Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grieving Robin Williams - an unanticipated part 2

When I wrote my previous post, up to my eyeballs in grief over the overwhelming sense of being alone that is rampant among people in today's high-tech, fast-paced, slash and burn world, it was a plea for people to remember the importance of COMMUNICATING how you feel about someone.  About recognizing that you may deeply care about a person, but if you keep that information inside your head, the other person may not get the message.  My hope was that people would take the opportunity to reach out to others in their circles and have a touching moment of connectedness. 

It didn't occur to me that some of my readers are also friends who form the pillars of my own support system and would take the opportunity to reach out to ME. 

You see, one of my really bad habits is that it's always about someone else for me.  Most of the time I'm pretty ok at taking care of myself, and my best friend teases me that I'm allergic to help.  In fact, most of the people in my inner circle enjoy setting me up by asking if they can help with something, and then answering WITH me "Nope!  I got it!"  (I show them though, from time to time.  I ACCEPT help)  We won't go into how I personally learned that asking for help was a negative thing.  No one MEANT to teach me, but I learned it anyway.  And it benefitted me in many ways, driving me to work hard and strive for excellence.  The dark side is when I need support, I have a hard time asking for it.  Or when I do ask for it and sometimes people don't know how big a deal it is for me to ask and think it's a take-it-or-leave-it issue when really it's a desperate plea in a very tiny voice.  I've trained the people in my life that I'm capable.  I like that they see me that way.  But I have to raise a fairly high flag sometimes before the lightbulb goes on that I've reached the point where I recognize that support would be helpful and that I need someone to reach out to ME.  Sometimes, I get to the point where the effort of getting that lightbulb to go on doesn't seem worth it.  Sometimes, I've faded out of relationships because it became clear that while the other person enjoyed being on the receiving end, when my bucket was empty there was nothing in the relationship for ME. 

It's been a pretty weird experience in the last few days to have people text, email or message me "YOU MATTER TO ME."  Especially the anonymous poster ... don't tell me who you are, it has been GREAT for me to think about accepting that message blindly without even knowing who I'm touched by.  It brought up a good point for me, and since I'm taking the day off today to regroup and breathe a minute before my next stretch of crazy frenetic life, here I am.  2 blogs in a week.  Crazy.

The flip side of reaching out to connect and go the extra step to make absolutely sure that someone knows that they matter to you is to have the ability to ACCEPT that connection when it is offered.  To open up the gates of your emotional fortress and LET IT IN.   

I'll go ahead and use myself as an example, since I'm here.  Some of the reactions in me to people reaching out have been a reminder that despite the work I've done, the dragons still linger in the shadows.  I found myself ANXIOUS AND UNCOMFORTABLE on the receiving end of some of the love.  How weird is that??  I found myself worried that I had come off somehow as ASKING FOR strokes, and that others felt like they HAD TO reach out and did so begrudgingly.  Now the benefit of having been working on this stuff for years is that it didn't take but a second to realize that A) that was completely ridiculous and B) if it were true, it wasn't my issue.  But it's a reminder of the challenges we face.  Not everyone gets to talk about healthy relationship every day for 8 hours, and I remember a time when I got caught up in those irrational beliefs for more than a few seconds. 

It's easy to play the negative stuff over and over in our heads, and get all wrapped around the axle about someone thinking something BAAAAAAD about us.  Give the good stuff just as much power.  Roll it around in your head and soak it up.  "I MATTER TO PEOPLE."  Don't let the thought of the people you know you DON'T matter to mar the bright, shiny diamond of the relationships that ARE working.

Especially in depression it is hard to let others in.  Someone who is experiencing depression is in physical and emotional lockdown mode.  It takes energy to reach out.  Depression drains energy.  In addition we build up walls when we're hurting that make it feel like accepting someone else's gift gives them power and makes us vulnerable.  It takes energy to remember that even if there ARE strings on the gift, the best way to unhinge the other person is to accept the gift and ignore the strings.  That being said, depression is not an excuse to lay on the floor and expect people to rescue you. That is a blog for another day.  The point today is that when someone you know is depressed, YOU HAVE TO WORK HARDER TO GET THEM TO HEAR IT. That's how you can help. And still, it may not be enough if the recipient doesn't accept it. 

Robin Williams was one of our best-loved icons.  You would be hard pressed to go out there and find someone who had NO idea who he was.  I imagine he received tons of positive feedback, and heard from literally millions of adoring fans.  Still, somewhere there was a disconnect.  I don't know what it was, and since I won't have time to read the tell-all best seller written by some person out there who is seeing dollar signs right now, I will probably never know.  But I will bet it had something to do with feeling alone. 

Once I had a really bad day.  Fortunately, I also have a great friend.  I told her over and over that I was fine on my way home from work that night, and I was fine-ish.  I would have gone home and recovered and gotten up the next day and done it again, there was zero chance I would hurt myself.  Still, when I walked in my door and found her in my house, not expecting me to TALK about it, not expecting me to put on a happy face and be positive, but just refusing to allow me to feel awful AND also alone, I could not miss that I mattered.  She went WAY out of her way and re-arranged her own busy life just because she cares about me.  I'm a little hard-headed sometimes, and it takes some drastic measures to get the message across.  Be willing to do that for people.  It makes a difference.  Thanks, B. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

I'm not ready to celebrate the life of Robin Williams. I'm still stuck on his death.

I am utterly heartbroken over the death of Robin Williams.  I was at a dinner party when I heard the news on Monday, and had to suck it up because I had a clinic to present on Tuesday, but the tears came later that night and I’ve been in a funk ever since.  Tomorrow I have to figure out how to go to work and fight the good fight.  

