Pull up a comfy chair, put on a pot a tea … this might be a long one, Folks.
What I’m about to write about is really difficult for me. A few hours removed from the original event and I can still feel the flutters in my stomach. I’m writing about this because it is a real example of what living life with multiple mental disorders can be like. It is a chance to show how you have just a moment to react or make a decision that can affect your mental health for hours, days, weeks, even months. This is a way for me to process this event, but also vocalize to people who do not have these disorders what they can do and how they manifest in a given situation.
Before I start this tale, please know there is zero intention to shame or blame anyone for what happened. This was a series of circumstances that led to this moment, and no person is completely at fault. I am not aiming to “call someone out” on their behaviour – the person this (mostly) involves was told I was writing this before I started – but this is a chance for me to lay out exactly what anxiety, depression, people pleasing, and eating disorder (recovery) looks like while this is still fresh in my mind. This is just a small peek at the multitude of things that can run through one mind during a singular event, and this does not encompass all I thought, but it is most of what I did. Mentally I will be fighting this for awhile.
As I was preparing for my lunch break at work I received a message from one of my best friends. They had heard news from our other best friend about a Life Changing Event (LCE) and wanted my thoughts on something regarding it. I knew previously that LCE was a possibility, but up until that moment I had not heard a decision had be made; in fact, to my knowledge a decision was still a couple months away. I looked to another platform to see if I too had received a message about LCE and I had not. So I had just heard from one of my best friends about a huge massive decision in my other best friend’s life, and I was not told by them myself.
Back to prefacing: no one owes you information, ever. And I am more aware of this now that I am calm then I was in the moment. However, there is definitely an expectation that some information should not be shared second-hand or discovered on social media, depending on the closeness of your relationship with the individual. I have found about pregnancies, births, deaths, weddings, and even someone’s affair on social media when I felt this was information I should have heard outside of that. In most cases, like this one, I had already established with that individual that certain types of information should come straight from the source. While this is not always the case, for this scenario it had already been agreed that it should, and I had no reason to doubt that.
The Immediate Aftermath:
It took every ounce of effort to remain calm in communicating with the person who told me the news. This friend was now caught in an impossible situation and I did not want to make it worse. Whatever I felt, whatever clarification I needed was going to come from my other best friend, not them. I did keep my answers short as I tried to decide on the best course of action. At the same time my body had already began anxiety reactions – I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach; if you’ve ever felt like your stomach had just bottomed out you know this feeling. I felt short of breath and dizzy. My entire body was shaking, most notably my hands. I was crying. I was also in a place where I did not want to be seen shaking and crying by strangers, let alone anyone I knew. Getting to a safe(r) space was a priority, as was talking to my friend.
Reaching out to my friend was extremely difficult. At this point I did not know if information had been shared between my friends, so I wasn’t sure if the person I was upset with knew I was upset. Again, that was something I felt needed to come from me. There was a strong part of me that didn’t want to say anything, to not rock the boat. I knew this friend was out of town for an extremely important event, and there was a part of me saying not to bother them, don’t upset them. Fighting back against some of the negative parts of my disorders happens in moments like this: I didn’t want to bother them but I was bothered. I was upset and wanted to get to the bottom of things, make sure I had all the information to make informed choices. As a people pleaser I routinely choose to live in discomfort so as to not upset or inconvenience others. As I typed that I realize how crazy it sounds, but after hearing the news it took a few minutes for me to decide yes it was worth saying something and yes it was worth having a difficult conversation to express myself.
I reached out and had that conversation. I expressed what I could about what I was feeling (words were very difficult and I felt any word I picked would have sounded overly dramatic). But I let them know exactly what finding out this way left me feeling. Which was the most I could do. I knew going into this conversation there was no winners – there was nothing that could be said to make me feel better, nothing that could fix or correct the situation; nothing would stop the hurt or betrayal I felt in those moments. But I stood up for myself, expressed myself where before I wouldn’t have. However, there were times in the conversation I wanted to lash out. I wanted to hurt this person as much as I had been hurt, and the compulsion was strong. This is something from my previous relationships that I am working on. Words have power and how you use them matters. So I wanted very much to explain to this person what depression-lies I was hearing. To explain the worry I felt that maybe I didn’t mean as much to them as they did to me. What I did was give into the people pleasing compulsion, and while I didn’t say I forgive them (though I have) I did offer to help with the LCE, though a part of me does not want to. The conversation ended because nothing more could be said. I’m sure more conversations will happen in person when this friend returns home. Until then, life moves forward.
