I saved a life today. It was maybe not the way you’d imagine a person saving a life. It wasn’t an act of great glory with pompous trumpets playing in the background.
No, as I was walking from the V&A along the multitude of docks, I saw a crab. On the ground. How he/she got there I don’t know. The docks are far up and she/he was far from the dock. Anyway, I used to fish for crabs as a kid, so I know how to hold a crab without getting pinched. Hence, I lifted it and carried it back to the water.
The crab isn’t going to send me a thank you note. Nor is it going to become my friend and check in on how I’m doing from time to time. Make sure I’m alright. It’s not going to lighten up my evenings with great conversation and moonlit walks. Nor is it going to send me gifts, or pat me on the shoulder when I’m crying. No, the crab isn’t going to give me a thing.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately: how to remove your ego from the equation. How to be of service without expecting something in return.
A friend of mine, this weekend, was telling me about a friend of hers who just won’t show up for coffees. This friend has a history of alcoholism and depression (the two tend to go together). My friend is aware that nothing stands between addicts and their next fix. And we got talking about this and I told her it’s basically an opportunity to give up on your own ego when being friends with someone like that.
Imagine an athlete being in a car accident. Let’s say a female runner who loses her legs. Her whole life she’s taken great pride in her body. Her looks. Her physicality. And her main achievement has been her running career.
She loses her legs and is put in a wheelchair. Not only has she lost her career, she’s also lost the body she was so proud of. She has no purpose anymore, as she can’t run. Things that used to seem important, like friends, being out in nature and experiencing things like travel and performances, no longer seem to not matter. She feels like her soul, not her legs, has been removed.
She’s given painkillers and an option to have therapy. She takes the painkillers but doesn’t see the point in therapy. After all, has the therapist lost their legs? Is the therapist a celebrated athlete? No. So why talk to them? They wouldn’t understand her.
People tell her she can restructure her life. Become an athlete in a wheelchair. She thinks they’re stupid. She was famous for her lower body strength, not her upper body strength. She’d be a lousy wheelchair athlete. Besides, she loved to run. She doesn’t love basketball, or whatever.
The woman doesn’t feel much joy anymore. Sure she laughs at Trevor Noah and smiles when a child is smiling, but at the same time she feels pain. Because they seem to have something she doesn’t: happiness.
You’re this woman’s friend. You call her one day and suggest you come by for coffee, she says sure. As you speak to her you realize you’ve missed her. Missed your friend. You also realize she’s sad. So you decide to make an effort. An effort to show up for her.
In the coming weeks you call your friend, text her, and try to meet up with her. While she answers your calls and texts, she often cancels coffees and never asks you to come for coffee. She doesn’t have a will to do anything, so it doesn’t occur to her to do so. She’s disgusted by her own body, because it doesn’t do what it used to. Disgusted by her own habits that seem so foreign to an athlete — now she’s just sitting on her ass. She’s lost respect for herself.
For an athlete, being unfit and sitting in a wheelchair feels so far away from who they want to be, she may as well just give up. Death would be a pleasant alternative to thinking about who she has become. Yet, she can’t stop thinking about who she has become. How she doesn’t know what to do, or how she doesn’t feel any joy anymore. It’s too painful thinking about how much she’d need to do to become the person she’d like to be that she’d rather not — she just takes another painkiller, or watches another movie to try to forget. Because if she decides to take action, decides to do something about the situation, she needs to face the fact that she’s an athlete without legs, who’s unfit and desperately confused and unhappy as she has no purpose anymore. She’d need to face the gap between where she is and where she’d want to be and the long journey of getting there.
You keep showing up for your friend and sometimes you get a smile, but you know your friend still isn’t really present with you. If your ego gets involved, you’re going to get angry with your friend. You’re going to expect them to get happy, because you’re trying so damn hard to make them happy. You’re going to want them to make you feel good, by feeling good. You’re going to expect them to ask you how you’re doing and actually want an answer. You’re going to expect them to ask you round for coffee. You’re going to expect them to be there when you’re feeling down and need a hug, or an encouraging word. You’re going to expect them to care. But they can’t. Because they don’t feel anything, or they feel too much like shit. Imagine feeling nauseous and puking — it’s not like you’ll pick up the phone and call someone telling them you love them in that moment.
