December 15, 2009

How Unhappy Is Irrational?

I got an interesting response to my post, "Going Emo," by email. It was specifically in response to the last bit of a single bullet point:

Breaking the social conventions isn't worth it. It just makes more work. It requires reassuring all the friends whose lives have just been shaken up. It requires holding your tongue on things like, "No. I don't need to see a professional to have my attitude adjusted. I need to stop being reasonably anxious and in pain for a while. Barring that, I need a fucking hamburger and someone who can moderate their conversation to the right degree of challenging. Not that you asked how you could help."

The bullet point, in turn, was a response to a note from the same person asking why I was being so negative, since "It's not like you at all," accompanied by the question of whether it was time for me to get some professional help with that. Based on my Facebook status updates. Specifically, these status updates:
  • just too damned much trouble, really.
  • ...falls, on the scale of human companionship, somewhere between utterly unrewarding and actively taxing.
For anyone else who was terribly concerned...I had PMS, made significantly worse by an enforced lack of exercise. I mentioned it over here. It happens. It's ugly. It's over in a day or two, but anyone who gets in my way in the meantime might be in for a bit of a surprise and for no good reason. Those two statements are a pretty fair picture of a temporary situation. They might be strongly worded, but one of the cornerstones of training in writing is cutting out wimpy prose.

The next update, by the way, was, "If you need hyperdrive, I can fix that too, but I could never be your wookie." (Explanation, of sorts, here.)

The idea in this new post-emo-post note was to urge me, once again, to seek professional help. "If I'm the only one of your kajillion and a half friends who has made the suggestion of seeing a professional, then I am shocked." You might want to sit down. "I don't know why you might be resistant to seeing a therapist." Then do allow me to explain.

I've been dealing with pain for two months. I've been dealing with enforced inactivity for a fair chunk of that. I've been dealing with uncertainties about my health for a good bit more. But that's just it, I'm dealing with them. I'm making my doctors appointments. I'm being appropriately cautious with my activity, which does include some testing of my limits. I'm taking pain medication when appropriate--mostly.

A note about narcotic pain medications: The reason these things have a high street value is that they fuck with your head. Even looking at the list of milder side effects for Vicodin, we see: drowsiness, nausea, and mood changes. Huh. Sounds a lot like the superficial symptoms of depression, doesn't it? It would be nifty if a chat with a therapist would provide some coping strategies for Vicodin that would make those side effects go away, but that's not about to happen. That leaves me with a choice between side effects (including a loopiness that makes me hesitate a very long time before spilling my guts on the old blog) and pain.

The emotional side effects of pain are something that a therapist can help you deal with. However, the advice is to keep the pain from interfering with your life as much as possible. For reasons having to do mostly with my not wanting to continue bleeding and partly to do with the inability to immobilize the cervix so jiggling around doesn't make the pain worse, this hasn't been entirely possible. I'm very much hoping that tomorrow's doctor appointment will settle that question. I miss exercise.

I miss exercise in part because I miss being able to eat what I want without gaining weight. I can't do that if I don't move around a bunch, so I'm eating very little right now. It's not a shortcut to weight loss, unfortunately, but at least it means I'm not gaining anything. It does, however, look like one of those signs of depression--until you listen to me bitch about wanting a hamburger. Or see me angling for oatmeal raisin cookies. Vicodin makes me hungry when it's not making me motion sick.

Then there's exercise and sleep. Sleep and I have never been very good friends, particularly when sleep means something that's compatible with a corporate work schedule. Exercise helps keep us mostly reconciled. With enough exercise, sleep takes over some time near the time it should if I'm going to get up at a decent time. I still see the wee sma's about once every two weeks, but I mostly maintain something like a pattern.

One thing being immobile has done is make me pay out my sleep debt and put me on a more comfortable schedule. I should, apparently, sleep from midnight to eight or so. Unless I'm sick, in which case, I should sleep always. Sleeping always without actually being sick, along with migraines, is what drove me to the doctor in the first place, which is not exactly evidence of being unwilling to see someone about my problems.

