Today, I read another "why me?" in a blog and realized that saying that is almost as bad as the responses you get from people. "Because you're special," my mother winked, as if that was any help. Great. Special. Special has become a code word for, "caution: subject different" in our society, and while I am sure my mother meant "I don't understand your depression, so I'll try and come up with something clever I learned while taking teaching classes at college," it didn't help. I have also heard, "Why anybody?" which is less hurtful, but unhelpful. It dismisses the asker, as if their suffering is no different than anyone else's. A person asking "why me?" is asking for sympathy from somewhere. The best answer I can give to those who I care about is, "I don't know. Maybe it will get better."
Being mildly depressed enough to be objective about it has shown some rather enlightening things about why *I* ask, "why me?" First of all, I think my depression started roughly around the time my mother's drinking became a real problem; 3rd grade. This is when I started feeling like a loser, going "why me?", "I hate life," "I hate myself," "Nobody likes me," and feeling like Charlie Brown cartoons were a simplified model of my suffering. One kid even called me the "living Charlie Brown" because my life seemed to suck so bad. When I was in elementary school, kids reacted to me uneasily, and my submissive posture made me a prime bully magnet. I was never taught how to fight back, I just felt my life sucked, and I had to accept that. Day to day, I had to wonder why stuff happened to me. I was the consummate victim.
I wish I had a mentor back then. Someone to say, "Actually, it's not your fault, but you're letting it get to you. Let's break it down into smaller pieces and work on solving them." I wish I had someone who could have said, "Yes, your mother's an alcoholic, your dad is an ass, but you can't change that. Just accept it as some weird random thing not connected to you at all, and deal with it the best you can day-to-day, because it's not forever. Now let's see how this relates to some of your other problems." Actually, I got that by high school, with a combination of friends and therapy. But home life was so bad, that it was hard to stay positive because it's not like real life where you can ultimately say, "Fuck it," walk off, and start a new life.
But then I was on my own rather suddenly at 18.
So when I say, "Why me," these days, I am making two assumptions. One, that somehow I am involved in a planned conspiracy by a sentient presence that can actually give an answer (a.k.a., a God-being of some sort). Two, that my problems are so insurmountable, that they all jam together as one big problem with no real solution. When I ask, "Why me?" it usually means the bottleneck of problem solving (my problem solving skills) is too thin to take the volume of problems that flow through it. Part of the problem is that problems beget more problems, react with other problems, and they can start chain reactions in all directions. The more they back up, the more the chain reaction breeds more problems. Soon, you just can't see the individual problems anymore because of the fog of all the sub-problems. My primitive brain then tries to see one omnipresent solution, which starts the superstitions, paranoia, and the belief that some sentient force is out to get me (I think this is a human phenomena not unique to just me). You do very odd things, like think you are suffering because you did something bad, or you're being punished that thing you did when you were 12, or for wearing white after Labor Day or something. It all reacts together in one, big, sticky mess.
The first solution is to break down the root causes of several sub-problems. This seems like a simple concept, but it's really, really hard to do this when you are under stress. Let's take a fictitious example:
Susan has no money. This is because she has a crappy job. She has a crappy job because she dropped out of high school. She dropped out because she had no support to get her to keep going. She had no support because her father was a control freak who only gave her attention when she did something wrong. Her father was intimated by women, and thus, took this out on Susan. Because Susan has no money, she can't afford health care. Even though her company has a plan, it's a crappy one, and she needs hypertension and depression meds, but her co-pay still would leave her with $120/month in bills, and she doesn't have that. So she's depressed and tired all the time. Because of this, she doesn't pay all her bills on time, and so she lost her car insurance, and got into an accident, and got her license revoked. Now she has no way to get to work, except by her boyfriend, who treats her poorly, and she needs him for a ride to work, and he needs her because he's got issues of his own where he needs to dominate women, and since Susan's main male influence growing up is a dominant male who abuses her, she has accept that this is what love is. Well, it isn't, but she doesn't know. She'd know if she could get therapy, but she can't afford it. She can't afford to eat well, either, and get sick a lot because she eats things bad for her. She lives in a crappy apartment, with a crappy boyfriend, and feels crappy all the time. She's got so many self-feeding problems, where could she start? "Why me?" asks Susan. This call doesn't do her a damn bit of good, because it reinforces her helplessness, like sentient things are against her. Her stress is a self-feeding loop, a rut from which it seems there is no escape.
Susan needs support outside herself, that's for sure. She needs friends, because they are better and cheaper than therapists. But finding good friends is hard. It takes years. And Susan has no self-confidence, so she doesn't engage in social activities, and even if she did, her boyfriend would get jealous, abuse her, and she's back to square one. How about money? Get a better job? With no car, and bad public transit, options are limited. And because she has no money, she can't afford decent clothing for interviews. Friends could help with all of these, and this is how humans are supposed to be: in small social groups. We deal well in packs. Loners really have a difficult life.
I have a friends like Susan. I have this innate gift to know whether people are good deep inside, so that's why I want to be friends with them. I try to cheer them up, but ultimately, I can't force them to do anything, and the control freak in me has trouble accepting that. The Susans I know generally never go, "Wow? You mean if I get out, make some friends, clean myself up, stop saying depressing things, try positive thinking, and attack problems as individual concepts and not as one big unsolvable mess?? Wow! I can see the light!" No, they usually give excuses why things won't work, and I know that's the depression talking, so the best I can do is be there for them, and plant my seeds of survival through the gaps of depression when they are drunk or something else vulnerable.
To the Susans or Bobs or whomever out there: every second of every day, you make a choice. You choose your reaction to the latest stimulus. You can do something different. Every second. Right now. And now. And every now past the end of you reading this. Start small. Work your way up. If a shmuck like me can do this, anyone can. No one's watching, go ahead, try something different from your routine. You don't have to tell a single soul. Put on a hat you have never worn before. It could be a plastic cereal bowl, I don't care. Look at yourself in the mirror. Listen to the inner voices. What do they say? Write them down, even the bad ones. Say the positive ones out loud. Reverse the negative ones, like, "My nose is too big," and say, "My nose is so full of awesomeness, it couldn't possibly be any smaller!" Laugh, it's okay. Do this every day in the mirror (you don't need the hats unless you like them). I don't care how "stupid" it feels, which will be the normal reaction if you are a depressed sad sack, so just trust me on this: it fucking works. It may take a while, but it works. I started with Post-Its on my stereo when I lived at the FanTek house some 18 years ago. I'm still working on it, but every year I feel a little better.
Stop playing the victim. You're done with that role, and you've played it so long, you've been typecasted. Start auditioning for other parts. And those who try and stop you, they suck. They only want you to be that way because they are feeding off your depression power. Turn that power into something else, even if it has to be interpretive dance. And never say "Why me?" because what's an acceptable answer?