The thing with depression though, is that you have to pick up the phone and call someone and tell them they’re amazing, even if you’re on the ground feeling like puking. You need to make the other person more important than your nausea. You need to make being a decent person, or winning a race (working a job, getting fit, traveling around the world on a motorbike to raise funds for a good cause…whatever it may be), more important than your own pain, or discomfort. Make it more important than your own feelings of disgust, self-pity and helplessness. Sometimes you have to start with small things. Like spending time with friends, or going for a run. You have to make that run more important than your own feelings.
Once you’ve mastered the run, you can master something else. You have to master doing things that are good for you, even if you don’t immediately feel great doing them (you probably won’t feel a thing at first), or think you deserve them. Because by doing them, you’ll feel like a better person. And when you feel like a better person, you start feeling like you deserve having a life again.
Maybe this friend will, so to speak, see the light. Maybe they’ll decide that an uphill road to becoming who they want to be/getting to where they want to be and therefore facing where they are, is better than feeling the way they do for the next ten years. Maybe the thought of the next ten years will finally make them realize that it’s better to start now, than pity themselves for the time they’ve already lost. Or maybe they’ll see a child sleeping in the street and decide to care for them and in the process of doing so forget about themselves, thus forgetting their own pain. Maybe they’ll stumble across a purpose.
The only way for a person to change is to do everything they can to do so. If one thing doesn’t work, they’ll have to try the next. If you’ve told yourself for three weeks you aren’t going to have another hamburger, or a milkshake, for breakfast and you’re still having hamburgers and milkshakes, you need to try something else. And if you can’t figure it out, ask someone else to give you ideas about how to do it. We all think we’re unique, but it turns out we’re uniquely human. We act like 99% of the rest of the population when put in certain situations. We follow the same patterns. Other people sometimes know better than you do how you work, even if they aren’t an athlete without legs. They know human patterns. And they’re able to see the things you can’t, because they’re not stuck in your head. Plus, believe it or not, they can see you. Can feel you.
Maybe your friend will call you one day and ask you how you’re doing. Say sorry for the times they cancelled on you. Tell you that you’re part of the light of their universe because they can once again see the light. And maybe they won’t.
I don’t know how many friends I have in my life who have gone gaga because someone in their life is going through depression and are either avoiding them, being needy with them (the example above is clearly not someone being needy), or driving them insane in some other way. All I can say is that it gives you an opportunity to:
- give without receiving
- know that nothing you do is likely to have any effect whatsoever beyond maybe giving the other person a bit of joy, or the satisfaction of knowing someone cares — maybe you’ll give them a glimmer of life, maybe you won’t
- focus on encouraging them when they do something good, rather than losing your shit when you feel neglected — they’re already feeling bad, making them feel worse isn’t going to help. That said, calling them on their bullshit and telling them that maybe it’s about time they cared about someone else isn’t always a bad thing
- know that you’ll be rejected time and time again because you’re an obstactle to them being alone with their misery
- not let their sorrow weigh you down — emphatize with them as you know we all face difficulties and it hurts like hell, but know they are in charge of their life and if they want to feel better, it’s possible, they just have to take action and/or seek help
- know that people like to take pride in their difficulties, or fuckedupness as it’s a way of coping with it, by pretending to not care and being ever so cool, or pretending it’s a joke
- be fully aware that you may lose a person you care about and come to terms with that
- know that you have to focus all your energy on your own life, as you’ll get nowhere by focusing on theirs — you have the responsibility to create a life you’re happy with and that may mean limiting the time you spend with them and also deciding to not walk around worrying about them; it’s out of your control and the best you can do is have faith in them and pray for them beside being there for them
- know that from time to time you’ll get both angry and sad, you’ll pity them and yourself and be petrified of losing them to a dark pit and have a complete hissy fit about it, but also know you have the power to step out of that state of mind
- there’s a time and a place for forced hospitalization
In short, to be around depressed people, you have to give up on your own ego; your own self-importance, while simultaneously taking control over your own emotions. And to me that’s been a great learning.
I’ve always been stuck in my ego, you see. I’ve cared about what people think about me. Wanted proof they care about me. Wanted to feel good thanks to the people around me. But as with the crab, some people won’t tell you your awesome, or send you thank you notes. And sometimes, I’ve been that person. In the past six months when my home life was a disaster due to the child I help raise with PDA, I got panicked if someone so much as asked for a coffee with me. I had no time or energy. The only thing I cared about was paying the bills and having people to help me manage the kids. That was it.
