Reclaiming Spoons, without grace.


My secret isn’t all that well kept of one, since anyone who has been reading my writing for any amount of time can name it: I have depression, with a side helping of anxiety. For the longest, longest time, I thought it was the other way ‘round. Treatment has given me clarity.

My secret that isn’t: few people who know me casually know this about me, because despite striving to transparency through my writing, I don’t open up easily about myself to others in person. It’s equal parts not being able to articulate well in a live conversation and the conditioning, at a young age, against talking about such things with people–the unwritten rule of growing up in an abusive or otherwise dysfunctional family. Physical abuse, verbal, emotional, having substance or alcoholic abusing parental figures — the specific case matters not so much in this, the unwritten rule is something  we are all familiar with.

My secret that isn’t: I’ve been one of those high functioning people with depression. Oh, sure, I’ve set my bar pretty low — my jobs have not been technical ones, they’re not career sort of jobs, but I’ve held down a full time job during the worst of my anxiety and depression. I can put on the best of fronts. Only my nearest and dearest know how bad bad can become. Of them all, only Beth knows from first hand experience. Others know either because I share, or because they suffer also, and have been there, or, their version of there.

My secret that I’m announcing now: I’m done pretending I’m okay all the time. I’m done putting on a good face. I’m done with feeling like I’m the one who has to strive to understand where everyone is coming from. I’m done with accepting that I’m responsible for whether I’m being clear enough, or that I have to be responsible to how people respond to what I tell them my needs are, or what my limits are, or what my boundaries are.

Last week, a friendly acquaintance of many years crossed a line with me that I didn’t know until it was crossed that it had become a line. I didn’t handle the establishment of erecting that boundary particularly well, and in handling it poorly, a dear friend mistook my comment as being aimed at them. I’ve apologized, it’s been talked out for the most part, and I think we both understand where the other was coming from/reacting from. The line-crosser shifted the blame of the miscommunication onto me and my history, opted to explain where they were coming from instead of actually apologizing, and were summarily unfriended.

Maybe I should have explained the line I’d discovered without going off. Of course, I think my initial response was even-tempered, clear, and firm, but I’m me, so, you know, standard ego-involved caveat there. What I think is: I’m not known for having many such lines. I’m pretty even-tempered. I’m not usually knee-jerky when responding to things.  I’ve worked extremely hard to not respond to things emotionally because emotions are not to be trusted, they change, and my depression masquerades as emotions to try to get a toehold in. So, yeah, okay, one: I think I can be forgiven for popping off (if it was popping off, and I don’t trust that it was, but what do I know, this is new to me.) but more, two: that bluntness? That demarcating of lines I won’t tolerate having crossed? That’s not going away.

I’ve acquired a new, additional diagnosis (hello, hypothyroidism, you sexy thing you) and treatment has begun today. I’m hoping for a lot of things. I’m hoping the increasing stiffness and joint pain that is not showing up as arthritis in blood or x-rays will begin to abate. I’m hoping that the new, more mild but always present despite treatment, depression will ease up. I’m hoping that the fatigue will lift, if just a bit.

I have, up to this point, prided myself at the things I’ve accomplished. Getting up and going to work, despite crippling pain that left me in bed for the rest of the time, and unable to sleep most of the time, for over a year. Working despite the depression. Leaving the house despite the anxiety. “Dealing” with both for so, so long on my own. Being productive.

No more. I’m establishing boundaries where I need them. I’m easing off FB because I just can’t any more, and my resources need to go to my family. More importantly,  I want them to go to my family. Which doesn’t mean that the people I’m friendly with on FB don’t matter to me. I just don’t have the spoons these days. I want to go to work, and then be home. When I’m home, I’m pretty much going to be retreating from the entire world. Home is my sanctuary, and I need it. Right now, that’s it, and that’s enough, and if people can’t understand that, it’s not on me to explain it any more clearly than I already have.

Chronic illnesses are fun, invisible ones especially so. I’m not used to thinking of myself in these terms, even though, fuck, I know that depression *is*. It’s been with me my whole life–if that doesn’t meet the chronic criterion, I don’t know what will?

I’m not apologizing for having these boundaries. I will apologize in advance for how poorly the setting of them may be; being blunt and firm on boundaries is not something I’m practiced at. Is there an art to it, something that makes it more sensitive, without having to invest a lot of emotional labor into predicting the myriad ways others might react? I don’t know. I suspect not.

My not a secret: being a high functioning person with depression has taken up nearly all of my spoons on a daily basis for so long. I’m taking them back. I need them for more important things, like loving my loved ones, and enjoying my own company. I’m okay with being chronically ill, but I’m done pretending I’m okay.


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