About two years ago I stopped participating in mental health themed panels at conventions. The last one I was on, was focused on helping writers understand details of what it is like to live with depression, anxiety, bipolar, OCD, etc so that they could portray the conditions well in their writing. The audience was great, my co-panelists were great, I was just so raw and worn out from living with the difficulties that the conversation sent me sideways. I was sitting in front of a room of people, filled with anxiety. Every time I spoke up, I was flooded with doubt that my contribution was useful and a simultaneous fear that I’d said too much, that I’d exposed my life and my loved ones to scrutiny in ways I should not have. And then, from the shape of the conversations it was clear that some of the audience was also seeking affirmation, validation, or hope along with writerly education. That was what stabbed me to my core, because I wanted to say “yes this is hard, but it gets better.” Only I couldn’t. Me and my family were still in the middle of hard and better wasn’t even a glimpse on the horizon. It was too hard to sit there describing the hard without having hope. So I stopped volunteering for those panels.
Today I had a contrasting experience. A friend of a friend called me because they are seeking help for their son and they wondered about a program that my son has participated in. As I listened to her, I knew exactly the emotional path she is traveling. I was able to validate and sympathize. And as I spoke describing where my son is now in comparison to where he was, I saw so clearly that “better” is all around me.
I’m still not certain I’m ready to start volunteering to talk about mental health on panels again. In part that is because I’m going through a period of self doubt in relation to teaching at conventions and events. But it is also because I’m braced for “better” to vanish again. It was so hard for so long. And every advance seemed to be followed by a disastrous crash. So part of me expects everything to fall apart again, reverting to what the emotional / mental health chaos that was our normal for six years.
Except I don’t think things can revert. We’ve all changed shape so that we can’t fit back into the old patterns. Things could fall apart in new and exciting ways, but I don’t think we get to go back. For which I am exceedingly grateful. I’m also truly grateful that this time when I was giving someone useful information, I was also able to heap on a serving of hope to go along with it.
3 thoughts on “Hope and Being Better”
“every advance seemed to be followed by a disastrous crash”
I’ve found that “every advance” seems to be preceded by a “disastrous crash”
It seems that “getting over the hump” to mastering a new anything causes a temporary dump in the last thing because we have to commit so much cognitive effort to the new thing.
I feel like a lot of the awfulness of some of our most awful experiences is the isolation that can happen when/if people around us don’t get it and aren’t particularly interested in or able to help.
I was talking to a friend the other day, sympathizing and empathizing about a situation I’ve encountered in the past, and she suddenly stopped and said, “Oh, I’m so sorry. You’ve had it so much worse than I have. I shouldn’t complain to you.” I told her that that should make me more sympathetic, and that I was so thankful that she was willing to confide in me and that I could be a little bit helpful.
What I didn’t say because I couldn’t quite articulate it yet was that that conversation was one of the few things which could make my past experiences meaningful. If I could help someone else who comes after me have a less hard time, it would actually make me feel better, because it would mean that some of these extremely dark things in my life would have a purpose beyond having broken me. Being able to help someone else mend, or not break as badly, is healing of itself.
Yes exactly. My dark experiences become redeemed when I put them to good use in service of others. Well said.
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