When I’m severely depressed it takes an inordinate amount of energy to Socialise. Socialising is Making An Effort, and Making An Effort is Exhausting, and at times, Impossible. Sometimes I’m feeling less inclined to Hang Out than simply Hang.
Some will argue that if I didn’t use words like ‘impossible’ to describe basic human functions I wouldn’t be depressed. I’m not convinced. Whilst I can acknowledge that negative thinking definitely contributes to my depression, nothing has made me succumb to negativity like the suggestion that my recovery is being encumbered by my own lack of positivity.
One of the reasons socialising whilst depressed is difficult is because I go through bouts of depression where I sleep for most of the day. No amount of caffeine appears to help. Friends of mine are often subjected to rebuttals when they want to meet up, because I’m not confident in my ability to be awake for the entirety of our interaction.
Being awake is, of course, the bare minimum requirement for most social interactions. I am most aware of this when socialising in groups, as doing so often seems synonymous with me standing in the corner with a blank and/or dazed expression whilst other people make meaningful connections with each other.
One-to-one interactions are a bit easier, especially with a close friend who’s happy to come over and Potato.
Noun (plural potatoes)
Potatoes are one of the most versatile vegetables, as there are several ways of cooking them. There is often a direct correlation between the healthiness of the method by which you cook them, and the degree of your own self-loathing.
The process of putting yourself in a dark room, drinking lots of fluids, and hoping you’ll grow into a happier person.
The friend who is happy to come over and Potato will get my not-so-subtle hints when it’s the time for them to leave. They will understand that my attention span and ability to articulate simple concepts has deteriorated. They will be happy for me to resort to rudimentary hand gestures and nonsensical sounds when It All Gets Too Much.
I find an increasing number of people are keen to come and Potato Duet with me, and I am grateful. But one of the shitty things about depression is that even if I do want to create beautiful non-contact music with you, one of the following often happens:
1. I feel so ashamed of my Potato-like state that I refuse company because I don’t want anybody to see me being Potato.
For all my openness, for all my attempts to reduce stigma, I am ashamed of my depression. This shame is made worse by the aspect of my depression that makes me convinced that I am responsible for the existence my illness, and that if I were less weak/lazy/pathetic I wouldn’t have it. It doesn’t matter in my head if I don’t think anybody else is to blame for their own illness. Depression makes me think I’m the exception to the rule, in the worst way possible.
If I’m expecting company and I can’t get up/wash/look presentable, I might cancel. Whilst friends, in their infinite wonderfulness, might not care what I smell or look like, I do. Anyone who’s ever been unable to take care of themselves will be familiar with that painful sense of indignity. I don’t want people to witness it. I’m not known for my pride (hey, whether I still have any is subject to debate), but when I feel least like a human being, as I do when I’m depressed, I crave even a semblance of normalcy in my interactions with others.
2. I become convinced that you’re spending time with me as an act of charity.
What could I possibly bring to a friendship? Every redeeming feature I have, every moment we’ve shared in years of inane Facebook conversations together (because what is friendship, if not inane Facebook conversations?), is obliterated by the conviction that I am Dull because I’m Depressed, and therefore unworthy of company. It doesn’t matter how many wonderful, interesting friends I have - who just happen to be depressed - who disprove this theory. It doesn’t matter if we’ve been BFFS for, like, eva! I am a charity case upon whom people can bestow kindness, and if I’m lucky, baked goods.
3. I become convinced that you’ll stop liking me as a result of the interactions that take place when I’m depressed.
This is no reflection on you, so please don’t take it personally. You may have a history of being the most understanding, empathic person in the world, but I can still be absolutely certain that I will alienate you through my illness. If you don’t grow sick of my endless cancellations and rescheduling, you’ll be in for a treat on the actual occasions that we meet. Here are two excerpts from ACTUAL REAL LIFE CONVERSATIONS:
KIND INDIVIDUAL: How are you?
KIND INDIVIDUAL: Oh, I’m so sorry to hear that. (KIND INDIVIDUAL proceeds to offer stream of advice, some of it helpful, most of which I will reject in favour of Lying In Bed Contemplating Where It All Went Wrong).
ME: I’ll be sure to try those when I have the energy to attempt anything.
KIND INDIVIDUAL: What have you been up to?
ME: Lying in bed.
KIND INDIVIDUAL: Oh.
ME: Wait, there’s more.
KIND INDIVIDUAL: Oh?
ME: I lay on the sofa yesterday.
Okay, so I won’t always be that dull. But I’m still convinced that if we were to meet I’d commit some hideous social faux pas in your presence. I’d say something without thinking; fall asleep or burst into tears at an inopportune moment. (It turns out there are very few socially acceptable occasions for crying.) Or maybe you’d detect that I’m far more detached and less affectionate than usual, and mistake this for my not giving a fuck. Truthfully, I might not give a fuck, but that’d be the result of general (depression-induced) apathy, rather than a lack of love for you. No, my love for you makes me determined not to RUIN OUR FRIENDSHIP FOREVER. Better to keep you at arm’s length for now, and hope I don’t completely alienate you with my silence. Because that couldn’t possibly backfire on me, right? Right?
This is an extract from my unfinished book ‘Am I A Useless Shit?’, an ongoing investigation by Alex Bertulis-Fernandes. For feedback in the form of 140 characters, please tweet me @alexbertanades.