So, yes, if you're looking at me, you're going to see changes in (apparent) appetite and sleep. You'll also see that I'm not consistently doing many of the things I would normally enjoy doing, largely because they require concentration or extended attention, which is also a problem with both pain and narcotics. You'll see that I'm not enjoying many of the things I normally would, because I'm so out of shape (and blood) that getting ready and getting to them leaves me tired out.

Then we come to mood. When was the last time you were sick, injured or in pain for an extended period of time? How did you feel about that? How sad did it make people when you talked about it? How worried did they get? How tired of explaining everything did you get? How long did it take talking about your problems and asking for accommodations that weren't offered to make you feel selfish?

One of the reasons I've been writing about my little health scare is that nobody else was. There was information about the technical aspects of all the procedures I've been through, but nobody was talking about what it felt like. I didn't want other people to have to discover the fear and the pain and the inappropriately funny bits on their own. I didn't want other people to feel alone.

There are a lot of things about the way our society is set up that make being ill isolating if you're at all sensitive to social expectations. Not that make it feel isolating, but that actually isolate you from other people. Social interactions that should express genuine interest in another person are used as greetings in passing, so it's nearly impossible to tell who really wants to know how you're doing. We live long distances from one another so that visits are occasions, not to be met without a shower and some decent clothes. We set up our interactions around participatory events that don't have a lot of room for the passive (ask me to expound on wedding and baby shower games sometime) or require cash even when someone may not be getting paid.

We medicalize unhappiness. Let some isolated soul vent irritation about being isolated, let them be honest about being grumpy, and suddenly they've got one more fucking problem that requires that they go do something to have it fixed. We say, "Go see a therapist." We don't say, "You're right, that sucks." We don't say, "I'd be pretty miserable in your position." We don't say, "Can I bring you a cookie?"

Except we do. Some of us. Many of us. We reach out and hug somebody so they feel less isolated. We make sure they know we really want to know how they're doing, and then we listen. We sympathize, even when sympathy hurts us too. We recognize that being unhappy is, to a certain extent, exactly the most rational response to pain and disability and disappointment. And we ask, instead of tell, our friends what kind of help they need, because being sick doesn't make people children incapable of making those decisions.

That, my friend, is why you're the only person who has suggested I see a therapist, much less done so three times. It's also why I'm resistant, not to seeing a therapist, but to the pronouncement that a therapist is the appropriate response to the things I'm dealing with when you haven't taken the time to find out how I'm dealing with them.


Becca said...

Friends are generally better than therapists, but therapists are usually *most* effective if you have a good cognitive grasp of the *reason* for your unhappiness. Whether it's from an obvious physical illness or not. Therapists are actually pretty poor at helping one identify the source, but pretty good at helping one figure out how to make life more plesant in the meantime. So, while if you don't know one who would benefit you I wouldn't urge therapy, I also don't see why the 'rationality' of your unhappy state means that it's useless to consult one.
This is the problem with all you "ohh I'm so RATIONAL!" skeptic folks. Sometimes it takes irrational to be happy. I reccomend rainbows and puppies. Or FWDAOTI.

Unknown said...

Wow. Just wow. I think that your "negativity" given your current state of health and activity and all the rest is a perfectly reasonable and rational response. Not that you asked for my opinion. Just thought I would say that I totally support you being honest and truthful about your feelings and level of pain. Sucking it up to make sure no one else gets uncomfortable about you is ridiculous.

a2z said...

Extremely well written, Steph. There's a definite difference between generalized depression and the frustration and sadness that is the side effect of illness. My therapist was good at helping me distinguish the two and learn how to deal with both.
Remember, I'm a good listener and, I think, a pretty good hugger.

Jason Thibeault said...

If I had even the remotest inkling that therapy might help, I would have recommended it. Whoever this person is, is poor at empathy.

