Losing Friends to Depression: an ambivalent necessity

Mental illness is a community of strangers. Those suffering from major depressive disorders constantly feel alienated in social situations and relationships. Depression makes friendships hard to come by and inevitably strained. It can be hard to maintain a lasting and consistent connection with others when one’s own mind prefers solitude or fears betrayal or loss. Oftentimes the fear of rejection or inadequacy blocks a depressive person to reach out to others who they would like to get to know better. Other times, having recurring patterns of depression and seclusion is too hard to understand or too much of a hassle for neurotypical friends to feel like keeping in touch. Friends then become all the more important for those suffering from mental illness. Depression sets its sufferer alienated from others and having a close ally and confidant can make all the difference. However, just because someone with a mental illness has trouble maintaining friendships due to their changing moods does not mean that they have to hold on to every friend who comes their way. Unfortunately, depressive individuals can easily find themselves within a toxic friendship. Sadly, suffering from major depression and feeling worthless means that one can get too carried away with the attention and not notice the damage the other does to them.

Recently there has been an influx of articles on the importance for self-care. Clearly having close friends is just as important for the maintenance and care for one’s well-being. But having toxic friends who further stigmatize your mental illness cannot be self-care, but instead are a form of self-harm. The pattern of harm when remaining in stigmatizing friendships mirrors those in other forms of abusive relationships. What is too often forgotten is that emotional abuse is just as harmful if not more harmful than physical abuse.

My argument is that friendships that foster emotional abuse must end. When depressed, it is too easy to believe the blame is upon oneself and oneself alone. This is hardly the case.

What is hard is that oftentimes a harmful or toxic friend only means the best intentions towards their friends, but nevertheless repeat the same patterns of abuse. The following are questions to consider if a depression-sufferer is worried that their friends and allies are actually doing them more stigmatizing harm than good:

  1. Are you anxious whenever you make plans with this friend?

Making plans with a good friend should not be the cause of stress. Repeatedly feeling the pang of an oncoming anxiety attack when thinking about spending time with someone betrays that your relationship with them is strained and troubled.

  1. Do you feel like this friend has a hard time listening to you or being careful/aware of you triggers?

A good friend should be responsive. Good intentions mean nothing if one is not paying the proper attention to your concerns.

  1. Does this friend mention how much they have sacrificed for you? Do they ever seem satisfied with what they think they get in return from you?

This sort of rhetoric converts a friendship into an economy of give and take. The insistence upon reminding the other of actions done “out of love” are not actually love, but a transaction. Introducing the concept of debt into a friendship is an immediate cause for concern and emotional blackmail.

  1. Does your friend police your feelings, suggesting that your feelings are “wrong”?

This is a form of gaslighting, turning your mood disorder against you and claiming that you are incapable of having rational reactions to anything. Feelings are never “wrong” and you should never be made to feel inadequate due to your gut reaction to events.

  1. Does your friend treat others with mood disorders with any respect?

Someone with double-standards when it comes to ableism and refers to others’ disabilities as “crazy”, “overdramatic”, or “difficult” cannot be trusted. Someone who makes fun of a mutual friend for having a panic attack is not likely to be empathetic to your own.

Ultimately, depression and other mood disorders demonstrate a need for a higher quality friend. But at no point should someone with a mood disorder feel that they are too discerning when it comes to finding someone to trust. Frankly, expecting high standards from others is a necessity for survival. Disassociating from toxic friendships is hard. There is always the trap of falling straight back into these harmful patterns, but it is much better for yourself to cut ties when possible to those who hurt you, even if they claim they are doing what is best for you. It is not up to the depressive to change their condition; it is up to the ally to better oneself in dealing with one’s friend.

What I am calling for in this piece is for someone in such an emotionally abusive relationship to step up and resist stigma. This may come in many forms: either a direct confrontation, or a passive disassociation ignoring invitations to go out or other messages from the abusive friend. While the former may seem to have more closure and dignity, I think the latter approach can be just as vital. An abusive friend may beg for forgiveness without feeling real remorse or change. I have found that there are many ways that an abuser can talk about forgiveness, and that all of them are wrong; it is only up to the person who is harmed to discuss forgiveness. If you feel that your friend has continually put you down and made you feel worse, there is little to forgive in this person.

For those suffering depression, having a stigmatizing friend is worse than having no close friends at all. It is a hard process to find friends who are actually supportive of fluctuating mood disorders, but it makes all the difference.

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returning to writing // a few ethical notes on questions of intentions, sacrifice

I’ve had a rough few weeks, and haven’t felt too comfortable expressing myself through my usual channels. Among other pressing issues, through an extremely invasive bout of eavesdropping, a member of my family found the cranky twitter account and took offense to things that I’ve said. This being the very same family member who has successfully stifled my voice and creative work in the past and helped shape me into the socially-anxious man I am today. So naturally, I’ve been very hesitant to write/tweet in the past weeks, or… I’ve been more deliberate in what I say. 

The point of the matter is, I am returning to writing. My lack of posts from the last couple weeks has not been from lack of ideas or inspiration, but a deep pit of depression and second-guessing myself. Iron Frau has pushed me to get back to it, so I will. I’m returning to writing unapologetically. 

