A Little Help from My Friends
Last summer, I interviewed dozens of women on the topic of depression. My goal was to learn more about the struggles my “niche clientele” are facing so that I can be of better service to them.
What surprised me more than anything was that the interview responses became quite predictable. I immediately started to notice patterns. It didn’t matter if my subject was clinically depressed, or if she suffered from situational depression at some point throughout her history.
I quickly learned that every woman’s experience with depression is similar. Most notably, when I asked women what frustrates them the most about feeling trapped in a cycle of negativity, roughly 92% of respondents reported that their frustrations stem from feeling as though they have nowhere to turn.
Women told me that they don’t want to be a burden to their families and friends when they are feeling blue. They don’t want to be the proverbial raincloud at the parade or come across as a “Debbie Downer.” They also feel embarrassed by their depression, so they tend to socially isolate themselves. Some even said that they don’t have time to address their depression because there is simply “too much to do.” So instead of asking for help, they stuff it down and they soldier on.
However, my subjects also reported that the “go it alone” approach is their primary source of frustration because loneliness and isolation only serve to exacerbate feelings of sadness and negativity. In other words, women don’t want to burden anyone by talking about their experience, even though many reported knowing, deep down, that reaching out and asking for help is often the very thing they need.
Over the last couple of months, I have had some major revelations about my own reluctance to ask for help. Like many of the women whom I interviewed, I’ve typically been the type to keep my pain and suffering to myself, from the mega dramas to the small annoyances. I don’t like feeling as though I’m being negative or a big ol’ complainer. Besides, I am a “Positive Mindset Coach!” What kind of contradictory message am I putting out there when I sound like a Negative Nancy!?
Lately, however, I have found myself leaning on my friends in a big way. I have recently had to weigh out some major decisions surrounding my career, among other things. I’m used to flying solo, being independent, and not really relying on anyone other than myself… but lately the burden of “going it alone” has felt too great to bear.
At first, it felt uncomfortable (and even a little scary) to admit that I was struggling. Ultimately, I was worried that I was burdening my closest friends by opening up about my struggles. However, after doing a lot of “emotional excavating,” it occurred to me that I was simply afraid of being rejected all over again.
You see, shortly after I suffered from a panic attack at work, quit my job, and went back to school, my brother-in-law committed suicide. It felt as though both my family and professional life were in shambles. Because my husband wasn’t emotionally available to me, I attempted to rely on a couple of my closest “friends.” Unfortunately, it became very clear very quickly that those friends only wanted to be around the “fun Sarah.”
The message I received, which then became the story that I told myself over and over again, was that no one wanted to be around me unless I was in a great mood and riding high. If I acted human by admitting that I was struggling (God forbid!), I would be without friends. Until now, without realizing it, I have stuffed it down and soldiered on (like many of my interview subjects) because I thought that I couldn’t admit that I was struggling AND have friends. I would be a burden to them, and who wants to be friends with a burden?
I am a big fan of Dr. Kristen Neff and her work surrounding self-compassion. Neff defines self-compassion as being composed of self-kindness, mindfulness, and “common humanity.” Common humanity is my favorite piece of the self-compassion puzzle because it teaches us that the human experience, particularly as it relates to suffering, is similar.
When we’re struggling, we tend to think that we’re the only one who has suffered the way that we’re suffering, and that there isn’t a single soul alive who could possibly understand or appreciate what we’re going through. However, that is simply not true! Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, experiences difficulties, tragedies, and moments of feeling as though their life is over. I am beyond grateful to Dr. Neff for teaching me that I’m never alone and that, even if the situation is unique, my suffering isn’t!
Anyway, the point I want to make here is that you’re NEVER alone. When I leaned on my friends for help, I was beyond pleasantly surprised by the outpouring of support that I received. I know that having great friends on whom I can rely is, in part, a reflection of the intentional work that I have put in over the last few years to grow my local community and surround myself with loving and supportive souls.
However, I also called up some of my oldest friends, too, who have been in my life for ages, and who were even in my life back when “stuff” hit the fan. I now realize that I could have called on them when I needed them the most, and that life wouldn’t have felt as unbearable or as lonely as it did back then. I hope they know, too, that I wouldn’t think twice about being there for them. I don’t want them to ever feel as though they need to stuff it down and soldier on.
Please, I beg of you, stop going it alone. Stop today. Commit to yourself to ask for help when and where you need it. I promise, there is no shame or weakness in expressing vulnerability, in discussing your fears or your struggles, and/or in asking for support. I only wish that I had asked for help sooner. As it turns out, there are lots and lots of people who understand exactly what I’ve been through, and they’re willing to stand by my side when the going gets rough again (because it will). You deserve the same!
By the way, if you truly feel as though you don’t have the type of friends and family on whom you can rely, I implore you to find your own loving neighborhood or online community. Join them today and, please, do not delay! Your community awaits, and they understand exactly what you are going through.
“Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’” -C.S. Lewis