30 Minutes Later:
Within half an hour of the event I had moved into mentally fighting my eating disorder (ED) voice. I did not bring a lunch with me to work and in the immediate aftermath I did not feel like eating. I forced myself to follow the usual paths to heading towards a lunch-type food. I knew skipping a meal was not an appropriate response, though a part of me knows I might skip dinner because fighting this all day is hard and my energies are already depleted. Healthy lunch options are very limited outside of work, and every option came with binge-worthy foods, so I picked the one I felt I had the most control over. While placing an order I heard very strongly that ED voice encouraging me to overeat, to eat my feelings if you will. Again, it required all of my strength to order a reasonable amount of food and eat only that.
The Rest of my Day:
I made it back to work on time, dry-eyed and mentally writing most of this entry already, because “thinking in blog entries” actually helps me think logically and rationally instead of emotionally. I tried to stay motivated and focused on the mountain of work in front of me, but my mind was massively occupied and I was slower to respond than usual. I was fidgeting more often due to the extreme uptick in my anxiety and had a hard time commuting home and being near people – I longed to be back in the safety of my home as quickly as possible.
Once I had time to calm down and process (and write most of this post), I could see things more clearly. My friend and I had a discussion about the possibility of the LCE a couple of weeks ago, whereas other friend just heard about it today, and was under the impression that I already knew it was happening. My friend is out of town, with a lot of things going on around them, and mostly importantly they do not think the same way I do. Which is to say what is obvious to me is not the same to others. I know they value me and our friendship, and I know they are just as heartbroken to know how upset I am just as I am to hear their news. Because of the difference in how our brains operate this is not the first time something like this has happened, and it probably won’t be the last. I am getting better at vocalizing my thoughts and feelings in the moment, but it is difficult because I know what they go through, and I want to protect them … I don’t want to do anything to upset them. It becomes living in this impossible world where one of us (or even both) could end up upset. I rationalize that me being upset is easier for me to deal with than both of us, even if that is unfair to everyone. I convince myself that speaking up will only make the situation worse (despite evidence and being told otherwise), so actually reaching out almost immediately after it happened was HUGE for me. In the end, I know they are not intentionally shutting me out, but getting caught up in things around them. My memory is a thing of legends and sometimes I forget that people don’t remember or recall as much as I do.
I also need to consider my mental state before today’s event: I am struggling through a very busy and stressful time at work; I am dealing with a physical representation of my stress which has me extremely self-conscious about myself and my appearance; I have not been sleeping much or well for quite a number of days; and tomorrow (or what it represents, or doesn’t anymore) has been on my mind all week, and a point of increasing anxiety [also look for a blog post on this topic later]. So there is already a lot going on with me, there is a lot going on for my friends in their lives, and a series of random events brought us to this moment.
So what does this all say about me?:
No one is responsible for my feelings or actions but myself. And while I can’t always choose my go-to gut response I am in control of how I react to it. When you have so many things fighting for your attention at once it becomes overwhelming. There are so many choices I could have made that would have changed the outcome of my day, my week, my mental health, and even my relationship with my friend. I could have lashed out, I could have skipped a meal, I could have over eaten, I could have refused to go back to work, I could have mentally checked out from everyone and everything around me.
I made split-second choices that made all the difference in the world. I vocalized to my friend how I was feeling, trying hard not to lay blame (I didn’t say “you did this and that’s why I feel this way” but instead said “this is what happened, and this is how I feel as a result”), I ate despite not wanting to, I went back to work despite not wanting to, I have been carefully choosing my words in this post to make sure I am expressing only my thoughts, feelings, actions because ultimately that’s all I can know and control.
No one person or thing is to blame for how I feel, but my feelings and reactions are valid. My friend and I are caught in a difficult place now because nothing can take away the hurt that I felt, and there is not really much that can make it “better” (I have already gone through the “let me buy you a meaningless present you want so you can forgive me and pretend this never happened” type of relationship – I’m not willing to live through or let someone treat me like that again). I’m hopeful that we can reconnect when they return to town and I can be reaffirmed that they do care about me (which is not something they need to do, but something I know from experience that being in person with them helps when these “they don’t love me” demons pop up).
What happened today tested my mental strength, and while there things I wished I had done differently, I’m mostly proud of how I reacted. No person’s mental health – especially when you have disorders – is going to be perfect 100% of the time. What slips I had today were reasonable, understandable, and ultimately up to me whether to accept what I did, forgive myself if I choose, and decide how to move forward. Today I faced all my mental health demons head-on and came out mostly intact. I can’t say that will always be the case, but today I won.