out

I've been wrestling with a very low mood again this weekend, and without boring you (and giving up all my privacy) with details, I'll just say that once this creeps in, it becomes physical, something between nausea and a dull ache with a big dose of "my body's too cramped to move" thrown in for good measure -- and tears, too many unbidden tears. This weekend, it gave me one long night, and I managed to shift it somewhat the next day only because we had a couple of appointments, and it was gloriously sunny and my guy was very supportive (and again, not to air all the dirty laundry, but he will admit to being a partial trigger of the mood in the first place, just so you know that our very good marriage is nonetheless not a constantly happy one).

Let me hasten to add that I know that a serious hit of depression cannot be moved by willpower and a commitment to a 10:00 meeting across the city, no matter how sunny the day. But I was able to get out and about and I had to be civil, and being civil looked like being friendly, and faking a smile gradually meant an endorphin or two. Then I did way better than just fake a lunch I'd arranged with siblings, and although the mood growled under the table once or twice, and although it pounced back onto my shoulders on the ride back home, I knew I'd almost vanquished it. At home, I lined up a few episodes of a show that makes me laugh (Life in Pieces).  He brought home some of my favourite junk food to augment a very good steak salad that we ate while watching episodes of Stranger Things. Tricks that tend to work.

I know that I skirt the edges of depression regularly,  fall in once or twice. I know that I'm lucky enough in life that I really "shouldn't," that I have nothing to be depressed about, seriously, all things considered. I also know that such a judgement is foolish and against any credible understanding of mental health. And speaking of credible understandings of mental health, I also know that there are professional therapies available to me, in case you were going to make that suggestion. Thank you. So far, I think I manage really well, most of the time, and I think I have a fairly good range of resources, including a big dose of self-knowledge and a range of activities and responses that have worked so far.

But what I can't bring myself to use as a resource -- and this is what I wanted to chat about this morning, this is what I'm connecting to the ongoing discussion I want to host about friendship (especially friendship at a certain age, an age marked by lifestyle changes of moving and retirement and, well, ageing physically) -- what I can't easily draw upon as a resource in the crisis of acute sadness is calling a friend.

I can talk, in general, about having felt low or even about feeling low at the moment, when I'm out and about and belying the claim, when I'm managing, looking "normal." But I was at a wonderful birthday lunch recently hosted by a brilliant woman who wanted to honour the women who'd supported her through her life, and she spoke of the ones she could "call if she needed to at 3 in the morning." And I know she truly meant it, and I believe she could have done that -- hell, if she called me at 3 in the morning, I'd be waiting for the day's first ferry three hours later, doing my best to get to her -- but it's really hard for me to imagine any circumstances that would have me calling a friend in the wee hours.

Or calling a friend at 9 in the morning or 1 in the afternoon or just after dinner or . . . well, you get the idea. I can't imagine calling any of my friends -- and I have some very good ones who I know would respond generously and kindly and patiently and empathetically -- I can't imagine calling them when I know I can manage to get through on my own. Nor, for that matter, would I call my kids nor my siblings, no matter how good I know any of those people would be in a crisis. Is it that I pride myself on being able to cope? Or is it -- and I suspect this is more the case -- that I fear that, no matter how supportively those friends or family members would respond in the moment, they would forever after see me as weaker, as a potential burden?

Ugh, even writing this post feels as if I'm risking that response. The self whose face I want the world to see, the self I manage to be most of the time, might analyse too much (as some of you kindly note from time to time), she might linger or focus too much on the whys and the whatevers of life, but overall, she keeps it going, she moves forward, she manages, she is wryly self-deprecating about her earnestness, she does her best not to be self-indulgent and not to bog you down.

But in doing so, of course, she adds her secret shame about the occasional day or night lost to sadness to the social stigma that mental health professionals work to eradicate.

I can't help myself. Even as I round to a close here, I'm going to reassure you that I'm feeling much better this morning -- otherwise I wouldn't be able to write, right? I want you to know that I'm handling my moods, with my partner's support, behind closed doors, and that overall, I'm very content. I don't want this post to be about me and a limited, periodical depression -- I've got this! -- but rather about a more general question:  If and when you're feeling really low (e.g. you can't stop crying, with or without a specific cause for tears), would you -- and more specifically have you ever -- call(ed) a friend? And if not, why not? And if so, how did that work out?

And then a secondary question, minor perhaps, but this has been on my mind lately, in these days where fewer and fewer of us have landlines and wisely turn our cellphones to Do Not Disturb at bedtime, do you have friends you could call at 3 a.m. and would anyone hear and answer?

I know. Way too heavy for a Monday morning, but it was either all or nothing today. Rest assured, I'm good, momentum's being gained, and now I'm just waiting to hear from you. 

80 comments:

  1. I don't think that I would call a friend....I would head out on a walk. I find that Nature is a great healer...I experienced a year of low ebbs and found out that I was in peri-menopause...I blame low moods on hormones. I too find that sleep deprivation can contribute to a bad mood and I know that we do not always sleep soundly at our age.
    I always come back to that phrase that One must know sorrow to experience Joy.
    Take care Mater.

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    1. A walk is always a good idea. . . although at 3 a.m. it doesn't feel comfortable here in the city (I never hesitated back on my island, even heading out in pjs if I really needed to move). And sometimes I just cannot overcome the heavy inertia. I know the walk would help, but there are times the first step is nearly impossible. You're right, though, that the ups and downs can offer a balance.

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  2. I can totally empathise with you today. Despite having had a great family holiday I’m home and tired and dare I say a little tearful too. Just the odd comment tipped me over, which is usually the way. The mood sometimes lingers a day or two. Never quite sure how I tip back to my sunnier side, just happens. As for calling friends; no I never do. Stiff upper lip, yes I can manage etc, etc..... There are two sorts of people and I guess you and I are the manage by ourselves variety. Hope your mood lightens soon, I’m off to rummage in the chocolate cupboard :). B x

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    1. So you know what I'm talking about. I wonder if there's a way to break down that binary, though. Sometimes I wish I could be better at asking for just a bit of help. Meanwhile, though, yes, there's always chocolate. . . Hope you're feeling better by now.