But I got through those months, because other people didn’t give up on me. When I was practically catatonic one morning, my neighbor looked at me with worry and spoke to me. When I called people in desperation, needing help with the kids, they answered. Some of these people told me I was inspiring. An incredible person. I still don’t understand why. I guess because I kept going. Kept thinking I’d find a solution. Because sure as hell I wasn’t pleasant to be around, apart from those brief moments, hiding away in some coffeeshop and feeling like myself for a while. And I despised myself a fair amount. Despised myself for not being nicer. Despised myself for not finding solutions for my child. But I had to make a decision to every day aim to be the person I wanted to be no matter what I was facing. I failed continuously, but I tried again the next day.
I’ve been much deeper in the depths of despair in the past. Times when I felt nothing, or was petrified of myself, because I feared my own feelings. But time and time again, I overcame those feelings. So I know it’s possible. Even if it doesn’t feel that way. It’s about deciding you don’t have a clue. Surrendering to not knowing shit. If you did, you wouldn’t be where you are. Then deciding you can do it, even if you don’t know how. Deciding you will find a solution. And you’ll stop at nothing.
Maybe I can sum up my learnings with both being depressed and being around depression with some of my coach’s favorite terms (which it took me a while to get my head around):
- don’t get caught up in your own or other people’s hairy bullshit (i.e. don’t let the stories someone else is telling themselves, or the stories you’re telling yourself affect you — change the stories going round in your head and when someone say they keep thinking they’re a disaster and therefore acting like one, challenge them on it — tell them to start thinking something else and therefore acting differently instead of allowing them to wallow in self-pity or disgust)
- decide who you are going to be in the face of it (i.e. don’t let circumstance dictate your reactions — rather take charge of how you want to think and act)
- become aware your own patterns — what are you creating and what will the payoff be (negative or positive)? (if you’re depressed, or unhappy with circumstance, you’re doing something to continuously create that — change the pattern, change your life. This is harder than it seems as it often means going against your own desires)
- the person with the biggest hard on wins (i.e. the highest vibrational energy wins — no person or event can affect your mood for long if you have the biggest hard on)
- when you’re happy you can be of service to others because you don’t expect them to make you happy and by being of service you stop thinking about your ego and therefore feel better
- structure has integrity — by changing the structure of your life (thinking patterns and real life habits) you change your overall life (sometimes this is a bit-by-but process rather than an overnight overhaul of your life. Such as being a sugar addict, but deciding to have a run before each cake you eat, or being so used to beating yourself up about life you can’t stop, but you’ll write down one thing you like about yourself every day. Other times, it’s best to do a 180. Depends on the situation)
- focus creates reality — what you focus on (i.e. what you think about) is your reality and determines what you create in your life. Change your focus, change your life (this also means that when someone depressed has aired about their issues enough, it’s time to change the topic and move towards the good things in their life, what they’re grateful for and what they are passionate about, as well as the things you love)
We all need our emotional needs met. Just after saving the crab, a woman walked past me and complimented my dress. She didn’t want anything in return. She just kept walking. It made me happy. It helped me meet my emotional needs.
Just minutes earlier, I had profusely thanked some semi-lousy service people for their service. Not because they made me want to do it, but because I knew who I wanted to be in the face of it. And because I hoped that maybe one day, by seeing other people’s gratitude, they’d start doing something people felt grateful for.
We all have emotional needs. We just have to be clear where we get them met. Don’t expect to have them met by people who don’t know how to meet them. But also don’t become a bitch because of it. Decide who you are going to be in the face of it. And decide on taking responsibility for your own life. If you expect to have your emotional needs met by the wrong people, that’s your bad. Going to that coffee shop with poor service and expecting to be pampered and leave feeling great is just setting yourself up for disappointment. So you have to ensure you feel great no matter what they do. Maybe, over time, if you keep smiling at them and thanking them, they’ll change. Maybe they won’t. Give up on your self-importance. And get your emotional needs met elsewhere.
The moral of the stories in this blog? Whether you’re depressed or around someone who is either depressed, or otherwise not meeting your emotional needs, the power is in your hands. You are in charge of your life and your emotions. No matter how much it doesn’t feel like that. Because oh, life happened to you. It will keep happening to you. Until you happen to it.
Dizzy blonde, over and out.
Image Source: https://za.pinterest.com/pin/838795499332072484/?nic=1