Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Coping Skills

This past weekend I learned that two of my friends are having a very hard time of things. My natural reaction is concern and worry. Unfortunately, there is little I can do to help either of them. One is too far away for me to help with anything other than a kind word of support, which they probably wouldn't have the time or energy to read. I'm basically powerless as they cry. At least their problem is tangible and understandable.

The other is going through some kind of personal identity crisis I don't fully understand. There's this feeling of immense pressure to do and have it all. They're bummed out because they aren't where they think they should be at this stage in life. There are some family issues, too. They're stressed out and exhausted and "just going through some stuff." They'll "be fine" because it's "not like a serious depression." And that "it" runs in the family.
They were unable to fully explain how it differs from just normal stress or sum it up in one sentence or one feeling. I don't fully understand what is wrong. I don't understand this "it." Are there varying levels of depression? Because it sounds an awful lot like the big D to me.

The hard part is, these friends of mine are trying to do everything themselves instead of reaching out, talking to someone or trying to keep things in perspective. They are (or have been in the past) on medication for anxiety and depression. They are crying and drinking. Apparently it's been going on for a while and they are just now telling their close friends. I'm worried that both of them are downplaying their problems so I won't worry about them. (Um, that doesn't work. It just makes me worry even more.) So other than telling them I am here for them, and encouraging them to get some help, I don't know what else to do. This kind of behavior is totally foreign to me. I honestly cannot relate.

I have no history of depression, anxiety or any other mental disease in my family. None of us take medication or go to therapy. Trust me, I am grateful for this. And I'm not saying that we don't need it in my family! I just have zero experience with this kind of stuff. The closest we come in my family is what we like to call "The Irish Blues."

My genetic make-up is 2/3 Irish, and my mother is a drama queen, so according to her, we all have this special disorder: In a nutshell, we get bummed out in my family if we aren't productive little monkeys all the time. Sounds weird, I know. When I start having negative thoughts or feeling bummed, I realize that it's because I haven't done anything remotely productive or even looked at my To-Do List in weeks and now I'm feeling like a worthless human. Either that or I'm hormonal. (Why do we think so negatively when we are PMSing?) All it takes is for me to jump up and run a few errands. Voila! Back to normal. It is just that simple.

Don't get me wrong. We suffer from grief in my family, like when my little brother died. And when WLF (my dad) died eight months later. But after a couple of months of being kind of melancholy, it's back to normal. Not that we behave like it never even happened, but it's pretty close. The Czarina (mom) lost both of her parents when she was 21. To this day, she does not talk about it. I know very little about them because she won't discuss them. It makes me sad, but I understand. She is an extremely strong woman and this is her coping strategy. She wouldn't be able to do it otherwise.
Some people see this as unhealthy, but it's just the way my family deals with stuff. I'm not as bad as her, but I'm close. Maybe sometimes it's good to repress, because I'm doing pretty well considering the past two years have been total hell on my family.

I have friends who have lost parents, siblings, grandparents, good friends, etc. Some of them talk about it all the time and are having a hard time moving on with their lives. I can understand this completely. I know parents who have kept the lost child's room exactly as it appeared when the child was alive. Again, I can understand this. It's just not how I cope. I look at their behavior and think, "Woah, that's not healthy." But I'm sure they look at my coping strategy and think the same thing.

Why is it so (relatively) easy for me? I feel guilty that after a couple of months, I was ok. One friend of mine still cries about losing her brother two years ago. It's not that it doesn't even cross my mind. I miss WLF and my brother all the time. And I'm sure The Czarina misses them too. But we've been there, done that. We've moved on. We rarely cry about it and we haven't needed therapy or medication. We don't talk about it, really. They are not forgotten, but we're not dwelling either. Why is my family so different? Are we callous, unfeeling people? Are we in denial to the point of absurdity? Or are we just extremely strong and really good at coping? Are we normal? Or are the other people normal?

Overall, I am a really happy person. Very little gets me down. (Notice I said "down" not "pissed off".) There are a few things I want to change about my life, but no life is perfect. I'm employed, healthy, loved, safe, etc. I'm grateful that I don't have to worry about much and I have very little stress in my life. I try to keep it this way, too, and make decisions accordingly. I try to keep stuff in perspective and stay grounded. (Maybe I just have low standards for myself!) So how do I deal when people I love don't see things this way? How do you tell someone to keep stuff in perspective when they obviously can't? How can I help them when I don't understand them?


Vixen said...

Wow, this is truly a hard one. It's hard to put yourself in someone else's shoes to understand and empathise with their situation when to you it's something that is Cope-able or something that you haven't even been through.

I've had several issues like this, where my friends had problems that I couldn't even understand. I didn't understand what the big deal was, why she was crying all the damn time and was utterly depressed. What she was sad about wasn't something that would even make me twinge....and yet, she was depressed to the point of suicide.

