I want to talk to you, the people I love, the people who are supposed to support me. But every time I try, you just make things worse. You overwhelm me. You won’t stop talking. Why won’t you stop talking? Why can’t you see that every word is another stab of panic? Why can’t you see how desperately I need you to just shut up?
When I don’t do anything, I feel like I’m failing you. But when I do something, when I make the tiniest bit of progress, it feels like you don’t even notice. You don’t care how much effort it’s taking to accomplish this one small step. All you can think about and talk about is the five thousand steps I haven’t yet made.
I want to be able to talk to the people I love. I want to be able to share with you my great fears and my small triumphs. But I want you to celebrate my triumphs. I want you to help me have more of them. I want your support.
I want you to just shut up. I want you to stop making things worse.
It is incredibly hard for me to do the things I need to do. Looking for jobs, applying for jobs, researching schools, applying to schools, asking for letters of recommendation – the amount of mental and emotional effort required to overcome the anxiety, terror, and hopelessness I feel is enormous and exhausting. This is my problem. I’m not handling things well, and I need to find ways to handle them better. I need to stop letting small tasks paralyze me.
But I’m not sure I can do it all on my own. That’s a lie – I can’t do it it all on my own. I know I can’t. Ultimately I’m the one who needs to sit down and do these things. You can’t do them for me. But you can be there for me. You can be happy when I accomplish something. You can give me gentle – GENTLE – nudges towards the next step. You can stop trying to shove me up the whole flight of stairs.
The problem is, I don’t want to talk to you any more. The thought of going to you and telling you what I’ve done, or what I haven’t done, or how it makes me feel, fills me with despair. Because I know you’re going to make things worse. You aren’t going to listen, not really. You’ll hear the first sentence I say, and then you’ll give me a twenty-minute lecture on all the things I should be doing.
Will you even notice, as you ramble on, imparting all your wisdom, that I am silent? That with every word you say, I retreat further and further inside myself, to the point where I won’t even look at you or nod or grimace or give any indication at all that I’m listening?
I am listening. I hear every word you say. And every word is just another reminder that you aren’t paying attention to me. That you are so disconnected from me, from what I need, from how your words might make me feel, from the fact that they’re having the opposite effect of what you want.
I want you to shut up. I want you to go away. I want you to leave me alone. Leave me be. Every time I see you, I brace for an attack. I hear footsteps on the stairs and hope to all the Gods it’s the GHMC because he won’t come in and invade what little peace I’ve managed to gather around myself. I hear you approach and in my mind I’m shoving you away.
I just want to be left alone. Except I don’t. I want you all to go away. Except I don’t.
I don’t want to be alone; I don’t want to be abandoned. I want you to leave me better than you found me. I want you to gently lift me up to the next stair, not shove me at the escalator. When you do that, I stumble and I fall. And then you’re frustrated because I’m more scared of the escalator than ever.
The problem is, when I talk to you, I feel abandoned. The disconnect, the yawning gulf between us is painful. And I hate it. Is it any wonder I don’t want to talk to you?
But the silence is killing me. Every time I bite my tongue, I sink a little deeper into depression. Every time I swallow my words, I die a little more. I’m trapped inside my own body, screaming to get out, but the screams are silent and nobody hears.
I want to tell you this. I want to stop you when you ramble on with all your unhelpful helping words. I want to get up right now and find you and rail at you and throw these accusations in your face. You’re hurting me, you’re killing me, you’re driving me insane! Why can’t you see that? How blind can you be, that you don’t see my anguish?
But I don’t say anything. I don’t want to hurt you. I don’t want to make you feel bad for hurting your child. And I don’t want to hear you tell me to be thicker skinned. I don’t want to hear your defenses and excuses.
“We’re trying to help you. You shouldn’t get upset by the things we say; we only want to help. I’m saying this because I want you to be happy.”
That’s great. But you know what? It’s not about you. It’s about me. Maybe that’s selfish and self-absorbed, but these are my problems, and there’s no way I can fix them by focusing on you. It’s not about your need to be helpful, your need to feel like you’re doing everything you can to support me. It’s about my need for actual support. And you know what? If you really need to feel helpful, if you really do want to support me – wouldn’t you rather do something that actually makes me feel better? Wouldn’t your rather make me stronger, rather than tearing me down with every word you say?
I need to talk to you. I need to be able to come to you and tell you what’s going on in my life, what I’ve accomplished, what I’m proud of, what I’m afraid of, what I haven’t done. And I need you to listen. Close your mouth, and open your ears. Wait.
Then you can speak. Praise me for what I have accomplished. Empathize with my fears. Then ask one question, or give one suggestion. One gentle nudge forward. One.
And then, I need you to stop. Stop thinking about what you need to tell me to do. Stop telling me what to do. Observe. Think. Reflect. Do it in silence.
Ask yourself: “If I say this, will it actually help her? Will it be encouraging, or overwhelming?”
Do I still seem engaged in this conversation? Am I receptive? Or am I withdrawn? Have I started to pull away because you’re throwing too much at me? Am I silent? Am I staring at the floor? If so, please, please stop talking. You’re only making things worse.
You can’t make everything better for me. I need to do most of this on my own. But you can help, instead of hurting. I’d like that. I don’t need tough love. I need love.
Won’t you try?