*pulled from a productive day of sketching out a few notes, feedback encouraged*

Ethics can neither be reduced to the question of intentions nor consequences – or rather – intentions must be attentive to the consequences of actions in order to to see that they match the intended consequences of the actor. It doesn’t mean enough that a person meant the best of intentions despite having another effect in the world. One’s actions must be adaptive to fit any trouble between intentions and consequences. Best intentions too often go awry and harm others.

In the case of unfortunate consequences towards others that cannot be undone or rectified, a dialogue must happen between the actor and the wronged. While this may not be enough for the wronged parties, it is necessary that the actor looks directly into the harm caused despite even the best intentions. Only in looking at the scope of harm can one truly move on and develop a better ethics going forward. The lesson learned, even if it does not rectify the original situation of harm towards another, will ensure that the harm is not repeated again. 

However, the ethical actor’s investigation of harm that was caused cannot be a project of guilt. Guilt as it stands only further entrenches naive intentions. In guilt, one is further embroiled in a sense of paradoxical righteousness. – “I am doing this good deed for you for the harm I have caused/the sins of my predecessors” – “I apologize and carry good acts forward to make up for who I was in the past” – These are not purely moral propositions, but rather are transactions in order to clear a debt. These are payments off of a loan and while the consequences may match those of the right thing to do, this mentality begets a false humility and false piety. These are not good intentions, but the intentions of relieving oneself before the other.

Sacrifice and Love, Debt – Measuring action based upon that which one has sacrificed is a corrupt measurement system of one’s moral worth. Yes, one sacrifices much in love – but love cannot be measured in terms of sacrifice. One does not have the right in saying that one’s beloved is ungrateful for all that one has sacrificed ‘in love’. This is a bad faith account of love. The stakes to which one gives for love should be irrelevant to the measurement of love. One’s attempts to quantify that which has been given makes the sacrifice not for the sake of love, but for the sake of a transaction. – ” I am owed gratitude for what I have given you. I cannot believe that you are so ungrateful for all that I have sacrificed to you through the years.” – This is not the statement of real love/heartbreak, but of someone who feels cheated out of an investment.

This sort of ideal of reciprocal sacrifice/transaction seems to come to western society through Christianity, especially through the often-cited John 3:16. – How do we know that God loves us? – Because he sacrificed his only son to death and hellfire for us. The sacrifice of Christ is the ultimate form of love for western culture, yes, but the way in which we interpret it leads to a cruel limitation of love as a transaction/debt. The emphasis on John 3:16 in our culture (particularly American culture) gives our understanding of love a dark feeling of debt. It is touted as a reason to submit all to the Christian God. God gave us his only son; this gift must be recognized. That is the demand of John 3:16. This is a gift with conditions, we must be thankful for the time and sacrifice given within it. Whether asked for or not, the gift is given and demands gratitude. 

But this is perverse. – Such an emphasis on God’s sacrifice as the worth of his love to human being carries forward to offspring owing their parents indefinitely. The patronizing becomes the ultimate lover who deserves esteem and control over the patronized. Whether asked for it or not, the sacrifice itself outweighs its consequences or intentions. This is the perversity as it becomes the model of love as an economic transaction.

A sacrifice/gift is unasked for and by that fact it should have no pressing control over its recipient. But, the social stigma is that it does irrevocably have a purchase over the autonomy of the recipient.

If one measures life by only what one has sacrificed and what one has gained by these sacrifices, then this person is living resentfully and bitterly, unsure of actual love or human connection beyond the question of debt. The true, brutal fact is that no one can ever leverage what they “deserve”. -Or- more importantly no one deserves their lot in life. Many things are lucky privileges or unlucky downfalls that are outside of control. There is no earning anything in life, only moral luck. But of course – with all sacrifice one feels that one ought to be entitled to something better than that which was given up. This is petty and plays into the myth of ‘sustainable growth’.

Much of this boils down to the question of debt. What do we owe for our existence and genesis? What are we owed in our actions? These are the problems of ethics. The claim that there should be an incentive for ethical behavior is missing the point of ethics. One should not expect a direct incentive for doing the right thing, for that twists the intentions into vain and petty intentions. But the problem is that most of humanity needs incentives – they need this brutal petty mentality of being owed for their efforts – that inheritances are somehow earned through waiting and arriving at the right time.

One’s existential circumstances are undeserved. What one does with one’s circumstances is what matters. One’s interactions with others is what matters. One must be attentive to the realm of others to be ethical – not attuned to the possible incentives and rewards for doing well. 

More Grumblings on Niceties -or- My Life as a Recovering Nice Guy.

Last night I threw out a few claims about being nice, and I realize now in reflection that I missed the main crux of my frustrations (writing about feelings brings up feelings, who knew?). 

The bigger problem of niceties is that they are primarily motivated by a self-serving tit-for-tat economics. When one does nice things, one is often motivated by the hope (or rather, demand) that nice things will happen in return for them. This is the white misappropriation of Karma. If one is motivated solely “for the good Karma”, one is not truly intentionally doing good. This is a “I deserve good things for doing good things” mentality, and it is poisonous. Any time that one demands that one deserves something for previous nice acts, one is speaking from privilege. This privilege is that of what one is owed from a transaction.