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  3. Hmmm...good points here. In answer to the 3am question I wouldn't call anybody at that time because I couldn't bear to make them anxious hearing the phone in the wee hours but I would call, and have called on some very good friends when the day has got underway and a cup of tea has been drunk. There are three, to be precise, who I trust enough to use in times of dire necessity - because they have done the same with me. And I know it sounds trite but a cup of tea and a walk are brilliant, short-term returners of sanity so that thought can function properly. These random and painful bursts of difficulty are just part of the great picture but it is hard to see this when stuck in the darkness. And they do have a reason to be there, even if you can't see it. Not being trite or flippant (again) I find clarity if I do something useful and vigorous like cleaning the toilets and bathrooms. I think it is a mixture of cleaning fluid fumes and repetitive actions that brings enlightenment. Now I have been out of regular employment for over two years - ! - my thoughts have gradually settled down and stopped rushing about, ditto all my flashes of temper and frustration. But it takes time. It won't be forever, Mater. One of the things that occurs to me is that this could be to do with the passing of the years and this autumn season brings it home very forcefully.

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    1. You're very lucky to have those three friends (as I am, although I don't like to call unless I've already managed or can pretend to be managing). I don't think a cuppa or a walk are trite suggestions at all, but like the bustle of cleaning, those options seem well beyond me when I'm at the low point. I do know that it takes time, doesn't last forever, and in the long run, I seem to achieve a brisk sensibility, but while I don't want to linger in the darkness, I think sometimes it might be a good idea to acknowledge its power....

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  4. Thank you for this post. The sharing of struggles and joys seems to be the deepest part of friendship. Like you, I wouldn't make a middle-of-the night call-- unless I were truly suicidal, in which case I hope I would. What I have done is send an email to a couple of close friends letting them know what is going on, what is troubling me, knowing that their responses would comfort me. And seeing one another's responses has strengthened us all. Much like your beautiful post. There's more of course...and I have, during two periods, taken one of the older anti-depressants for a limited time to help re-set myself. Why we think that being so dammed sturdy is a virtue, is beyond me. But we do. I'm so sorry the black dog has emerged from his lair to snarl in your direction.

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    1. So true, Elle, the trust that leads to that sharing is what forges the deepest friendships.
      What I sometimes wonder about those middle-of-the-night calls is when the slide to suicidal might begin and whether the point of being able to call might already have been passed. I'm very confident that suicide is neither option nor threat for me, but I wonder, not being very willing to flex my "asking-for-help muscle," whether I could reach out even in a desperate case. And whether just having that high bar set, I'm contributing to a stigma against asking for help. Bravo to you for having sought out help yourself -- I very much value sturdiness, but the pride we learn to take in it can be dangerous. Thanks for your suggestion of an email -- I've done a little bit of this, to a very limited set, but I think I could do better. (funny that it's easier to do in this much broader forum, albeit in more general terms)

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  5. I have a really good friend with whom I often speak early (7:30am) in the day. We often discuss concerns for the day. I don't think that I would call anyone at 3am. Moods come and go. Depression is different. I hope that you feel better.

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    1. You're very lucky. I scarcely speak on the phone anymore at all, and I miss some aspects of that. The change happened gradually, not just because of my increasingly poor hearing but also the inconvenience of coordinating mutually agreeable times vs. the ease and control of email. . . . But sometimes I really miss that reassuring immediacy of a voice and the instant reciprocity, the back-and-forth. And you're right to distinguish between moods and depression. Mine occasionally dips to the latter, although I've shied away from medical/psychological attention. On the mend today, thanks!

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  6. My phone is never on Do Not Disturb at night in case friend or family in need called. But I could not call anyone till morning. Perhaps pride, perhaps just the way we were raised. I so admire your courage re: writing this post.

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    1. I've just reset my Do Not Disturb to permit calls from immediate family, but I don't know if I'd ever ask my kids to do the same -- and, let's face it, we're nearing the age now where we're as lucky to need their support as they are to need ours. . . If either P or I had a stroke or heart attack or whatever in the wee hours, the healthy partner would have to manage the trip to emerg., and all the anxieties unsupported until our little families were up and on their way to school and work and whatever. Topic for a whole other post, right? ;-)
      But yes, I think a mixture of pride, the way we were raised, what we were valued for. . . and thanks for saying this is courageous. It did feel a bit risky to "let it all hang out."

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  7. Here goes...when I was fifty, and entered menopause, a number of unpleasant and annoying things happened in various areas of my life. I found it all very difficult to cope with (whereas five years earlier I would have just bitched about it and carried on). Because my reaction was so unusual for me, I completely lost my identity...I remember just thinking 'I don't know who I am'. I just pushed through the days, frozen. And practicing gratitude does not help, because you can list things you should be grateful for until the cows come home, the problem is the feeling is not there. It went on for three years, and I did not tell anyone, until it was all over. And it ended one day, just like that (that one day is a story in itself). So no, no friend-calling, and I can say with a fairly high confidence level that most of my family is the same way. Hm.

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    1. Georgia, this is it! I feel as if for so long I could juggle so much, balance and cope and manage. I was sensitive, yes, but I didn't turn easily into a puddle -- so it's been a loss of core identity (piled onto the move and the retirement).
      And yeah, the attitude of gratitude only gets me so far, but the inner freeze, wondering if it will ever let go. . . .
      I would love to hear the story of that one day . . . one of these years, in Manitoba, over wine, right?

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  8. I really admire you for the way you turn a very painful and very personal situation into a general discussion of friendship, self-perception, and reciprocity. (You would take a call at 3am and respond to it, but you wouldn’t make one…) And in the end there is an assignment that really makes one think. It must be your teacher’s gene.
    Here is what I can come up with: Most of the time I have my coping strategies just like you and most of the commenters here. But:
    I would call somebody at 3am in a specific situation, if that particular person could really help me, as, say, in a medical emergency. I would also call a friend at some other time of day (and have done so) if I felt depressed but had an idea what to ask from them. Like: “I am feeling very low but I do not want to explain it, much less justify it. Could you come for a walk in the sunshine with me?” Or: “I am feeling very worried and I am not sure if I am exaggerating. Would you listen and tell me what you think?” By formulating these requests I would still maintain some control over the situation (and, hopefully, my feelings). This control is particularly important for me when sadness or anxiety threaten to take over. The proof of friendship, for me, would lie in accepting this need of control, respecting that I am the one to decide what kind of help I want, and responding to my request. I am lucky to say that I have a few friends who would do exactly that.

