Empathy and Depression: Don’t Cry Me A River
Last week the ceiling in my dining room caved in. I knew it was coming. I had been watching a crack grow on my ceiling all summer. It took me awhile to figure out what was going on and then I realized that the leaks (plural) in my roof had something to do with it.
The roof started leaking early in the summer. Nothing a couple of buckets couldn’t handle. Then the crack appeared. Seems water from my leaky roof and saturated my ceiling. There were no water marks up there but that’s what happened.
I live in an 83-year-old house. My walls and ceiling are stucco. Not the new kind of stucco. The old plaster stucco. Heavy stuff. I got the roof fixed but the crack on my ceiling kept growing. Then I got a call at work from my daughter.
“Mom, the ceiling just caved in,” she said.
“Was anyone hurt?” I asked.
“No, but the dogs are totally freaked out,” she said. She called again an hour later.
“Mom, more of the ceiling caved in. When are you coming home?”
So, now I needed to find someone who knew how to fix an 83-year-old stucco ceiling. I also needed to find the money. A few days later, I heard some dripping coming from the closet where my air conditioner’s air handler lives. Seems the condensation line got clogged and all that water had been dripping on my Christmas ornaments for – who knows? – maybe a week.
Did I also mention that the leak in my kitchen faucet, which I discovered last year, has finally gotten so bad that I must encircle it with sponges when I turn it on. Oh, and the pool pump died, too.
On Monday I got a letter from my mortgage company explaining that my monthly mortgage payment was going up $600 a month because there had not been enough money in my escrow account to cover the ridiculous increase in my hurricane insurance premium last year.
What does any of this have to do with my depression?
Obviously, a lot. These are the kinds of things that could put me over the edge. I could fall right into that woe-is-me victim role that I do oh-so-well. I could fret over my finances, and I did for awhile. I could blame the universe, which I also did for awhile. But I did not feel sorry for myself and sit on my pity pot. I blamed no one. I told myself this is just life. Stuff happens, like ceilings caving in.
Still, crap like this challenges the coping skills that I learned after my last major depression a few years ago. Frankly, I thought I was handling my homeowner nightmare fairly well until I shared my litany of woes with a friend.
“Hey, at least you have a roof over your head,” was the response I got.
True. My problems are luxury problems. I know that. I know no one is going to cry me a river because my pool pump died. But how about a little empathy?
At a certain point, we disqualify and mock people’s feelings when we tell them they are not entitled to them. We minimize a person’s problem when we remind her that she is super-woman and she can certainly deal with a collapsed ceiling. For the record, God does give us more than we can handle. That’s why we need each other.
Everyone, especially those of us with depression, need our feelings validated. Few things will suck me into my black hole faster than guilt (“He’s right. How dare I feel sorry for myself when so many people are homeless? Suck it up! Get a grip! You have nothing to complain about.”) or self-pity (“Nobody cares about me and my problems. I am all alone.”)
I know that feelings are not facts, but they still hurt like hell.
Empathy is so easy.
“What a drag.”
“I bet you needed that like you need another hole in your head.”
Exactly. Thank you.
Stapleton, C. (2011). Empathy and Depression: Don’t Cry Me A River. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 29, 2015, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/depression/2011/11/empathy-and-depression-dont-cry-me-a-river/