Call me a PollyAnna if you like. An annoying bright-sider. Sure, that’s me. I suspect those terms are only used as insults by those who are too afraid, too lazy, or too comfortable with their own negativity to get their shit together.
But it’s not like I just don’t understand, okay? I’ve been dealing with real, clinical depression and anxiety all my life, and I’ve had some pretty nasty tumbles and frights and close calls. (Check out my cool scars!)
So, I get it. Depression, trauma, misfortune, and sadness are real and terrible. Sometimes things just don’t go right, even if you’ve given it everything you’ve got. Failure sucks.
But whaddaya gonna do?
Well, some folks just give up. They gather all their failures and heartaches around themselves like a big cozy blanket, wrap themselves up in it, and never peek out again. Oh, they say they want to get out from under it. They moan about how hot and stuffy and smelly it is in there. But if you watch long enough, you’ll eventually realize that while all their frantic struggling makes it look like they’re trying to escape, they’re getting nowhere. Instead, they focus intently on every single thread in that blanket, over and over again, pulling and poking and petting, knotting themselves up ever tighter behind a shield of familiar woes that they’ve woven to protect themselves against any new woes.
For years, I’d be the one tugging on the blanket from outside, trying to help them find their way out. Or I’d crawl under there with them, because I felt guilty–what right do I have to be happy and hopeful and successful, if someone I love is stuck and feeling shitty about themselves?
Oh you poor thing! Come on! Take my hand! Let’s do wonderful amazing things! Let’s just try, shall we? We can do this together! Sure we might fail, but so what? We’ll try again! No? Okay, then, we’ll just sit here until you’re ready, because I care so much about you, I’m here for you, I won’t leave your side…
Yep, I had a big ol’ savior complex. I wanted everyone around me to be happy, to like themselves as much as I liked them, to feel as hopeful and excited about life as I did. Nothing wrong with that, right? No…but I took it too far. I felt like I didn’t deserve to enjoy my life if someone I cared for was suffering, even if they clearly brought it on themselves. Even if I suspected they were loving the attention.
I had let their pain become my pain.
But, you know what? I don’t like pain.
And I don’t like holding myself back just because someone else
WON’T. FUCKING. MOVE. FORWARD.
How did I get past my savior complex? Well, I’ll tell you, but you’re probably not gonna like it…
Feeling bad about yourself? That sucks, here’s a list of reasons why you’re a great person, do with it what you will. Hope you feel better soon.
Wallowing in bad memories? Gosh, I’m sorry that happened to you. You should get a therapist. I’m not a therapist.
Need to talk about a problem? Okay, I’ll listen…but if I’ve heard all this before, you better tell me what you’ve done about it since last time, or I’m going to get bored real quick.
Maybe this sounds a little harsh. But it’s no harsher than punishing myself because I can’t control someone else’s life or feelings, and my life–the only life I can control–is better for it.
One of the hardest parts of this lesson was learning to check myself. I gripe about these martyrs like I’m so much more enlightened than they are, but for the longest time, I was hiding under a blanket of my own. Hey, those sad-sacks were getting attention and love, and I wanted in on that action!
No matter how much support others offered, though, it didn’t really make me feel any better. Why would it? My issues aren’t theirs to fix.
Also, somehow, my personal litanies of angst didn’t feel…authentic. Maybe I’d given too many pep talks to too many other people. Even if I’d never gotten through to any of them, I must have gotten through to myself at some level. I’ve been deeply unhappy, hopeless, and desperate, but even in the worst of it, my own words keep coming back to me, interrupting all my favorite depressive monologues:
Come on! Take my hand! Let’s do wonderful amazing things! Let’s just try, shall we?
“Talking about it” didn’t seem to do any good, so I tried “shutting up and working on it” instead.
Once I realized that I actually wanted to ditch the problems instead of allowing them to define my life and pretending I had no power over them, things started to change. My own depression and anxiety began to lift. Not all the way–I still have bad days, of course (hey, that’s life), but once I accepted the fact that I’m responsible for my own bullshit, I no longer felt obligated to carry everyone else’s on top of that. The load got a lot lighter.
Making this shift cost me some friends. An awful lot of self-proclaimed victims out there have a warped idea of “friendship”. They’ve been taught that misery and victim-hood are rewarded with love. They may truly believe they’ve got no other way to connect with people, nothing else to offer besides their pain, so they cling to that pain and build on it until it becomes their whole personality. When others don’t make with all the hugs and sympathy they feel is their due, they can get really nasty about it. All that sadness turns to rage and indignation and passive-aggressive pity parties on social media. They don’t even recognize friendship if it doesn’t come in the form of tireless, caring supporters and hand-holders.
What a shitty, stupid way to spend the time we’re given.
But that’s their choice, and
Well, maybe I give a little shit. Just a tiny one. I want people to find peace and contentment. I want people to love their lives. If there’s something going on that I can help fix, I’ll give it a try. But if they don’t want it fixed, it’s not my problem. It’s not my fault. It’s not my responsibility.
So yeah, I’m now a proud PollyAnna–an eternal optimist, always looking at the bright side–and I’m good with that. It’s certainly better than the alternative. I’ll do it all by myself, if that’s how it is. I’d rather enjoy my life in solitude than make myself sick trying to drag miserable people out of their self-made muck.
Do me a favor, okay? If I ever come to you whining about something you’ve heard me whine about before, ask me what I’m doing to fix it, and how you can help. If I can’t answer either of those questions, change the subject. I’ll thank you when I get over myself.
And keep your muck off me. Gross.