As a mental health practitioner, the reality of suicide is part of my everyday life.  I have heard story after story of the struggles people endured in their decisions to attempt to take their own lives.  Thankfully I’m hearing these stories from survivors.  I’m not here to overdramatize it, but this one is kicking my therapeutic butt.  Today I wept (more than once) over a video of Robin Williams with Koko the gorilla.  In the last couple of days, I’ve wept over the writings of other people who are similarly wrecked by this tragedy.  I've shed more than a few tears over the pictures in my head of what it takes to get to the point where you're willing to take that final step.  I’m not on the “OMG A FAMOUS PERSON DIED” train here.  To be honest, I feel the same way about every suicide.  About the woman who took a presumably accidental overdose of pain medication and alcohol.  About the man who shot himself in front of his family.  About the 22 year old who thankfully was discovered before the lights went out when he tried to hang himself, who was the inspiration for the "It won't suck forever" campaign.  There are now 1000 wristbands out there.  I’ve heard way too much about what it takes to make that decision and follow it through, and have more pictures in my head than I want anyone else to imagine.       

I’m disgusted by the media (as usual).  I’m disgusted by the sunny-side-up presentation of celebrating the life of this man with not even a nod to how awful this is.  I’m disgusted by the “OH DEPRESSION IS SUCH A TERRIBLE DISEASE AND OF COURSE SUICIDE IS THE OUTCOME” posts.  Guess what.  It isn't a straight line.  Lots of people have depression and don’t kill themselves.  It’s a nice way for people to let themselves off the hook.  We’re good at that these days. 

What makes the difference???  You know me well enough by now to not be surprised that the answer in my opininon is CONNECTEDNESS.  It is harder to think that killing yourself is a great idea if you believe that A) there are people who love you and B) those people will be worse off without you than with you.   

There are no words to describe the helplessness I feel about how ti fix this problem.  I preach it over and over.  I feel such desperation every time there’s a reminder in the media of the devastation that the lack of connectedness brings, and this is yet another example.  I will stand on my soapbox like the Lorax and loudly proclaim that something has to change. How many people have to die before we get it?   I am also a believer in the right to make your own choices, and I will respect the decision Robin Williams made to end what he saw as unbearable and unending sufferning,


I won't miss this opportunity to make a plea for people to connect.  Folks, don’t miss any chance to tell people you love them.  Don’t let a day go by without telling someone how much they mean to you.  You never know when that will make a difference.  Did you see “What Women Want?”  That’s not total make believe. 

What Women Waant
Sometimes a kind word makes all the difference.  Get off your cell phone and make eye contact with the cashier at the grocery store.  THANK someone for good customer service.  If you get someone who is having a cranky day, offer a compliment, or a kind word, or even a smile. 
 Pick up a pen.  Write a letter.  Put a stamp on the envelope and walk it ALL THE WAY TO THE MAILBOX.  Send an email.  Make the extra effort to type more than 10 characters at a time.  Let someone know they are worth the effort.  Take the high road in a conflict.  Even when someone else is acting like a jerk, don’t take it as license to out-jerk them.  It will make a difference.  Sometimes, you have no idea how big the difference might be.  Don’t take the chance that you might forever regret NOT taking that step.
I don’t care how you look at it, but I’m begging you not to let your own ego or laziness get in the way of someone knowing that you care about them.  Say "I CARE ABOUT YOU."  In English (or whatever language that person speaks).  Just like that.  Let's practice . . . 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... "I CARE ABOUT YOU ... YOU MATTER TO ME ..."  See?  Easy peasy.

 Ready for the hard part?  If you screwed up in a relationship, APOLOGIZE.  Do what it takes to repair the damage.  Take the high road.  Put on your big kid pants.  Knock of the petty bickering and BS and take the high road.  In case you haven't heard me say it before, THERE IS NO EXCUSE FOR BEING DISRESPECTFUL TO ANYONE, EVER. It is ALWAYS your responsibility. ALWAYS. Doesn't mean it won't happen, but go fix it.
I don’t know about you, but if I hear that someone in my little world decided to end their lives, I will know it isn’t my FAULT, but I want to know that they know regardless of the status of our relationship, in my eyes, they have worth.  In relationships that are toxic, that you choose to end, always differentiate between the worth of the PERSON and the decisions you’ve made about your willingness to participate in the relationship.  You can end a relationship respectfully, being clear about the changes that are needed for that person to be welcome to re-connect.  Never unconditionally close a door.  There’s a whole lot less drama than we like, but it leaves an opportunity for the person who has offended you to know that if they decide to take steps to make amends, they will be met with some degree of openness, and the option of forgiveness should they make that step. 

If you’re the person thinking about ending it, don’t.  Reflect on the ups and downs in life, and know that whatever downs you’re in right now, there are ups to follow.  There are more downs to follow too, but set your sights on learning some new skills to better tolerate those.  Identify things YOU can change and start taking small steps to change them.  Get connected in your community.  Volunteer.  Go to meetup groups.   Find a (good) therapist to be your coach and cheerleader in the process.  Connect, connect, connect.  If all else fails, call ME.  I’ll help you get hooked up.    

For now, I will grieve, not only for the loss of a beloved and talented artist, but for another reminder that one can be loved by an entire nation and still feel alone.  What I can do about it is encourage YOU to pick up your preferred method of communication RIGHT NOW and tell someone that they matter.  Even if it sounds weird, and feels weird and they laugh it off as a joke.  Love and respect are gifts you give without strings.  Do it.  Like your life depended on it.  Because someone's just might.

RIP Robin.  Thanks for all the laughs and the tears.  I hope you found some peace and I’m aching with sorrow that you couldn’t find it here.