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    1. Thanks so much, Eleonore. Your suggestions are so usefully tangible, practical. Like you, I could call someone at 3 a.m. if I needed help in a medical emergency, or if I needed support during a medical emergency my husband was experiencing. But not at night no matter how severe the depression felt (and of course depression strengthens this resistance to the call by sitting on one's chest with its tough-to-overcome inertia).
      But your way of asking for help would be a very good way of maintaining control but acknowledging vulnerability, being human and asking for help. And I do have friends who would respond (and have responded) generously and sensitively. if only I can stop measuring out my willingness to be seen at my low points. Thank you for a thoughtful (and productive) addition to this conversation.

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    2. I like the idea of asking for someone's opinion when you are anxious or unhappy - for the person being asked, it helps them feel they understand their role here. A friend asked me this recently about something very discombobulating that had just happened to her and we both felt relieved because she didn't feel she had gone mad and I was pleased to be able to help her in a concrete way. Control is the key thing here: for good or bad.

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  9. Hell, no. I wouldn't call anyone at 3 am, no matter how bad I felt. Unless I'd fallen and broken a leg and couldn't get up and my cell phone had wound up on the floor next to me.

    I might email a friend the next morning, asking if there were a convenient time we could talk in the next day or two.

    Like you, I'm an A+ student, a mentor, "most dependable" person in the class, an off-the-chart over-achiever. And I want all my selfies to look good. In other words, I'm a big fat mess, just like my real-life friends and you.

    Having said all this tough stuff, I cried this morning. My husband's cancer has come back, for the third time, with everything that reappearance implies. I dread what lies ahead. I can take care of myself eventually. I love him and can certainly care for him well. But I can't fix this for him. Watching his disappointment and fear is so very sad.

    Ann from Missouri

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    1. Ha! Yes, so many of us are big at messes, behind all our supposed achievements. And I'd love to pick away at that a bit, worry those façades just a bit.
      I'm so very sorry to hear that your husband's cancer is back. My initial response to reading this, in fact, was to feel ashamed that I could be talking about my own temporary sadness/depression when you're facing something so big, so much more serious. I'm going to resist that feeling, to recognize that the one doesn't invalidate the other, because I know that's another narrative that mental health professionals are working hard to overcome. But I am so very sorry for you, can only imagine what your next months will entail, and I send you support and sympathy -- and the promise of an ear and an online community as you go through what lies ahead.

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  10. Being brutally honest- what your sincere post deserves- I’m not one to call friends, I think in part because I hate the kind of energy created by things falling apart. Sometimes, another person can add to that. Also, for whatever reason, I find that I’m fine when people call me at three in the morning, but I tend, through a career of dealing with crises, of keeping the energy calm, and moving on from it.
    Another part of this - you’ve touched on something I’ve wondered about in social media. So, you can’t get depressed, because you have worked and planned all your life, working at a career, a relationship, staying healthy, showing success and having possessions, and, what seems to be a functional life? I puzzle at the envious thinking that judges people, assigning worth to misfortune and poor judgement that sometimes contributes to people being in tight situations, as though only through these people have “earned” their right to cry and depression. I sympathize with anyone going through depression and hard times, but this can happen to anyone at anytime. We should be supportive to all.

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    1. Interesting -- I'm thinking through that notion of the "energy created by things falling apart" and the way someone else might add to that. I'm hearing another Sturdy here, and I value that ability to keep the energy calm, although I would say that sometimes "things falling apart" can ignite new growth, trust, vision, etc.
      I absolutely agree with you on the judgements often leveled at those whose lives seem fortunate, functional, successful. I don't know that I've seen worth assigned to misfortune or poor judgement, but I do worry that sometimes my own determination to appear strong, sturdy, functional, etc., helps create the kind of binary that stigmatizes depression and other forms of mental illness. And that perhaps that invites the resentment that leads to those accusations. Above all, your closing sentence is worth repeating: We should be supportive to all who are going through tough times. Thanks for your honest and thoughtful response.

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  11. I can't call a friend in the middle of the night or during the day either. I think my reluctance stems from my mother;s family habit of insisting that no "bad" secrets be told. At all times everyone was to look happy and well. My mother did not learn that her father had deserted the family (the story the family told was that he had died) until he actually did die. I was not told about my mother's cancer until after she had surgery. Even though I know it's ridiculous, I just cannot bring myself to discuss my problems outside of the family. I know my friends would care, but I'm afraid of how I would look. I need to think more about this -- what a great post to make us think!

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    1. It's surprising how prevalent that admonition not to air the dirty laundry still is. Much less so, of course, than in our childhood or our parents' or grandparents', but many/most of us are still governed by a wish to present our best face to the world, and we still have fairly narrow notions of what might be best. And I'm not at all sure that's a bad thing -- quite honestly, I can be very impatient with behaviour that smacks at all of self-indulgence, and one person's honesty can mean betrayal of another's privacy. But at least being aware of what choices we're making seems a worthwhile goal. . . something to think about.

