Thursday, August 11, 2016

The Other Side

There are certain assumptions that we often make when it comes to people with depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues. One of the most common assumptions is that these people were abused, with the abuse coming from a parent or other close family member usually following right on the heels of that one. While both of these are true often enough for there to be a basis for assumption, they are not universal, and we do need to be careful to not treat them as universal. There are a variety of potential causes for emotional disorders, including the purely physiological, and while you may assume correctly many times, you may also cause irreparable harm on those times when you are wrong. Don’t guess. If you are trying to help someone, just ask. If the person you are trying to help isn’t ready to answer that question then the person you are trying to help isn’t ready to be helped in that way. You can’t force these things, and attempting to do so usually only makes matters worse.

I mention all of this because it occurs to me that I have been discussing my own emotional issues for over a year now and might have inadvertently given some people the wrong idea. My family was not perfect. I don’t doubt that there were things that could have been better, but I have never met a family where that was not true, and I have met lots of families. My family was not perfect, but they were pretty spectacular, in my not-so-humble opinion. I haven’t met one yet that I would trade for. I don’t think I could meet one that I would trade for. We made mistakes, but we used them, we learned from them, and we grew. That’s about as close as you get to perfection in this human world. Keep trying, keep growing, and keep learning. If you’re doing that, you’re already ahead of the curve. Don’t worry about perfection. Just keep going.

Let me address that specifically to the parents, the relatives, and the loved ones: Keep going. I spend most of my time here talking to and about people like me - people with issues, people who are grieving, the damaged, the freaks, and the outcasts - but you, who might be reading these words but don’t meet those descriptions, you matter too. You matter more than you might realize, and many of you do more good than you realize too. I won’t say that we couldn’t make it without you - one of my biggest points here is that we can make it far more often and under far more circumstances than we think - but you sure do improve the odds. A good support network is critical and, if you are being a good support network, you are doing good work even though it may not always seem like it.

We are not always easy to deal with. I get that. Believe me, I get it. We’re sensitive, difficult, tiring, frustrating, and sometimes just downright angering. You won’t catch me denying any of those things, so thank you. If you are being supportive toward someone who needs support, you are a hero. Perfection is not required, and all sincere applicants are accepted. Don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t seem like you’re getting through. Notice that I said “when” there and not “if”. If you are supporting one of my people, there are going to be times when you feel like you’re running your head into a wall. Fair warning. It’s going to happen, but please keep going. We can do this without you, but not nearly as many of us will get through that way, or get through as well. If I can speak for the outcasts again, we appreciate you, even when we don’t know how to say it.

Parents, having a child who is going through hell is not inherently a reflection on you. I know it seems that way sometimes, and society sure does act like it’s that way most of the time, but it’s not necessarily true. It can be true. If you’re abusive or not supportive when it’s needed, that’s on you. Just remember, you’re not perfect and you don’t have to be. Do your best, and you can’t do any more. Sometimes you can’t do enough. I’m sorry, no parent wants to hear that, but it’s true. Sometimes the only thing you can do is to be ready. Be ready when they open up, be ready when they let you in, and be ready when they fall. They probably will. They might fall hard. Again, I’m sorry. I know that isn’t what you want to hear, but sometimes the worst is beyond your control. It’s not fair but, if you’re a parent, you probably already know that life is not fair. Part of our job, one of the hardest parts, is helping our children learn how to come to terms with that fact. Don’t forget it yourself. Do your best, and let that be enough when it has to be enough.

Parents and children may live in the same home, but that doesn’t always mean that they occupy the same planet. It’s a big world, and sometimes it’s just too big. We hide things because we’re used to hiding things. For some kids, hiding things can sometimes mean the difference between life and death, or at least lunch money and no lunch money, and that sets a pretty solid precedent. Once you get used to doing that much hiding, it’s pretty easy to stop making distinctions between people you hide things from and people you don’t. It’s just easier to hide things from everyone, and people who are going through that kind of stuff need easier. They don’t get very much of it, and will tend to snatch at it when it’s available.

There sometimes seems to be this vast ocean between the ones in need and the ones who can help. Those of you who are on the other side, trying to help and trying to show that the distance really isn’t so great after all, thank you. Please keep going. You’re doing good work. Don’t let the world beat you down by telling you that you’re not doing enough. Don’t beat yourself up because you don’t think you’re helping. If you’re sincere, if you’re making the honest effort and adjusting based on real observable needs (as opposed to just doing things your way even if that doesn’t help - that’s not the same thing), you’re almost certainly helping. If you don’t think so, try to imagine how much worse it might be otherwise.

We have a saying that goes, “Do not confuse my bad days with weakness. Those are actually the days I am fighting the hardest.” By the same token, I would add do not confuse my bad days with someone else’s weakness. Just because I am having a hard time doesn’t mean that someone else isn’t doing everything possible to help. It just really is sometimes that hard. Don’t make assumptions, either way. If we all work together, we can all make things better. Do your best, and keep going.

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