I like me a timely discussion. Especially when it’s completely unplanned!
Which is definitely the case with this week’s episode of the BGR podcast. We recorded it in… April? May? (Time is a flat circle infected with COVID-19 so who fucking knows???) And yet it directly links to my story about getting laid off, which we published just a few weeks ago.
Toward the end of my job, I was really struggling with work/life balance, and making choices to prioritize my employment—not even my career, but just holding onto a job it turns out I didn’t really need—over my happiness. In short, I was balancing work and life all wrong.
Which leads us directly to this week’s illustrious podcast question asker!
We’re going to cap off our series on mental health with a question from one of our Patreon donors! This question comes to us from Patron Zoë. And it is SO GOOD and SO IMPORTANT! I am thrilled that she allowed me to share my response.
Here’s Zoë’s question:
In a recent article, Kitty recommends peers as an alternative to therapy. Philosophically, I think it’s a great recommendation. US culture seems increasingly dependent on monetary fixes rather than social fixes.
Here’s my problem: as a friend of some people with severe mental hurdles who can’t afford/don’t want therapy, sometimes it’s just… too much.
I feel stuck. I want to love them and assuage their anxiety, depression, or suicidal thoughts. But I also find myself hitting a wall where they aren’t getting well or coping any better than they did before I tried to help.
It’s not fair to expect someone to just suddenly overcome a mental health issue just because I talked them through one incident. It’s also not okay to treat a friendship as a transaction. (“One breakdown for you; one breakdown for me: that’s the deal!”) But it also starts to become a pretty huge emotional burden and an unbalanced relationship for a while. In my case, the friends most reliant on my care are on the internet, which means they have fairly unlimited access to me.
I don’t think it’s selfish to want to draw a line… but it feels selfish. And I don’t know what to do.
I really can’t understate what a powerful and difficult question this is. Whether your mental health seascape is placid or stormy, being a constant source of support for other people’s struggles takes tremendous psychic energy. Here are my suggestions on how to manage this incredibly tricky situation.
Everyone has their own special mental weirdness. And your humble, almost perfect Bitches are no exception. (I know. Try not to die of shock. My sincerest apologies for ruining the illusion of our all-encompassing perfection.) And since May is Mental Health Month, we’re going to lay our personally atypical brain chemicals and lessons learned from life experience all over you!
Recently Kitty and I were talking about how our personal mental weirdnesses have affected our lives. Financially, emotionally, physically. And we realized we had a lot to say on the topic, a lot that our darling readers might relate to or take comfort from. Being an adult is stressful as fuck! And brains are complicated organs full of chemicals doing unpredictable things. So why not share with the rest of Bitch Nation?
A few years ago, I was diagnosed with anxiety. This didn’t come as a surprise to me, as I’ve always been prone to stress, hyper-focusing on mildly important stuff to the point of panic and despair, and constant worrying about small stuff. But it did come as a surprise to my familiars, since over my lifetime I’ve become pretty damn good at hiding my symptoms.
I just wasn’t good at actually dealing with them.
An anxiety disorder is a mental condition in which a patient tends to… well, to freak out more than is normal. A clinical anxiety disorder is not only bothersome, but it interferes with your life. It’s not only unpleasant, but constant and overwhelming. And while everyone feels stressed or panicked from time to time, the thing that sets those with clinical anxiety disorders apart is that their stress, their anxiety and panic attacks, are completely uncontrollable, disproportionate, and inappropriate to the situation.
There is no “just relax” to someone with anxiety. We literally cannot relax when in the throes of a panic attack or anxious episode. That’s kind of the problem.