Have you ever known someone with depression and despite your best efforts to be open minded, you secretly thought they were selfish and self-absorbed? I have. I hate to say it but I once had a lovely friend who suffered depression and I didn’t understand. At the time I didn’t have depression and really struggled when she would cut off all communication for months. I thought I had done something to upset her and when she finally came back I would be confused. I asked her if it happens again could she please just let me know she needs space as is going through a difficult time. Now almost 20 years later I realise that must have been too much for her, she was doing her best. My teenage self could not see past my own life experiences and opinions to realise we all function differently. I didn’t live in a household where we spoke openly about diversity and differences and especially not mental health. We weren’t negative about this stuff, it was just never spoken of. I really had no reference point to understand mental health. But I now see this friend was not at all selfish.
Now I must state the obvious here, people in all walks of life can be selfish and self-absorbed, those with depression are no different. But, I do want to explain something to you. Something that is hard to get your head around if you are functioning ‘normally’. For some people when they are struggling with deep and chronic depression they are using every tiny, minuscule bit of energy they have to survive another day. Something has to give. They often have to remove something, or a lot of things, from their life.
In my darkest times my ability to cope with life outside myself got smaller and smaller. At first it was going to see friends, then talking on the phone, going to town. A little further on it was having people over, paying bills, filling in school forms, doing the kids hair. Next was the cooking, looking after the kids, doing any bookwork (oh and just a heads up I learnt that you can get an extension for doing your BAS from the Tax Department, how 😎 ). Before I knew it I was not driving, not being able to read and not being able to spread butter and vegemite on the toast that had been cooked for me in hospital.
What I am getting at is the sicker I got with my depression, the narrower I made my view of the world to survive. I literally had to block out more and more of the world around me to try and focus on each task at hand, otherwise the overwhelm was suffocating.
It is probably the nurse in me. but have you ever been shown what it looks like through the eyes of someone with glaucoma? See how in the first picture below you can see the girl, there is a few fuzzy bits around, next picture more fuzzy, then more until the final picture is black. So for those poor people with glaucoma this is the reality they can face. I luckily have my vision, but this demonstrates how your mind can work with depression. I think it shows how many people drift out of the real world, often slowly, until they only exist in what turns out to be a self-absorbed reality. They have no energy or brain space to successfully sustain relationships in life.
Despite this I dont think they are selfish, far from it. I believe it is their brains survival mode to allow a person time to fix themselves and heal. [From experience I would suggest taking care of your mental and physical health as best as you can, if you can, before you hit this survival mode. It really is not the most productive use of your life 😊, or practical when it hits without warning (or did we get the warnings, but ignore them?)] When you reach this point of not being able to focus on anything you are at great risk of abusing drugs and alcohol as well as being at a greater risk of suicide.
For me when I reached this point I was trying desperately to get into a psychiatric facility. While I waited out the days I slept and took what I now look back at as unbelievable amounts of medicine. I am not too keen on naming what I took as everyone needs to get that advice from their trusted doctor. However, with my psychiatrists phone advice I was taking enough medicine to keep me in a constant zombie state, just until we could get me in to hospital and work out what to do with me.
So was I a good friend? No.
A good wife? No.
Was I a good mother?……. Despite everything going on I really did try as best as I could.
So was I selfish and self absorbed? Yes.
But you know what, I had to be. If I didn’t finally take myself out of my stressors and focus on myself to get well I dont know where I would be now. The possibilities are pretty scary to consider.
So ultimately I had to do what no mother does without guilt, focus on myself. Being in hospital helped. I had someone cooking for me, cleaning for me, Mum would come in and do my washing. I was free to focus on me, for the first time since I had children 9 years earlier.
So yes, I became selfish and self absorbed. However I did this as a survival instinct. I am now opening up my vision again little by little and letting the world in.
I remember years ago speaking to a wonderful Centacare Councillor we had in Wudinna (unfortunately we no longer have this service). I was telling her of the help I was seeking from friends and family to get through a difficult period of Post Natal Depression. She looked at me and said in a firm but kind voice. ‘Sally that is lovely that these people are helping you, you must remember to return the favour when they are in need and you are doing better.’
So in a way that is what I am trying to do now, somehow help others out there struggling through the minefield that is depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. Help people who have not experienced a mental health condition to gain an insight into what life can be like when your mind can feel like it is not your own anymore. Finally, I really hope to be able to get more people talking and reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues in our communities.
The take away from this post is that maybe selfishness is okay in small doses. As long as we don’t live there permanently.
Please keep your messages and comments coming. I absolutely adore hearing back from people who are reading these posts. I am very open if you have questions, or topics you would like me to write about and just saying hi is also amazing.
Much love and peace,