When Your Brain Chemistry Screws Up All Your Relationships (Even at Work)
by Logan Sachon and Martha Kaplan
The third in a series about money and depression (but mostly depression).
Martha Kaplan: So, tell me where you are, Logan.
Logan Sachon: Physically I am sitting on the couch in my living room. Mentally I am … sitting on the couch in my living room.
MK: Well, I am at my desk at work, but I brought up our respective locations because I’m supposed to be at your apartment later tonight, and I’m not sure if I can be.
LS: Can you explain why? Like, I know why, and I empathize, because I have been where you are. But other people do not know.
MK: When I am feeling, um, not great — I hate using the word “depressed” because it sounds both like a joke and way too serious — so when I am feeling really not great, like today — today was like, physically bad, I felt kind of underwater. Like under a lot of water, where you can feel the pressure on your body. And I didn’t feel like talking, really at all. Anyway, when I feel this way, it’s really hard for me to interact with people I’m close to. Co-workers, etc. are actually easier, because you can just front. But it’s hard to have real conversations with anyone who cares about you / who you care about, when all you’re thinking is “ow ow ow ow ow.” The other option is seeing someone who you really trust, and just being your grossest self around them. But then afterwards, you feel guilty for subjecting them to the crying or the moodiness or whatever. So that is why I am not sitting across from you while we chat.
LS: And I understand that. Though as your friend, I wish I could scoop you up and put you in bed and give you a stack of magazines and movies and puppies and make you dinner and play you music and just give you a safe place where your physical needs are taken care of — sometimes it’s so hard just to take care of your physical needs, getting a cup of water can be so difficult — and just let you breathe.
MK: Physical needs is a big thing. I’ve been talking in therapy a lot about how the main thing I want but don’t have is someone to hold me, which, ugh, it makes me uncomfortable even typing that sentence out, but I just want to be cuddled like an enormous baby. I don’t want a relationship, or I don’t most times. There are some exceptions, like when you’re at an engagement dinner and it’s just couples. Anyway. Mostly I do not want a relationship, because I feel like I would be terrible to date right now. But I do want someone to take care of me in this really basic way. And in some ways that’s all I want, and it’s making me a terrible friend. A terrible, needy, no fun to be around friend. This terrible afternoon with this weepy human was brought to you by: depression.
LS: So thinking that you’re terrible, needy, and no fun to be around is part of the disease — that’s not reality. Obviously we all prefer it when we and others are healthy and not depressed — but mostly because it’s hard to see your friends in pain, not because we only want to hang out with our friends when they’re having good days.
MK: I just feel like friendship is supposed to be give and take, and when I’m not doing well, I’m just taking.
LS: And then you give when your friends are not doing well — just a few weeks ago (last week?? what is time) I was having a dark day and you bought me a salad and let me camp out in your office and decompress and talk too much even though you were very busy. That was me taking and not giving. But it turned my whole day around.
MK: Well, I’m glad to hear that. I guess our friendship is more balanced because we’re both in tough spots kind of frequently. But there are other people that aren’t, and whenever I’m awful or sad around them, I feel guilty. I spend a lot of time apologizing to people for being distant at parties and crying in bathrooms and stuff. (This is also narcissism, obviously.) (No one cares about you — me! — that much!) (Except me.)
LS: Well that’s true for all of us in all relationships, or it should be. But yes, apologizing for existing is something that depression brings out. I think it’s in the DSM. “Do you apologize for the space you take up on this earth? y/n” I hate that word too, actually. I think that may be something that we bring up every time. That DEPRESSION is a dumb word. And yet. Taking it back, etc. Did you finish the last season of Girls?
MK: No. I’m some episodes behind.
LS: Well spoiler alert — Hannah had OCD when she was in high school and “it’s back.” And I think giving her OCD was a really smart choice, because it just sounds more clinical than “depression,” which is this wavy nebulous thing (I mean, not really, it’s also in the DSM, but like you said, it could mean anything from having a bad to day to you know, feeling like you are physically underwater).
