During the 16-17 winter, my SAD kicked my ass at an unprecedented level. It didn’t get me in the feels (I’ve got that taken care of by a cunning combination of supplements): it just stopped me sleeping more than 3-4 hrs per night for over 4 months. Because I’m more stubborn or optimistic than I’m clever, I tried to manage it without meds. It didn’t work. The SAD won. Come spring, I was completely exhausted and I really wasn’t braining good. In particular, my short-term memory kept going offline. I could start a conversation with somebody and half a minute into it I couldn’t remember the topic. On the phone, I’d forget who I was talking to. My vocabulary kept shrinking: I’d remember that there was a word for something, but I couldn’t access it. Things I struggle with anyway, in particular putting names to faces, became an impossibility.
I was extremely short of spoons – not in the way that someone with a chronic disability is, I’m sure of it, but struggling all the same. Social interactions in particular became extremely difficult: I had the bandwith to cope with content or presentation, but not both. My filters were not operational, I knew it, and that knowledge added an extra layer of stress to each interaction. I don’t mind being blunt at people if I deem it necessary, but I don’t like the idea of upsetting them just because I can’t wurd gud.
I would warn people of that fact. That helped in some cases, but it didn’t help enough: plenty of people still got pissy at me because I my responses were poorly modulated… And I didn’t pick up on that. I didn’t twig that I was telling people that I had a problem, that I was unwell, that I was struggling, and that they were turning around and punishing me for not meeting their needs – or, more often, their wants.
What I was failing to do was visualise the problem. It was all happening in my head, after all. The fact that it was roughly the equivalent of someone having a hissy fit because my bad back was preventing me from picking up their stuff carefully or fast enough totally eluded me. I think that’s pretty common for mental health issues: we can’t see them, so we tend to forget that they are real. It’s supremely weird, when you think about it. I can’t see people’s kidneys, and I have only a superficial understanding of how the darn things work, but wouldn’t dream of questioning anyone’s need for dialysis.
As my spoon stores got depleted, I realised that what I was doing wasn’t working, and embraced a whole new tactic:
- People I didn’t really know, like facebook “friends” who were actually friends-of-friends or folk I met once, got three chances: if they fucked me off three times in a row, they’d have to go.
- People I actually knew got a request/warning: “please do not to X, because I cannot deal.” If they didn’t heed that warning, or if they caused me the need to issue further warnings, I’d look at the balance of our interactions. If that balance was consistently in the red, they’d have to go.
It wasn’t an easy decision for me. I dislike people but I like persons, and it’s not as if my social circle is so vast that I can lose folk without noticing. I had to prioritise my health and sanity, though, and, for once, that took priorities over considerations like “I can’t have a falling out with him because his girlfriend is cool and I’d end up falling out with her” or “but they were nice to me once in 2012 and yes they’ve been shitty as hell since but Debt of Honour,” etc.
It was surprising, and more than a little bit scary, how many people got culled. I’d not noticed it before, because I wasn’t paying attention to it, but there were whole hosts of people whose only interactions with me were on the shitty end of the spectrum. The guy I’d met once, who felt the need to pepper every other one of my posts with sarcastic one-liners that added no content and just made me feel bad. The instructor who only appeared on my page to yell at me without really checking that she’d actually understood what I was saying, and who would begrudgingly apologise for being wrong, but never for the public yelling. The guy who was himself OK-ish, but whose friends group definitely wasn’t, which made him the human equivalent of a discarded bag of chips (fries, for the US contingent): wherever he turned up, a herd of vermin would appear and foul up everything in sight. The “friend” who rang me twice a year max and started each conversation with “I don’t want you to think that I only get in touch when I need something, but I need something.” The writer who got angry at me because I didn’t answer the pages and pages he wrote to me for days on end with sufficient care, but hadn’t bothered to check that I had the ability (or, indeed, the interest) to read them. The girl who wanted me to be on tap, at her metaphorical side whenever she had spare time, and never asked whether I had time to spare for her, or made any time for me. The people who got into arguments with third parties and tagged me, expecting me to don my Mighty Mouse outfit and join them in the good fight, even though that fight was not of my choosing. And the countless people who treated me like a public counter, ready to deal with their shit at a moment’s notice, and never once asked me if I had the time and energy to do that.
…and that was the other half of the problem. At the time, it was a time-and-energy issue. The only reason I took steps to mitigate those people’s impact on my life is that I was temporarily unable to bear it. That wasn’t the issue, though: or rather, the fact that I felt that I needed a valid reason to justify why I wasn’t pouring my resources into other people’s lives was a bigger issue.
No two of those people behaved in the same way, but there seemed to be a common trend to all those behaviours: entitlement. Snarky Comments Guy felt entitled to throw snarky comments at me, and to carry on doing the same without any kind of repercussion. My Friend In Need felt entitled to ask for my help whenever her need arose, while completely ignoring me the rest of the time. Writer Guy felt entitled to my time and attention simply because he wanted them. That entitlement ran deep: while none of the demands they put on my time were formulated as demands, they were. This became apparent when I started saying no to them. Even when I justified my nos with my lack of spoons, the responses I got were uniformly negative. This shouldn’t surprise anyone: people who genuinely feel entitled to any aspect of your life (time, energy, sex, whatever) will feel hard-done-by when you withhold it, and they will be as petty in their frustration as they were in their demands.
Those people treated me like a bad, selfish person for not giving them whatever they wanted, even though I’d never agreed to it in the first place and we weren’t in any kind of give-and-take relationship. Take-and-take was more their speed. That wasn’t great, but it could be easily managed by the simple means of not listening to them. What was much harder to avoid was my internal voice: I did feel like a bad person. I felt bad for carrying out some kind of accountancy on my interpersonal relationships and only keeping the ones which added some kind of value to my life.
I was raised by a houseful of people who had severe personality disorders and were unabashedly sexist, so I never quite know whether the conditioning I ended up with is the result of the sexism or the mental health issues. I tend to think that it’s a bit of both, but that the sexism plays a part, or else it would only affect me and those like me. Random people wouldn’t turn up at my door with demands quite so frequently if there wasn’t a widespread expectation that their needs or wants are my obligation. Third parties wouldn’t respond so badly to me telling people that I can’t (or won’t – my wishes also matter, goddammit) oblige them. I wouldn’t see quite so many women run themselves ragged to meet the needs and wants of people for whom “pleases” and “thankyous” are nothing but a formality.
The funniest thing about this whole experience is that, a year down the line, I don’t miss any of the people I culled off. Not a single one of them. I also don’t miss the people I lost in the resulting fallout. Shockingly enough, it turns out that if someone’s relationship with me consists of them throwing shit in my direction, removing them and their shit actually makes my life better. Lonelier, to be sure, but overall better.
The saddest thing about it is that I’m still working at convincing myself that looking at the world like that doesn’t make me a monster.