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  12. Guilty as charged...I would never make a call in the middle of the night, literally,as the thought that I would shock and worry a loved one at a tender hour, ugh: constitutionally incapable of that. But, figuratively, I would definitely reach out with a few select friends, at a more civilized hour, to say I need to talk AS LONG AS I do not have to recite chapter and verse about how I got into a state of despair or educate them on how A makes me feel B. If I feel I can use emotional shorthand and say I am feeling like hell and discuss it from that point forward, I will. When feeling low, I do not want to set the scene. I keep my own counsel an awful lot, as that has mostly worked for me in my life. I trust me and my instincts and the instincts of several friends. But it is me who bails me out more often than not.
    Very recently, a very dear friend told me off, in glorious Technicolor about acting like a feral cat when worried or burdened and not sharing what is going on. She is right, I do sometimes act like that and I do realize it is hurtful to others (my sweetheart included), but unless I feel especially fraught, I choose me to comfort me and sort things out in my head and heart.
    Asking for more help is a goal that I have worked on for two decades. Getting better with my sister and others, but it does not come as first order of business.
    I like what was said above about not wanting to justify my feelings. Sometimes life feels like shit because of internal storms or external ones. For some reason, from a very young age, I have accepted that as a part of being human and let myself off the hook if my recovery from that phase means reading and puttering and having baths and eating frozen yogurt and popcorn until it comes out of my ears while shutting the world out.
    Ann in Missouri...I am thinking of you and your husband; so incredibly sorry for what you are facing. It has just struck me how cruel a relapse must me when facing such a difficult illness. I am sorry.
    Frances, you are so brave to speak so honestly. You are such a creative soul; it is my pleasure to learn so much about you- how you think, how you feel, how you struggle, all of it.
    I love those lyrics from a 1940's song: "What a difference a day makes,24 little hours". Have found this to be entirely true, much of the time. May you find it to be true in this difficult phase for you. A. in London

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    1. I was just wondering about you, A., thinking I hadn't read you for a while, and hoping all is well. So I'm extra glad to see this thoughtful comment. Sounds as if a few of us could work on our ability to ask for help occasionally, and it also seems that a few of us really like Eleonore's suggestion about setting out the limits of what we're asking for. That control seems important.
      Like you, I've mostly found that 24 hours can make a big difference. But I must say that occasionally when I'm feeling quite stuck and it's pretty dark, by the time I climb back up I'm filled with admiration for those who manage this time and again over even deeper, darker, longer-lasting depression, those for whom those 24 hours don't make much difference at all.

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  13. Thanks for your incredible forthrightness about depression. i'm no stranger to it myself. It passes, of course, but in the throes it feels like forever. Hugs.

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    1. That's just it, isn't it, Maggie, that it does pass, but that it does feel as if it's all there is and all there will be, when you're in it. . . .Thanks for adding your voice and for the hugs.

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  14. Mutual friendship is to be cherished. Generally, I choose not to burden friends with my problems. Like most, I seem to power through whatever comes my way. Over the years, I have had several friends that sought professional help. These friends said they felt better having this support system. Paying a trained professional to assist seems the best approach, as depending on non-professionals might not get resolution and/or might negatively impact a friendship.

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    1. I think you make a very good point about the value of paid, professionally trained support, especially for those who cannot bear, as you say, feeling like a burden to their friends. We're lucky, aren't we, that we can afford professional help. I imagine there are some who might not be able to, and I hope they might know that some of their friends wouldn't consider it a burden to be asked for help, although those friends would be wise to place limits. You're right that the outcomes might negatively impact a friendship (although they might strengthen it as well).
      I wonder if you might consider adding your name or a "nom de plume" when commenting as Anonymous -- I find it enriches the overall conversation and the community here if we build a sense of each other. Yours is a voice I think I recognize, but it would be good to be sure, to have some continuity over time.

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  15. As always, thank you to you and your readers for this incredible dialogue. You are all honest and strong as you share some of the depths and bits of the despair of your lives. I join you, not just in total solidarity of our very human condition, but to add, albeit rather timidly, that I cry out in prayer quite a lot. Quite a lot. That's my 3am call. I have found solace and strength in my faith.
    Charlene H.

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    1. Charlene, you don't need to be timid in sharing this. Thank you! I have vestiges of this faith, my parents and my grandparents had it absolutely, and I envy and admire and am happy for you that you find solace and strength there at 3 in the morning, in all our human frailty.

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    2. Thank you, Frances. You have a generous soul.
      Ann of Missouri...a prayer for you and your husband.
      Charlene H.

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  16. Thank you for this share and to everyone's responses. I've been there myself and now being in the "troisieme age" I have days of "being out of balance", try not to over analyse it and look for the balance to return.

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    1. I do think that for those of us who are at all sensitive, the "troisième age" presents some existentialist realities that can easily put us out of balance. That could be me over analysing though! ;-)

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  17. So much to say. But I'll be briefer than I would were we sitting together in my kitchen drinking tea.

    First, as a writer I think this is one of your best posts. Something about getting closer to speaking from the darkness, to me, reads very powerfully. Gives a depth and strength to your voice. More poetic and more direct at once. I've always loved your blog, that's not new, but I can see why you don't want to rid yourself of the dark altogether.

    Second, calling a friend. I do have a friend I could call if I needed to. I mean, in the background of all this is that many if not most of us have husbands. Who are often lying there beside us in the dark. My friend and I both divorced our first husbands, and as she has moved around the world, have developed a routine where I call her as often as I can. That usually winds up being 3-4 times/day. We do not need important issues, but sometimes we discuss them. Because, I think, of that routine, and because we were there for each other in the time of no husbands, both of us could and have reached out in extreme moments.

    Last - and believe me I could go on and on - depression seems from my understanding as one who is prone to dread and anxiety vs. depression per se - to be particularly entwined with not asking for help. With my anxious times, the remedy is to simply lie still and read/watch television/snack. If the anxiety is so speedy that it doesn't calm down in stillness, it will still give me energy to reach out if I have to. I could imagine, although I am totally ignorant but hey, imagination, that depression when it eludes the usual remedies might leave you pinned to your own floor and calling might be harder.

    Most of all, love to you Frances. You do us all a service. xoxox.

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    1. Thanks so much for the kind words -- honestly, I simply felt, Monday morning, that I could write nothing but this. If not speak from that morning's truth, I'd have walked away -- temporarily, at least, from the blog.
      About calling a friend -- I've heard you speak of this friend you call before, and I'm envious, partly, and partly bemused because I use a phone for speaking so very rarely now myself. I'm very curious about this and maybe need a post. . . .you make a good point re the husbands being near us at 3 a.m. although that can be complicated in a few ways. . . .again, another post?
      But yes, the depression makes any move outward very difficult, and there's an element of self-loathing, a vision of self we don't want/trust others to see. . .

