On Depression and Daring Greatly

A few weeks ago, I was telling a coworker about how the Peaks roaster was down and out of commission again, and that Eli and the crew would probably have to go back to Rochester to roast on their fellow coffeemakers' roaster again. And although I was a little sad about the notion of not getting to hang out with Eli as soon as he got done with his roast day at 2 pm, I was kind of excited about it. I expressed to my coworker my excitement about getting to be quiet and read and watch a critical documentary by myself. I said, “I love being around him and I always want him to come over, but sometimes when he doesn’t I’m like— Oh. I can do all these things!” And he just said, “Man, you’re married.” (He himself is also married.) 

That week we celebrated his twentieth birthday, and I was so overwhelmed with joy and gratitude at having him in my life. I remember when we were just acquaintances, when he was working on the music for my web series and we barely knew each other. I remember wanting to know him so much better, feeling that there was some intrinsic sameness between us. I remember, childishly, juvenilely, wanting to simply be together. On his birthday all those feelings came rushing back to me, and I was so happy that that dream had come true. I do know him better than anyone else now. And he knows me. Honestly, sometimes it scares me how well he knows me. 

Sure, sometimes I do enjoy a day to myself to watch critical documentaries that would bore the shit out of him, or read yoga books, or do tarot. But, and this doesn’t feel like a very feminist thing to say but I’m trying to be real and honest with myself, I need him. Not in the “I’d die without him” kinda way because that’s just bullshit, I’m a queen and he and I both know that. But he chills me out. He is the force that encourages me to relax, to give myself the things I know I need but think I can live without, or don’t think I deserve. He organizes my mind when all of the neat boxes get undone and my Virgo brain collapses in on itself. I need him because I would probably, honestly, work myself to death without him around. 

For those of you who have met Eli, I'd venture a guess that it probably left an impression, and a good one at that. Though he'd never say this about himself and would sincerely disagree with this evaluation: he is kind, charming, and disarmingly attractive, and more than that- he surprises you with his willingness to have a conversation with pretty much anyone. Especially at his place of work, Peaks. 

Sometimes it's hard to be the significant other of someone as remarkable as Eli. Not because being with him is hard, (HELL NO. On the contrary, the reason he is the first and only person I've ever dated is because I just got to a point where not being with him was harder than putting myself out there.) but because he makes such an impression, and I feel like I don't. When I'm on my own, most of the time I'm fairly reserved, unless you get me talking about something I'm interested in. When we're together, we’re somewhat interesting and fun, but I feel like I don't really shine on my own. It’s probably because I don't like most people enough. 

Of course I don't actually believe that, or else I would have broken up with him to work on myself. But it's complicated. That's what I'm trying to say. Sometimes, honestly, I worry that I love him too much. Though I believe in the general positivity of this relationship, I'm not immune to self-consciousness. I'm not perfect. I'm flawed, and I doubt myself. This week I finished a fantastic book called Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. Within it was this revolutionary quote that kind of changed my whole mindset about my relationship.

“A woman who can sit with a man being truly vulnerable has A) done her work and B) does not derive her power from that man. And a man who can sit with a woman being truly vulnerable has A) done his work and B) does not derive his power from fixing or solving everything.” 

I know, inherently, that our relationship is not toxic or bad in any way, because that quote made me realize that I still derive my power from myself. We still have some work to do on part two, because he feels the need to try to fix things sometimes. But I think that stems from the fact that we are both empaths. We are both highly sensitive people, who feel each other’s feelings as if they were our own. This makes the fact that we both have our ups and downs with depression even harder. In the past, we would cycle downwards, one person’s depression fueling the other’s. And, I now realize, we were both struggling with a shame-based mentality. When one of us did something the other didn’t like, and that person tried to express their hurt feelings, the perpetrator would say shameful things like, “I am a piece of shit.” The difference between guilt and shame, as Brené notes in Daring Greatly, is the difference between saying, “I have done something bad” and “I am bad.” “I have done something bad” indicates that the person understands their mistake, and it gives them room to improve from there. “I am bad,” leaves no room for anything but a shameful depression, and a cycle of pain. It leaves no room for improvement. 

Since realizing this, and realizing how our Extreme Empathy plays a part in that, things have been so much better. We now use this knowledge to help lift each other up, rather than fueling each other to swirl downwards into depression. Instead of saying, “I am bad” we have started to train ourselves to say, “I have done something bad, and I’m really sorry. I’ll try to do different next time.” And when one of us falls into a depression for seemingly no reason, and we begin to shame ourselves for it, the other says, "It’s okay. The dementors have got you right now, but they’ll go away. And I’ll be here when they do.” 

This past week, on Wednesday, I was doing my usual weekly sage burning to cleanse my room, when the sage starting billowing thick white smoke. I don't usually believe in signs-- okay f*ck that of course I do, I'm superstitious as hell-- but I took this to mean something, especially when I looked it up and it said that an abundance of smoke means there is an abundance of negative energy clouding the space. 

I am not a confrontational person. But I am a person who believes in voicing their opinions, and not perpetuating passive aggressive bullshit. This week, things needed to be aired out. I reached a point on Friday when I had to open the windows. When I did, the floodgates opened, and the healing began. It wasn't easy to have difficult conversations with people about things that are uncomfortable. Living and working with your best friends- sometimes it gets messy. And sometimes we need to work as a team to clean it up. We began that process this week, and Kelsey and I firmly believe we're all going to be okay. 

But it takes courage to be that vulnerable. And sometimes, you need people to tell you that you're braver than you give yourself credit for. My therapist told me that on Friday. "You demonstrated to your parents that you're a capable adult, you moved out, you didn’t consider the anxiety attack last week the end of the world." He was right. I was able to isolate the anxiety, and had reasoned that it was a bad night, not a bad life. Considering the fact that the car accident had reverberations for YEARS, this is a significant improvement. Sometimes it can feel like our lives aren't getting anywhere, and we're not being recognized for all that we do. But we have to trust that we're on the road to where we want to be, even when the end is nowhere near in sight. But that is what Brené Brown would call being in the arena. Getting up every day, and having the courage to be vulnerable, to be real, to speak your truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Because the rest, shame and fear and guilt, only produce negative energy that smokes up your whole apartment and make it smell like sage for days. 

-Fran