I have a new therapist, Dorothee. With the help of German- English translators we have managed to work together just fine so far. Last week she asked me to tell her what my support systems are, it surprised me that it took a full ten minutes to describe all my support systems. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones to have so many people and things to count on if things were to go south again. Even with all of this, in an episode of depression, I feel utterly and hopelessly alone. I almost never reach out to someone on a bad day, partly because I am ashamed to ask for help, also because I don’t think a person can walk into the room and take away my depression.
As it is evident both these thoughts are not really logical. First, There is no shame in asking for help, period. I preach that very often but fails miserably when it comes to putting it into practice. In the case of physical ailments, no matter how big or small they are, it is relatively easy for me to reach out for help. ‘I have a headache, can I leave early today?’, or ‘Can we meet on a later day because I have the flu?’ or ‘There is a tumor in my breast, I need to have a surgery immediately’ . But when it comes to problems of mind I hide in a cocoon, The thought that constantly nags me is, ‘What would they think about me?’, so I try desperately to pretend to be that person who has their shit together. After a lot of thought I have narrowed down two arguments that could ease up the reaching out process, 1) people don’t think about us nearly as much as we imagine 2) People appreciate it if you ask for help, it makes them feel important and better about themselves and believe it or not there is a lot of kindness left in this world, empathy hasn’t left the planet yet.
As for the second thought, that nobody can walk into the room and take away the depression, it is true to a certain extent. You and only you know the extent of your depression and hence there is a limit to which even a qualified professional can help you. But, having an understanding person at the receiving end of your loud thoughts can make you at least momentarily better. And, recovery is a lot of these small moments added together.
Well, the whole talk with Dorothee also made me think about people who cannot boast of having such a strong support system or any at all for that matter. No matter what I was doing this thought bothered me like an itchy cut. I had the privilege of having a closely knit circle of friends in this foreign land, who I chose not to ask help from but what if you don’t have anyone to reach out? What if you don’t have an insurance that will pay your hospital bills? What if you don’t speak the local language?
I lived in a shelter for ‘women in distress’ after my stint at the rehab and there I met a girl. She was a refugee from Tanzania, with long curly hair and colorful clothes. In a sea of visibly distressed people, she was the only one who smiled at me. We used to make small talk during the five minutes it took us to heat up the flavorless soup they gave us. The day I was moving out, I went to her room to say goodbye but she wasn’t there. The social worker gave me her telephone number and I send her a goodbye text. Two months went by and there was no reply from her. Then, last Thursday evening she replied, we chatted for a little bit but something seemed off. I took it as her disinterest in talking to me, so to wrap up the conversation I send this message ‘Nice talking to you again and if you need any help you can ask me anytime’. After ten minutes she asked me if I could buy a sim card and take it to her room if it wasn’t too much trouble. It wasn’t any trouble so I went to the address she gave me.
Instead of an apartment, another closed psychiatric ward welcomed me. She had tried to kill herself and failed. She broke down when she saw me. We sat in silence for a long time. Then she started telling me her story, of losing her parents at an early age, a kind neighbor taking her in as part of his family, his passing away last year, her move to another continent as a refugee, a life in complete isolation, a meagre support money that got delayed in the strings of bureaucracy, a govt who wants to take her refugee status away, depression, rehab…….’ You are my only friend here she said’. Me, who hadn’t made a real conversation with her until then was her ONLY friend in this foreign land. I didn’t know what to say to her. ‘You can count on me, reach out whenever you feel low’ I managed to say after what seemed like an eternity.
Sometimes support is just being there.
I couldn’t sleep for two days after. On the third day, I created a local chapter for a mental health NGO (No stigmas) on a social media website , I asked them to fill up ‘your expectations from this group column to sign up’, overnight 18 people joined, all of them hope to have a support system. We are meeting each other for a coffee on Wednesday.
I am too much of a mess to support anyone but Sometimes support is just being there.
Tell me what are your support systems?
I will post a list of things I told Dorothee in a few hours.