Sorry if they're offended by that.

Want a social tea cookie (baby biscuit)? And some eggnog?

Stephanie Zvan said...

Jason, eggnog is weirdly gross and tasty at the same time. I don't really get that. Kinda high calorie for me right now, but thanks for the offer.

Unknown said...

I love and appreciate your honesty and admire your flawless prose. Actually, I read you with a certain measure of empathy, a large measure, I think. Even if you didn't have all the other stuff going on (which you do), not being able to exercise alone will totally fuck up your mood and sleep patterns.

About the therapist thing: it absolutely depends on the individual. I have been seeing my therapist for 13+ years. I love her and I can't imagine what I would do without her. (But then I have mental illness and emotional baggage from childhood that even a lifetime of therapy will never solve -- I just want to be able to cope and to function.) However, I can fully imagine my therapist saying to me, "Honey, what you need are some friends!"

And given the opportunity, I know that I am an excellent and loyal friend.

I don't think you need therapy. Honesty, in my opinion, is not pathological. But is sure does take a lot of chutzpah.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Catharine, I don't know why, but when someone commends me for bravery, I brush it off, but being commended for chutzpah is completely different. And pretty awesome.

RPS77 said...

Like everyone else has said, it's perfectly natural to be unhappy and negative given everything that you've been going through. I'm sorry that everything has been so difficult for you lately, and I hope that things get better soon and allow you to become more active again.

(I've been a sort of silent reader (which is more accurate and sounds much better than "lurker", IMHO) of your blog and Quiche Moraine for a few months. I should have commented and offered you at least verbal support much earlier, but I often get this weird feeling that I shouldn't comment at all unless I have something original or special to say. I could not think of anything that people who actually know you hadn't said, so I didn't even comment to wish you good luck or speedy recovery even though I should have.)

Anyway - yes, social conventions are a nasty burden sometimes, and breaking them is unfortunately an even bigger burden. Also, you should try to become better friends with sleep - in my experience at least, it can be one of the best friends a person can have, although it's not healthy to spend too much time together.

critter said...

Of course you feel like shit. Who wouldn't. Really, if there's anything I can do from several hundred miles away...

Stephanie Zvan said...

RPS77, there is no obligation to comment whatsoever, but I'm glad you did. Thanks.

critter, you can keep entertaining me on Facebook. You're very good at it.

Heather R. said...

Steph, I feel like I'm a few days late here and more than a dollar short. I'm not indifferent, just over-stressed.
I'd never recommend therapy - unless you got to the point where you couldn't cope, AND you asked my opinion. I've had a couple awful therapists, so I don't jump on that particular bandwagon, but luckily found a great support group years ago that actively practiced non-judgmental support, active listening, and avoided giving advice. But that's me, not you. Go ahead and complain, explain, emote, write all the excruciating details, cry or giggle. Whatever works for you. Don't censor just to keep some of the rest of us from feeling uncomfortable. If we do, that's our problem. The fact that you're sharing because nobody else is is enough to do for the rest of us. Vent. Scream. Sleep. Rage. Curl up in a ball. It doesn't have to pass somebody's "rationality" test - unless you decide what works involves walking naked down your street in traffic in the middle of winter. Then we might have a chat. Yours is not the right neighborhood for that activity. Or maybe if you started trying to spread peanut butter on the cat, then I'd worry.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I'd call that a perfectly valid stance. The only rational and sane response is to feel like crap of one brand or another. I'd wonder about someone who was cheerful and happy about such a situation. Unhappiness is not a pathology, and does not require professional help in and of itself.

Rest assured that if I ever ask how you're doing, what's happening, or how's life, I mean it in the literal sense, and if the answer is negative, I'd rather have that than a pleasant lie.

I may not be good for much, but I've a solid sense of empathy and sympathy for woes of the non-self-inflicted variety, and more than I generally admit for much of the other variety as well.