I guess the only thing you can do is be there to comfort. You might have to push in to help them, it sounds like your friends are pretty enclosed in their situation. They might not want your intrusion, but if you want to help you have to do the pushing and opening of the doors.

You can call them, talk to them, allow them to vent their feelings. You can be their safe haven, an non-judgemental beacon where they can express fully how they feel. You can listen. And listen some more.

In my experience I've found that once I start listening my friends start talking more. And with them opening up, comes the empowerment in them to make a change or feel better. At least with my friends. But we are usually an ultra-happy bunch.

My mom finds books and mails to her friends in distress. If they don't want to listen to you...they might be helped by a random, third party (the author). If the situation grows dire...especially with your friend that is super depressed, you might have to take firmer action. A helpline perhaps?

I don't know what else to say...I hope this helps.

teahouse said...

Wow, I'm impressed that you're so grounded in spite of the stuff you've been through. And that you can actually say, "I have very little stress in my life."

I feel sometimes that my life has been nothing but stress! I'm in therapy and I certainly have depressive tendencies (depression runs in my family). Maybe I should take a page from your book. Sounds like you're pretty together!

As far as friends, I've learned that all we can do is tell them we're there for them, and beyond that, if they need help, they know where to ask. Some friends may ask quietly, but if we truly understand them, we'll hear them when they need us.

Samborera said...

There are some things you can't understand until and unless you experience them yourselve, hence it's ok being at a loss as to what to do for your friends. I know how frustrating that can be. I saw it in my family's face when I first started seeing a shrink.

The other thing. People are different, so they cope with things differently. It doesn't mean you are [ab]normal reacting one way or another. I'm not one of the stronger ones and have not-so-good coping skills. My dad passed away like 2 years ago and for 2 months I couldn't even mention his name or anything about his death.

Just be who you are.

Virginia Belle said...

Vixen--thank you for your comments. you gave me some good pointers. i do try to be their non-judgemental safe haven where they can just vent/talk to me. i think that is the best thing i can do.

teahouse-- the main reason i have little stress is because my job is ultra-boring. but then again, i'm making probably a third of what you are! so it's a trade off. as long as i can pay my bills, save a little and have the occasional mini-shopping spree, that's all i need. everything else is just gravy. and one thing that keeps me grounded is being grateful for what i have. things could be so much worse! many people i know have been through major problems that make mine look like a walk in the park. The Czarina told me that she read that people who attend church regularly have the lowest amts of stress. i agree. when i go to church (which isn't very often lately...oops) it helps me keep things in perspective. it reminds me of what is important in this life. that helps. i'm sorry to hear that your family has had to deal with depression. but it sounds like you are taking action to reduce your chances of letting it affect you. getting rest, exercise and eating healthy all help me stay happy. good luck! stay positive!

samborera-- thanks for your support. your comment made me feel better! i appreciate the validation. :)

CharlestonGuy said...

This blog needs more sex talk.

The Dummy said...

That's tough. I try bonking them over the head with a frying pan, but that doesn't usually work. They have to work themselves out of it - but I've found taking them out of the surroundings that get them all down helps a bit - even if it means dragging them out kicking and screaming. The change in location just might get them a change of perspective.

Virginia Belle said...

charleston guy-- i can hear you saying that. you crack me up. i'll see what i can do. you know, it IS one of my favorite topics...

DD--oooh! good idea. i will try that. maybe it will be the jolt they need!

Abby said...

I hear you on "why is it relatively easy for me"? Sometimes I feel guilty that I get over stuff so quickly, and I have a relatively easy life. Great post.

sassafras said...

For most of my college career and years later I struggled with depression and other illnesses. I was pretty ashamed of it all and what I needed most was not to feel guilty for what I was going through. I think it's OK to level with your friends and say "hey I don't know what to say or do right now but I care about you and you need to know that. What can I do to help you in this difficult time?" If you don't get much of a response try not to take it personally as we all handle situations differently. DD is right, it's up to the person to work through it.

Virginia Belle said...

thank you, mama mia! it's good to know i'm not the only one!

sassafras-- thanks for the first-hand advice. i appreciate it. i feel prepared now! and i'm sorry to hear you've been having such a hard time. i hope things are better now. and i hope you have a good support network. you should never feel guilty for your feelings, bottom line! never let someone make you feel bad for feeling bad. that's just wrong. you can't help how you feel. thanks again for leaving your comment. :)

NML said...

These situations are difficult. Unfortunately even with the best will in the world, we can't always be of tangible, productive use to our friends in this time. Sometimes being there is enough. But it's hard because we want to be able to fix it and take away the pain. Being able to lend an ear or a shoulder to cry on though can make people feel miles better.