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    2. You're welcome. I understand you. Also, rereading, I need to correct. I call my friend 3-4 times/WEEK:). That said, yesterday was a tough one for several reasons and I did call her 4 times. I hate to think of you feeling self-loathing, but, I don't hate all hearing you tell about it.

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    3. Ah, sorry yesterday was tough. xoxo
      3-4 a week is closer to what I might once-upon-a-time have called a few of those moms-of-little-kids friends, and I miss that sometimes. So glad she was at the other end of the phone 4 times yesterday. . . .

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  18. Oh,what a nice friend I am-sleeping through the night and discussion :-)But,sincerely- this was a courageous post and the curageous comments!
    Sharing your thoughts with us has opened the gate and it is why we love to be here and exchange our thoughts and feelings
    It is something that resonates with all of us,ups and downs (from the bad mood to the dark holes twenty thousand miles under the sea-there is a bad mood and there is a whole diapason of depression,and no matter how beautiful,clever,healthy or rich we are,it can happen everywhere to anyone,in some way and degree or other. There should be no guilt, no shame....)
    All the way I was reading,it was like: yes, I think like Annie or Elle or Georgia........
    But,back to the Question: no,I've never called my friends at three in the morning ( if there is a problem,we could try to talk about it during the day),but if I were alone and get real heart attack or something like that (kind of urgent physical problem- How we divide physical and mental needs,no?)-there are real friends I could call and I would call (and vice versa). -(Interesting,they don't know what we are talking here!)
    But,as Margaret has said :"I hate the kind of energy created by things falling apart",I have to concentrate on my problems trying to solve them,one way or another.
    It seems,we are all sturdy here
    People around me are used to it,-but there is a friend who would step in,if she realizes I can't cope alone (and maybe I didn't realize it myself)
    Frances,I hope that you are feeling better now-it is very wise how you know what to do to help yourself.
    Ann from Missouri
    -my thoughts are with you,all the best. It was very sad for me,too, when I realized that I can't fix things for my father-but,I'm sure that you are helping your husband tremendously
    Dottoressa

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    1. Well, with the difference, I COULD call you! ;-)
      Yes, well-said, a "whole diapason of depression," and I wish there could be no guilt, no shame. I think there is, though, sometimes...
      Yes, we're a sturdy bunch -- I hope we don't hold this up as a standard, and I hope that our own sturdiness doesn't make others who really need a hand less willing to ask for it. It's so good to have friends, like yours, who might notice we need the help and step in.
      And yes, quite a bit better today, and a little girl is bringing her family to visit, so . . .

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  19. Frances, I can relate to so much of this. While I've never struggled with serious depression, I do have times when I just feel sad and lethargic and overwhelmed. Like you, I can't imagine calling someone when those moods hit. Self-reliance? Maybe a bit. But for me, pulling inward feels like a way of coping and self-nurture, and the idea of reaching out to connect feels burdensome. Like one more thing I "should" do. Maybe this is an area of introversion?

    I think we all deal with mental and emotional self-care in different ways. Much love to you!!

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    1. I know what you mean by the pulling inward for self-care and coping -- I agree that, especially for an introvert, the idea of socialising in any way -- even just that reach-out phone call -- is just too draining.
      But sometimes, for me, and perhaps for others the pulling inward is just a fetal curl, and there's a point where it wants to be catatonic. If catatonia streamed tears. It doesn't feel therapeutic at all, and sometimes I wonder if I'll muster the will to break back out of it. It doesn't happen often, and I always do, and it never takes as long as it feels like (so it's never more than a few hours). And if I didn't have my husband to make sure I willed myself through the steps to get me back, I think I'd need to have some protocol in place that involved another human being, whether friend or professional, and I hope I'd be able to do that reaching out.

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  20. What a wonderful post, Frances. If things were bad, in fact when things do get bad, I call my sister. She calms me down, and listens when I cry, as I've done for her over the years.

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    1. Sisters, ah yes! I've called mine as well, and cried, from time to time. . . .

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  21. What a right-to-the-heart-of-things post. So much to think about. To answer your questions: I have had two close family members who suffer/ed from depression, one of them my father for the 26 years since my mother's death until his death 2 years ago. As an only child I was his helpline, and I think the experience of being called on during his dark times has left me constantly on my guard against going into a similar place myself. It may be that I don't have my father's same predisposition for depression. I know that any low moods that I have are not the same as true depression, which can't be controlled with sheer willpower, but I strive not to let them gain ground because of my experience supporting my father. Like Une Femme above, I feel that reaching out is burdensome, and that I can best solve my mood by pulling inward. Perhaps that's a result of being an only child, with an isolated rural 1960s/70s childhood and adolescence. There is also a strong Scottish strain of self-reliance and stoicism. I can't imaging phoning a friend, possibly because none of my friends are close enough. Come to think of it, I am not someone who needs to see or be in contact with friends constantly for them to remain friends - it would exhaust me emotionally. My phone is not only turned to Do Not Disturb overnight - it is turned off, and the rest of my family does the same. If an emergency came up we would use the landline.
    Like others, sending heartfelt good wishes to Ann from Missouri.

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    1. This exposure to depression in the family makes a big difference, doesn't it? My mother suffered as well, and I know this has much to do with my response to any sustained and seemingly inexplicable sadness of my own. As you say, true depression can't be controlled with sheer willpower, but I fear a slippery slope and so far, I've managed to scramble back.
      We don't have landlines in our family. One by one we've all given them up, and I'd have a hard times raising anyone in the night (couldn't go knocking at their doors either, as the building buzz links to the cellphones! )

      And Ann from Missouri, I hope you're noting that everyone here is holding you in their thoughts.

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  22. Thank you for this honest post. I know of what you speak and did not nor would I call a friend. Partially for all the reasons many others have brought up and partially because the heavy inertia prevented me from wanting any contact. I did once have a friend who just showed up and I was willing to see her. Her presence, while helpful and appreciated, was not something that I would have asked for - again, because of withdrawal and heavy inertia. At these times, one just wants to crawl in a hole. At least that is how it is for me. Gratitude lists are not something that I would find helpful at such a time. I think those of us who are introverted are possibly more prone to depression and depressed moods. Our natural tendency already is to keep our own counsel much of the time. That would be especially true when depressed.