MK: Yeah, I definitely think that’s a stronger choice than depression. That word has just become part of our normal language. So that you have to say “clinical depression” or “unipolar depression” or whatever just to stop people from assuming you’re just cranky or something.
LS: I’m excited for you to see those two episodes. “Excited.”
MK: Yeah, me too, if I ever feel like seeing humans again. I feel like I’m shutting down. I think actually one of the secret awful things about being depressed and having friends is that sometimes they don’t help. And it’s awful feeling 1) depressed; 2) like you wasted your friend’s time / ruined their day with your whining; and, 3) angry that you’re still really unhappy because your friend is just another human, not a cure for your legit mental disorder. And then you feel guilty about 2 and 3, and that just feeds into 1, and the whole cycle continues.
TWO MONTHS LATER
LS: The last time we spoke, for public consumption, we talked about anxiety and depression and how it affects relationships.
MK: Yeah. I think we didn’t fully explore that? I mean, basically, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much I ask of people I’m friends with, what’s fair and what’s not fair, how much another human should be allowed to demand in comfort / forgiveness / understanding when the reason you’re doing it is just, “I feel bad.”
LS: I think about this a lot too, but I don’t really have a concern about my friends so much as my working relationships. One in particular. (HI MIKE!)
MK: I basically keep it together at work; we’ve talked about this. I guess that’s a thing I’m pretty good at — pretending that I’m okay among colleagues. But I have a hard time trusting friends and once I get to a point of trust I worry constantly about abusing it which I know I do because there are so few that I would be a complete mess in front of. And then I feel guilty .
LS: Though we talk about this stuff frankly, I’m not in that inner circle of people — for you. You step back rather than reach out to me when you’re down.
MK: Inner circle of hell! Well see here’s the problem, the inner circle of people are two people: My best friend (who lives across the country) and another human with whom I have a … complicated relationship. We’ve known each other so long — and I’ve been unhappy for so much of that time — that there’s a level of trust that built up. But our relationship is, as I said, complicated. Plus we deal with feelings very differently. But mostly: this is just one human. It’s unfair to be dumping all your shit on just one human who is obviously going to fail and / or disappoint you in some way.
What makes you able to show people this side of yourself? I think it’s probably healthier. I wish I was able to more, spread it around.
LS: I don’t know about that. You are still respected in your place of employment! I use my therapist, when I have a therapist, as my person to lean on the most. Not that I don’t do it to other people, but my depression is really more just self-loathing and inability to do anything, and no one wants to hear you talk about hating yourself, so it’s pretty easy to keep inside. I think? My friends are reading this are like, “Girl, you’re delusional. You’re always talking about this.”
MK: I guess I should be able to do that with my therapist but I can’t because I feel like we have a professional relationship.
LS: Professional in that you pay her money to talk about your feelings. Work that.
MK: I have some interest in making her believe that I’m not a nutjob. Which I know sounds crazy. It’s not about her, even. She’s a great therapist! I just think I would have to get to such a point with someone like, it would take years. But I do feel like you’re more able to share with people about how you’re feeling. Or am I wrong about that?
LS: Yeah I’m pretty open about it, but again, I don’t know how good that actually has been for me in my life. Sometimes I wish I was more reserved, especially in working relationships. I mean, Mike is one of my best friends in addition to my partner in this website endeavor so maybe it never could have been strictly business there, but I do wonder, if I felt I had to front to Mike and hide this part of me, would I be better at my job? Do I take advantage of the fact that he knows and loves me and cares about me? Like: Am I actually incapable of getting out of bed and doing my work sometimes, or am I only giving into the feeling of incapability? Like, if there were more consequences (beatings???) would I be a better worker? And my great weakness is actually self discipline and not some wonkiness in my brain chemicals? I don’t know! But I sure do stare at the ceiling for long periods of time when I should be working trying to figure it out.
