Protect Yo Self Before You Wreck Yo Self

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 4.824% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“I thought you’d be mad at me.”
“Why?”
“Because you’re a depressive.”
I wasn’t mad.
My friend had gone through a bit of a breakdown; after dealing with the stress of trying to resuscitate a severely depressed buddy, she’d bottomed out.  Couldn’t take supporting this person any more.  And so she’d retreated for a good long time, freaking out because she was a terrible friend.
Thing is, you have to protect yourself, too.
A lot of the posts and cartoons about supporting the depressed treat the caretakers like they’re some sort of Love ATM: Just get in my pillow fort with me.  Don’t question me when I’m too sad to do anything.  Support me unquestioningly. 
That’s lovely, but if you are the caretaker, then even just being in the pillow fort takes its toll.  You really want to leave this pillow fort to go out dancing, see a movie, fuck, just get out of the apartment… but the depressive needs you to stay with them, in quiet solitude.  You don’t want to exacerbate the depressed person’s problem by telling them to get over it, but sitting by while they cry in front of the television for twelve hours straight can be devastating to watch.  Spending weeks convincing them *No, you really need to get some therapy, please call a doctor* can be a low-grade tidal strain that can suck all the joy out of your life.
I am a depressive, and the ugly truth is that I can be really hard on the people I love.
This isn’t to say that I’m undeserving of that love, of course: this is a disease I can’t help, and I have other features on top of my depression that make me worth loving.
But it is true that when I’m mired in my worst moments, I can burn out my loved ones frighteningly fast.  Some people poured all their love into me, convinced they could fix me with the application of enough caring, and then left me when they discovered that no, I have an endlessly leaky bucket that cannot be patched.
And in truth, it’s better for me if my loved ones learn the times when they can leave me to stew for a bit so that they can recover.  Because they can’t be strong all the time.  And even if they could be, I love them, and I don’t want them to wreck themselves in some endless effort to lift me up; that just makes for two effectively depressed people.
Some days, I need to cry alone in my pillow fort while they go dancing, so they can take care of me far better in the long run.
So no, I don’t get mad when caretakers need to attend to their own well-being.  They matter to me, too.  And yeah, my life will be worse without them for a while, but it’s way worse for me if they spend years devoid of pleasure tending to me in my pillow fort prison, then eventually stage an escape because they can’t freaking take it any more.
When you’re the caretaker, you matter, too.  Take your breaks where you can.  It’ll actually make it better for everyone, even though it might not feel that way at the time.

1 Comment

  1. Samantha
    Mar 5, 2015

    You know, people have published whole books about this thing.
    Trauma Stewardship is the book I recommend to activists and social work types who work with this sort of thing day in and out. (Some of the institutionally focused stuff may not apply, but there’s great stuff in the book.)
    Help for the Helper and The Compassion Fatigue Workbook are also really good.
    Burnout sucks like an awful thing. For any form of caregiver, taking care of one’s own needs is non-optional.

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