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    1. This is my experience as well, Jeannine. The same inertia that keeps me from doing all the useful, endorphin-bringing activities -- not just the walking, but even bringing the mug of tea to my lips--makes it impossible to imagine calling anyone. How intuitive of your friend to show up, though. I'm going to have to go away and think about how I would respond if one of mine did. Could I bear anyone to see me in such a state? Or could I hustle myself out of the state (which, in itself, obviously, would be therapeutic)?
      And no, no to gratitude lists, supremely unhelpful at such times, adding shame to our depressed state.

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    2. Regarding my friend - she hadn't been hearing from me through emails as she usually did, plus she lost an adult daughter to suicide (who struggled with depression and possibly other mental health issues) so she is very attuned. Frankly, I was feeling so low that I wasn't concerned with her seeing me in such a state and we're good enough friends that it didn't matter. She was a help in that she was there and I knew if I called (which I didn't), she would come running.

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    3. She sounds like a treasure, your friend, but I suspect you gave her a gift in allowing her to help, as well, in acknowledging the depth of your friendship, that trust.

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  23. Frances, this post is eerily timely for me. I've had a bad bout of depression over the last week or so, and one of the thoughts I had was that there was no one in the world I could talk to. Of course, this isn't true - I have friends and a grown daughter and several sisters and several close cousins and my 19-yo son - but I could never bring myself to impose my problems on anyone else. I should not confide in my son. He is at college and needs to focus on his own education and development, and it would be wrong to burden him. But I should be able to talk to my other relatives and my friends. I just can't. One part not wanting to be a drag, one part not wanting to show weakness, one part not wanting to talk. I have several difficult to intractable problems that are weighing on me. I am actually taking generic Welbutrin, and usually it keeps me from getting this low. But exhaustion, worry, inadequate exercise combine to destroy hope and optimism.

    I have not yet read other comments, will do that now. Thank you for your honesty, Frances.

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    1. Marie,as Brenda said:" I had professional help a few years ago and realized it was blessing to unburden myself to a stranger"
      It could help and if it is accesible where you live,you could feel better and after that, could choose to discuss some aspect of your feelings (you don't have to tell everything )with some of your family and friends or not.
      Feeling alone with your problems could make them bigger and you're feeling more afraid of them,so,it is one of the options
      Take care
      Dottoressa

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    2. I'm so sorry to hear this, Marie. You've gone through so much in the last couple of years that it's not surprising, but it must be so tough. Dottoressa's advice is very good, and Brenda's experience echoes my own couple of sessions with a psych. counsellor years ago. I never felt a need to follow-up, but just found that being able to -- safely -- lay out what was going on to another (sympathetic, if objective) ear was such a relief. As Dottoressa suggests, it really helps to put what's bothering you in perspective -- perhaps it is a big as you think and then you can decide what allies and help you need; or perhaps you see that it might be more manageable; or just as likely, something in between those two. Inside you're head, though, problems are too often Huge, especially if we feel isolated with them.

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  24. Ann in Missouri, I am so sorry about your husband's cancer. It's such a cruel disease and to have a second relapse after, I'm sure, multiple courses of debilitating treatment is particularly unfair. I wish I had some wise words of comfort.

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  25. Great post and great responses from so many people here. Like many of you, I would not call a friend at 3.00 am. Or at least that's what I thought at first. Later, I realised I have called certain friends and they have called me (although never at 3.00 am!) However, now I find that posting on a certain community I am a member of helps meet my needs when I am especially low.

    I know I would seek out professional help if I felt I needed it (or if someone close to me suggested it). I was very resistant to that when I was younger, very much feeling as you commented that I needed to soldier on and bear the burden. There is something to that "fake it until you feel it" cliché.

    But I had some professional help a few years ago, and realised it was a blessing to unburden myself to a stranger.

    I hope I would do either: reach out to a friend or seek professional help. Sometimes the most wonderful gift you can give someone is to let them know you value their wisdom and support, even if that is not top of your mind in the middle of a crisis. Brenda

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    1. Thanks for this, Brenda. Your last two paragraphs are especially useful -- as you can see through Dottoressa using your example to encourage Marie. And the point you make about the gift of asking for help -- that's powerful!

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  26. Really interesting post, F. When I'm in a state, I do not want to talk to anyone on the phone. I may go out for a drink with a friend who thinks to call me, though. What I like to do in those times (and they've hit hard lately) is to get creative in my introspection: knitting, cooking, sewing, writing. Out of necessity as much as anything, I've come to believe that my omnipresent sensitivity is a gift because it brings me closer to everything. But it doesn't make it any easier to be me when I'm beside myself with angst. Of course, you know I'm more of an anxious than depressive introspective. I have confidence that you will be feeling better soon. Note that I didn't say "more yourself" because you are all of the mind states you inhabit and they all give you the opportunity to know yourself and the world in which you find yourself.

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    1. I love your last sentence!

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    2. With Marie, I love your last sentence -- as well as the one about sensitivity being a gift -- sometimes a challenging, sometimes a painful one, but undoubtedly it's a gift. xo

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  27. First, thank you for being so honest and open. Second, no I am unable to call anyone at any time to open up - I feel shame, I guess, and fearful of being perceived as weak. And yet, I know that depression or mental illness should not be judged. However, I have my therapist who I feel safe to open up to without being judged. Thank you for sharing so honestly - it is good to know we are not alone.

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    1. It's a conundrum, isn't it? There is something that's at least akin to shame, and I think we validate or fortify the social stigma when we keep our weakness to ourselves, and yet I know I somehow pride myself on coping, on not bothering others. . . Having a therapist seems a very good middle ground, and I'm glad you have one you feel safe and comforted with.