I make fun of myself a lot, that’s one way to acknowledge this mess to other humans. And you’re very good at that. Master of the self deprecating joke.
MK: I’m good at that with you, but with other people, the people I’m open with, I just want them to see I’m not okay, and I want them to help somehow. But you’re right, there’s no way, really, for anyone to help, which is why this is so hard. You have to keep so much of yourself tamped down, and it’s painful. In many ways I think it’s easier for me to be alone. I’ve been spending a lot of time alone recently, and it turns out I like it. I mean, I always knew I liked being alone, but maybe that’s my natural state, how I feel safest. If there’s no one around, there’s no one disappointing me by not helping me (even though I know that’s impossible). It also makes me really sad in a whole different way, the idea that I might just be, like, built for loneliness. That maybe all the jokes I make about not liking to have fun are … not jokes.
LS: I think spending time thinking about how you like spending your time and experimenting with different ways to be are good — I also think these things ebb and flow. You’re also so great in social situations. No one better at a dinner party. I like having you around.
MK: I think I am the worst, but thank you. But being alone just feels like my fate, because of how my mom is — a human who works a ton and has a single friend, and I really don’t want that. But what if that’s happiness for me? Is it possible to be comfortable and unhappy about THAT?
Sometimes I just feel like I’m burrowing, and I don’t want to be a mole person. But every time I pop my head up, it’s like, ugh, disaster. ANYWAY
I am hogging this chat in a grotesque way, please SPEAK YOUR TRUTH.
LS: Okay, one more thing about you though, and this is some Mama Pat Sachon wisdom about to get dropped: These things you’re saying about yourself, about being a person who needs to be alone, they are true of you right now, but they are not true of you as a person. We are all constantly evolving and changing. I tend to extrapolate that a bad day means I suck at everything and always will, but really: A bad day is a bad day. And yes, it’s more complex when there is mental illness contributing to your bad day, but, you know, not to sound like a prozac commercial, but there are tools and ways to work though. Which we’ve talked about.
MK: Mama Pat Sachon knows what’s up.
LS: So we have sort of inverse problems with relationships. Opposite. Different. I feel like I’m constantly failing at work because I’m “sad.” I know that I should be able to just Hunker Down and Do My Work, but I have a really hard time with it, and sometimes just don’t do it. Which is weird. When I have had jobs where I had to be somewhere each day, I always got out of bed for my job. Always. But my job now is more flexible, at least in my head, there are no immediate dire consequences, so a lot of me Getting Things Done is dependent on making myself Get Things Done, which is hard. Like Monday I said I’d do four posts and I did one.
MK: What happened?
LS: A lot of it is, I really hate myself a lot of the time, so I don’t feel like I have anything worthy or interesting to say which makes it hard to write blog posts for people to read. I spend a lot of time in my head, talking myself in and out of various things, then it’s 20 minutes past when my post is supposed to go up and I have to apologize to Mike. And then it starts again with the next post.
Every night I have this plan to “do all the work” and have a million things edited and posts written, but there is always a reason it doesn’t happen. And mostly that reason is, I sit down to do it and … I just want to go to bed. And I always let myself go to bed. Self care or SELF DEFEAT?!
MK: I feel like that happens to both of us or, like, it’s a bad sign that it’s happening less to me like I’m becoming less human. Also have you seen this:
I think it sums up many of my problems: CLEAN ALL THE THINGS! Anyway, I feel like that a lot of the time; right now maybe I’m cresting the “do all the things” wave. I just hope it lasts until after I move.
LS: You are moving! Yes. Another way to deal with depression. Just change some huge thing in your life, like your job or where you live. And yes, wherever you go, there you are, but at least slightly altered logistics are distracting for a minute. When is the move?
MK: Memorial day.
LS: So great.
MK: Or a huge mistake! Who knows. Okay I’m going to get back to hanging out with this cat. Best cat.
MK: Okay. Second best.