Failure. I'm okay with it. But Telling Others is Hard.

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9 Jan 2019

I fail tasks frequently because of my depression episodes.

What do I plan to achieve this year? That's a surprisingly difficult question. Twenty years ago, I would have said things like visit Italy, or start back taking Spanish classes, or lose 15 pounds, or hold 2 family gatherings during the year, or save $10,000.

Over the years my mood swings have evolved (devolved?) in a way that makes long term planning impossible. This year I may not do any of the above things, or if I start them, I probably won't be able to finish them.

I could try harder, I suppose. But I've been trying harder for the last 10-12 years and it doesn't seem to make much difference. My failure rate for any task these days is between 60-80%.

But I have learned to accept failure...

I could get frustrated about the inability to achieve goals, but what's the point in that. I still won't have achieved anything. And when I'm frustrated I shout and snap at people, so nobody ends up happy.

Or I can choose a Zen solution. I can shape plans for the upcoming year knowing that whatever I choose, it won't happen like that. A lot of the things I plan won't happen, but I can choose to be okay with that.

It's not about living in the moment. I plan, and I organise when I can, and there is a future I move towards. However, I choose to accept whatever happens with equanimity, even if what happens is wildly different from what I planned. I've learned to accept failure or cancelled plans or strange and unexpected divergences from my expected plans.

With practice, I've even learned to accept failure gracefully.

I've learnt to make my peace with failure as a conscious decision - saying "I'm not going to succeed with this, so I'm going to let go now," or more usually "Well, that was a disaster, but I shall put it behind me because I knew I would not succeed at everything."

It has taken a long time, measured in months and years, and many many disasters to get the hang of accepting failure gracefully, but I've learned to do that.

Telling people is still hard though...

The really hard part is to deal with the people who say "I thought you were taking Spanish classes" or "When are you leaving to go Italy" or, god forbid, "Have you started your diet yet." These are my parents and my family and my friends, and they are all well meaning, but it's embarrassing to tell them about my constant ongoing failures. It's embarrassing to tell them that I won't be going to Italy or that I dropped out of Spanish classes.

It's possible to paper over all these with apologies and excuses and mutter some sort of socially acceptable cover up, and I do it. But I've done it for more than a decade and I've said white lies hundreds of times now to the same family and friends, and it's become tiresome. What I want to say (in a bright loud voice) is "I can't do it because of the fucking depression episodes, so it's not going to happen. Also I don't want you to say something soothing. I've said what's wrong so can we not talk about it further. How's the weather today?"

But saying that is not socially acceptable, and I shouldn't do that to my friends anyway.

Which makes me want to avoid people even more.

I've been absent from my family and friends for the last two months (really bad depression episode), so I haven't seen most people and they are concerned about me. This means when I meet them they are going to look concerned and ask me if I'm okay and I'm going to have to make the usual excuses.

But I'm tired of people being concerned and making excuses, and when my annoyance is added to my ongoing mild "fear of people" anxiety, it's easier to avoid people. So I've been shying away from reconnecting with friends and family. Which of course just makes the problem worse. It's a vicious circle, a perfect storm.

What can be done...

There are a few ideas which work best if they work together.

I try to overcome the mild fear of people like I described in the article Pushing Through Panic Attacks. Intellectually I know that concerned family and friends are on my side and want to look out for me. Training myself to believe it and actually meeting people will only come with practice. I should just get out there and socialise!

Which I suppose means that I should organise to meet my closest aunt within the next few days. Sigh.

I develop the a laid back attitude about telling people the same excuses over and over, just as I did for accepting when my tasks and projects fail. Basically, just stop being embarrassed - these are people who are on my side. Heck I could use the following excuses all the time.

  • "I haven't been well recently, so...
    • I've had to put off...going to Italy, continuing my Spanish classes, continuing on my diet, etc.
    • I wasn't able to attend gathering, committee meeting, wedding, Thanksgiving dinner, etc.
    • I couldn't...make the sweater, bake the cookies for Bake Sale, meet you last week for drinks, etc. like I promised.

When asked about why I wasn't well, I've found it's always okay to say "I'd rather not talk about it if you don't mind."

For really close family or friends, I've found that I can get away with saying "I've been depressed so..." instead of saying "I haven't been well". At least then I'm truthful.

My friends and family should learn that if they haven't seen me for a while, it's because I was depressed, and that's excuse enough and they don't need to ask me why I was missing in action again.

They should also know that inquiring about my depression episodes isn't helpful. I don't really want to be reminded of the things that I failed to do while I was depressed, I just want to continue from here on.

What IS helpful is bring me up to date and telling me about things that I missed out on while I was depressed.

  • So don't do this: "How come you weren't at Ayesha's wedding?"
  • Do this: "Hey, we missed you at Ayesha's wedding. It was really nice - they did up the place with yellow tulips which was unusual, but looked great. The speeches were short, except for Uncle Joseph, who went on an on as usual. And once the formal part was over, the DJ started and we danced until 1 am."

Alternatively, here's how a conversation could go. I tell the truth and you accept the truth and then we both continue on the conversation.

Them: I haven't seen you for a while.

Me: I've been depressed for the last 6 weeks.

Them: I'm sorry to hear. You know I'm here if you need me. That's a bitch. Everything okay at the moment?

Me: Going well enough.

Them: How are your Spanish classes going?

Me: Had to drop out because of my depression episode.

Them: Jeez. That's really a bitch.

Me: Yup. How are the kids.

Them: Jake has just started kindergarten. I cried when I dropped him off, but he just went in and was chatting with the other kids.

Me: Did you get any office work done that first day?

Them: Nope. All I was thinking about was picking up my son.

<and so on>


update 10 Jan 19

first published 9 Jan 19

WP 5 Likes

moominmamaellaJan 11, 2019·moominmamaella.wordpress.comUser InfoBeing open and honest with people about living with mental illnesses is so difficult when they don’t know what to do with the information; I completely empathise. I really admire the outlook you’ve grown to achieve though, it sounds like it would be easy for you to just give up and not plan things at all – it shows a lot of courage that you don’t. I’m glad and I hope that things will get more manageable with time. You’re doing so well.

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