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  28. Social media is often criticised for creating false perfection , causing envy & discontent . It is rare to witness such honesty in a blog post & the subsequent comments & it has been moving to read . I can quite understand & empathise with those of your commenters who would not call others in the early hours , I wouldn't either . As in a serious physical illness , some of us need all our energy for the job in hand . I've noticed this in more introvert friends when they were seriously ill . Then there's the famous British ' stiff upper lip ' which still lingers -for good or bad
    Wendy in York

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    1. I think the same, on reading this conversation, Wendy: it belies the regular criticism of social media as superficial and fake. . .
      Yes, that "stiff upper lip" -- as you say, for good or bad. . . I don't know how I'd manage without it, but I know it exacts its cost.

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  29. Thank you for this wonderful post! I have suffered from depression in the past, and know how debilitating it can be, but the hobgoblin that stalks me relentlessly is anxiety, sometimes to the point of panic attacks. Now I am struggling with PTSD symptoms after having been in a serious accident. Reaching out and talking about it is hard for me, and made worse by the fact that some good friends and family, who are loving and supportive, simply cannot handle hearing me describe what happened and how I feel about it. Luckily, I have two wonderful women friends and an excellent trauma psychologist who are there for me. Even so, I only just described what happened to the therapist for the first time two days ago, and I have only shared a few milder details with my two friends. And I couldn’t bring myself to call any of them at 3am. So clearly, I have some things to work on. Murphy

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    1. You're very welcome, Murphy, and thank you for joining in. So sorry to hear about the PTSD you're working through.
      I'm thinking about that inability to hear your narrative, what that means about the way we compartmentalise, the fears we can't stand to have triggered. It's understandable, I know, but I can't help but wonder how it would serve us -- and our family and friends -- in a less protected environment (such as, for example, one that so many in those world must live in). You're so fortunate in having the two friends capable of being there and the trauma psychologist must be a wonderful resource. Take care.

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  30. Childhood sets everything up: how we live, who we choose as mates, what we choose to do with our time, our self-talk: parents and childhood. So, yes, a (brilliant) therapist can help point us down the right roads of examination. But really, it's us who must do the work, internally and by ourselves after we leave the office. Those we might call at 3 AM may be of no use. The work is a singular, personal road, best done with an attitude of courage-to-look. The closer we pursue our unconscious underpinnings, the more threatening it will feel and that will indicate that we are on the right track.
    Fortitude to go deeper into the whys is not for everyone. Plus, it hurts to uncover truths hidden for a lifetime. The conscious mind is busy 24/7 dismissing the light. We're all some kind of sick and accepting that as a starting point helps. Depression is anger gone underground. Any time it comes on, say instead "... wait, what am I really angry about?" The answers are always, consistently shocking and often unwelcome. Take an emotional ice pick to the incidents that set things off and see what's in there.
    Giulia

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    1. I appreciate some, even much, of what you say here, Giulia, and I believe there is considerable truth here. It's not the only approach to depression, however, nor am I convinced that depression is always "anger gone underground." A psychoanalytic approach can be dynamically effective for some, but new research suggests that Cognitive Behavioural Therapy can work to modify neural pathways, new awareness into brain chemistry and endocrinology, etc., suggests it's not always necessary or even efficacious to take the "emotional ice pick" to our lives. It sounds as if you have the fortitude for this route and that it is making, or has made, a worthwhile difference for you.

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  31. Wow, Frances, you have quite the following on your blog. This post was beautifully written. I can't adequately express just how much it resonates with me. I have struggled with major depressive disorder for the majority of my life thus far, since I was about 8 years old. I believe it's largely a genetic thing, and when I am functional and rational, I realize that it's an illness, just like any physical one. I do, however, still struggle, on a very regular basis. I see a counsellor. I talk to friends about it after the fact. I take medication. I know all my tricks, as well: yoga, running, reading or watching things that I know will make me laugh, making appointments that I have to keep, etc. My depression and anxiety are perhaps more severe, as I have ventured into suicidal ideations on a frequent basis, but I think what lies beneath is the same. I have extreme difficulty reaching out to my loved ones, and friends that have expressed many times that they are available and willing to lend an ear or shoulder, and support me through my difficult moments. I have a couple of times recently, out of necessity, as I felt very much "on the brink" of losing myself, but on the whole, I still struggle through on my own. I wallow, I cry uncontrollably, I stare off into space blankly, I browse social media (which is often the worst thing I could possibly do when in this state, I realize), thinking about all the things I *could* do to make myself feel better. Every once in a while, though, whilst browsing through other people's highlight reels, I come across posts like yours. People, sometimes even strangers, being raw, emotional, and baring their vulnerabilities...and I realize (even though I already knew this to be true) that I truly am not alone, and it helps me to get up off my ass and do something--ANYTHING, to feel even marginally better. I might not call a friend at 3am, but I scroll through my facebook and instagram feeds in the wee hours of the morning sometimes, and I come across gems like these that help me to not feel so very alone. So, that would be a +1 for Social Media. It may bring us down sometimes by causing us to irrationally compare our lives with others' without any context, but it can also be an effective medium for those with mental health issues to connect, without the stress and anxiety of calling a friend at 3am. :)

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    1. Mako, I'm so pleased that you've joined the conversation -- we tend to skew a bit more, ahem, mature here, and I love to expand our demographic, to bring in other voices with different perspectives. Finding you again on Social Media a few years ago was such a delight, although I've been sorry to know how much depression you suffer (such a surprise given what a happy--and ever-so-bright!-- kid you were when I knew you at 6, 7). I'm so impressed at what you can manage despite the anxiety/depression -- kids, fitness, social life-- and your willingness to share here is both courageous and generous. I do think that, given how tough it is for us to reach out in those sunken times, it's so helpful to come across conversations like this and to know that we're not alone -- somehow that knowledge might be part of the self that counters our meanest 3 a.m. inner critics. . . . (and may I repeat my earlier offer to buy you lunch or coffee or a glass or two of whatever next time you're over this way. xo)

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  32. For me it tends to be crushing anxiety rather than depression and it makes me frantic rather than lethargic, but I think the levels of suffering are analogous. And I don't tend to reach out to anyone about it, even my husband, because on some level I know its out of proportion, or at least out of my control. I have many friends/family who have had great experiences with therapy so at some point that probably needs to be on the agenda. Why not, it can't HURT.

    ceci

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    1. From what I've read and heard, both anxiety and depression respond fairly well to Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. In fact, a number of studies have apparently found it to be as effective as antidepressants in treating mild to moderate depression. As you say, it can't hurt!

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  33. Apologies that I'm too tired this evening to read all the comments before adding my own, so I hope I'm not repeating others. The 3am phonecall and the reason why I too would find it almost impossible to make, is because calling someone at 3am would be my last resort, and as a last resort would mean that I no longer felt able to cope on my own, and therefore I would no longer in Control... And not being in control, or at least the illusion of control over depression, is more terrifying than however else I would be feeling. Not making the 3am phonecall means that I must somehow be ok, or be going to be ok...
    My heartfelt compassion coming your way. And I know you are ok too :-) x

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    1. Something about the way you articulate this makes so much sense, Charlotte. Yes, there's something about that control, or the illusion of it, that reassures even as it isolates. And yes, and thank you for knowing it, I'm ok too ;-)

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  34. I’ve come back here to read others’ responses to Frances’s open-hearted post and found so many sweet words of support for my husband and me. Thank you, dear strangers. We are walking along the same path, even though we don’t know each others’ names. I feel lifted by your good will.

    Ann from Missouri

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    1. You really are supported here, and it's something more than "just" virtual.... Take care.

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  35. I've not gotten through all the comments yet, but I feel compelled to say something, even though I may want to say something else later.

    You know that for a few years, for more than a few years, both while my spouse was ill and failing with dementia, and afterwards after he passed away, I lost myself. And that sense of loss was different in each of those situations. I did not call anyone, I even if I wished I could, I wouldn't have been able to bring myself to do it, perhaps fearing too much to be seen as weak, to cause worry. Really, I never want to cause worry, but I suspect that even deeper cause of my reluctance reverts back to my early years, to a childhood where emotion was looked down upon, and a sense, which I can date back to an episode when I was four, that much as I yearned for someone to take care of me, I could count on no one but myself. It has taken me a long time to dig to the root of this, and doing so has been freeing, at least for me.


    The result is that now I believe I could call someone if I felt I needed to, but I'm not sure who that would be. I'm also not sure I would acknowledge the need. I may have found a root, but I haven't yet been able to free myself of what I self-identify as melancholy but which is probably more of an anxiety/depression mix.

    Thank you for writing this. I increasingly think it is our secrets, and our shame, and the things we don't bring in to the light that hurts us, and others even more. And I turned off my "do not disturb" long ago. No one calls, but I'd rather be disturbed than not


    Actually I think I would be more able to call someone now than I was even a few years ago, but I still can't imagine who I would call. I think however that I although I struggle with what I self-identify as melancholy, and it may be depression or anxiety, or a mix, I am fortunate to have never been so lost as to be even close to suicidal.

    I long for a world where we could all be angry, and sad, and lost and happy, grateful and despairing and all of these things sometimes even simultaneously, or not, because really how we feel has nothing to do with what the world looks like. But of course perhaps I want to live in a dream world.

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    1. There's much that is brave and thoughtful and true and illuminating about your comment, Mardel, but it's the last paragraph that really grabs me -- yes! I want us to be allowed that full gamut of emotions, the ones so often deemed "negative" as well as the happier ones, and still feel ourselves valued. If it's a dream, it's one worth bringing to life!

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  36. I have though long and hard before responding to this as it is hard to convey exactly what I feel and think without the help of the face to face. I'll have a go. There is no one I would ring at three in the morning. I know I am very lucky in my marriage (although like you my marriage can produce moments of profound failure to understand each other) and I am deeply lucky in my children and grandchildren. I have a couple of very good friends and a supportive community. There are moments of deep sadness and hurt for me as there are for everybody but I don't see that there is any purpose or value in breaking anyone else's night when they strike. I know I am very loved and live in return. When the bad night strikes it reminds me that ultimately we are alone, we came in and will go out alone. For me I would not know what the purpose of calling anyone at these times would be. Indeed it would feel to me like pointless self indulgence. Suggesting I would love company and how about coffee in the day, weeping on my husband or exploring sadness with my daughter or my sister are all things I might do in the day. Mostly I deal with the hard times within the confines of my family or with one or two very dear friends, but only in the day! At night I wait until morning. I agree wholeheartedly with mardel's comment about being allowed the full run of emotions. That's not what I mean. Hope you can devine what I do mean!

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    1. You're right, Elizabeth. It's difficult to write the conversation, without the feedback we'd have in person. Although I find that my resolve to share often fades in person which, perhaps is a good thing.
      While I don't want to presume too much, I do think I know just what you mean, mainly because I seem to feel the same constraints about "bothering" others when I can surely manage a few more hours on my own. I'm not convinced, though, the the "moments of deep sadness and hurt" are always for one of us as "there are for everybody." I think sometimes there can be a desperation that might not be able to manage hanging on those few more hours and I wonder how much my own inability/unwillingness/refusal to ask for that help (I really feel I just couldn't) contributes to a stigma that damns those who need the solace of company. On the other hand, I value a good quiet night's sleep and think there's great worth in a collective unwillingness to disturb anyone's. . . As with so much of life, it's not simple, for me at least. Thanks for being so thoughtful, taking the time to consider the issue and to come back to write into the conversation.

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    2. That is really interesting. Is there a "stigma which damns those who need the solace of company"? I suppose there might be. My own answer seems quite bleak although if we met I don't think you would associate such a word with me. I'm a cheerful, sociable, loving sort of a person. But I do seem to think that eventually we must look death in the eye and be alone. Perhaps that is why I try to live warmly and happily because ultimately that's all you can do. It's an odd realisation that while I think I am profoundly reluctant to judge others, while I would wish to help anyone who rang me at three in the morning, ultimately I would wonder why. There are things that can be helped and there is shit that can't be helped with. Puzzling. Being kind is about all I can be sure of.

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I'd love to hear your response to my post. Agree, disagree, even go off on a tangent, I love to know you're out there, readers. Let's chat, shall we? I apologize, though, for the temporary necessity of the Word Verification -- spam comments have been tiresomely numerous lately, and I'm hoping to break that pattern.

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