But there is no calculus for being a good person. Stop plugging in variables and keeping up appearances. 

In their existence as a ‘karmic’ transaction, niceties have the structure of shallow play-acting. If one believes that one is doing the right thing just out of the motivation of good esteem (or as Kant puts it, ‘deserving of happiness’), then one is acting inauthentically. The motivation is something more along the lines of “I don’t actually feel that way, I just thought it would be a nice thing to do for you”. Being nice is a question of doing what looks good in front of others. It’s padding oneself with esteem from others so that one can feel better about oneself. Niceties fill the insecure void of feeling like a bad person. Niceties attempt to whitewash away the feeling of sin/guilt that a person accumulates in everyday life. 

The even more insidious and blunt and vile case study for this argumentation is the social phenomena of the “nice guy”. This has been widely written on by better thinkers than me, so I’m really just going to go for a quick description. A nice guy is the very prevalent figure of a man (yes, usually a man… it could presumably exist across gender lines, but the archetype is definitely a patriarchical one) who believes that the best way to prove sexual worth is to play nice with women. And here is where being nice turns into something vile. The transaction is mentally marked and noted by the nice guy. The nice guy tallies up all his favors that he’s done for the target (yes, target — this is still a form of objectivizing the other) in hopes that she’ll fall in love with him, or at least put out. Nice guys make for the most shallow of friends for women, since they hope beyond anything else for sex. Oftentimes, there’s a particular turning point in the friendship in which the nice guy reveals his tally: “I deserve sex with you, what about all the times I didn’t grope you when you were drunk?” — Yes, it gets that bad. There’s a broken and faulty logic that reduces women to simply a puzzle whose solution is gratuitous sex for being ‘such an awesome friend’. No.

This is not reductive to the male psyche alone; there are women out there who operate in this way, allowing for the transaction to dictate sexlife. But just because exceptions exist, does not morally clear nice guys from the abject awfulness of being nice guys.

The nice guy trope is also socially-accepted and reinforced, indoctrinating many to think that the way to a woman’s heart is by arbitrary tasks —- this is a videogame/sitcom/romcom mentality that my generation will always struggle with. 

And I do mean struggle:

I identify as a recovering nice guy. The language of addiction here is intentional. I grew up with horrid patriarchical views that I am trying so desperately to obliterate. But they return, again and again. My friends in middle school and high school reinforced this horrible mentality and it compounded over the years.

Thankfully in retrospect, despite my efforts, I never successfully niced my way into anyone’s pants in high school or middle school. There were some incidents, but never anything where I managed to bend consent. I say that this is a thankful thing because in retrospect, it would have been awful, and my more recent and better forays into feminism would have made me feel even more rotten and guilty than I already do. I can cop to being a failed nice guy. 

I did try the nice guy schtick a couple of times when I met the Iron Frau, but she shot that down fast. She’s the Iron Frau for a reason. No quarter given. Autonomy is her own whether I like it in the present moment or not.

But the nice guy mentality still haunts me. Good deeds are a trap. In doing them, I still feel that there are things that I deserve. If I take care of the Iron Frau when she is sick, or pick her up from work, I still have that nagging voice in my head that says “I will get sex out of this because I am so awesome.” No, if we have sex, it is unrelated to any good deeds that I have done; it is up to the Iron Frau and what she desires herself. Stop being an idiot, Cranky. The motivation instead should be out of love, out of kindness, out of doing the damned right thing whether or not the consequences are going to be sexy.

No one deserves sex. Anyone who demands some sort of compensation for doing the right thing is not rightfully doing the right thing. They are motivated by something selfish, petty, and inauthentic. 

Your niceties won’t redeem you.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: Iron Frau edited and approved her mentions in this post**

On Nice and Kind

I’ve intimated this before, but feel that this needs a better outlining here…

There is a vast, ethically-crucial divide between being nice and being kind. In my work and figuring, nice is morally deplorable and kindness is the only true moral position but is not incompatible with being mean (I shall explain the difference between mean/cruel some other time).

Being nice is the combination of doing what tradition tells you is the right thing to do as well as what you would want in the exact same situation. The Golden Rule or the Categorical Imperative are both formulations of niceties. This is pervasive. This is considered the right thing to do. One feels the necessity out of being nice to do for others what one would want in the same situation. Niceness is motivated by compassion, a sympathy in which one reappropriates the pain of others as one’s own. I see your pain, and I do what I would imagine I’d want if I had that.

From the outset, such a position seems to be such a perfect one for the position of ethics. However, the “Do unto Others” maxim misses the mark to often to truly be ethically sound. Niceties don’t focus on the other as other before me, just who I want the other to be. Being nice is projecting. I don’t really give the other person a chance to be his/her own person, but instead am contorting their pain or suffering into my own form and understanding. The cruelest things that have happened to me in recent memory were done with the nicest of intentions. Niceties hurt since they don’t take the other in direct consideration, but instead as a secondary consideration to one’s own navel-gazing.

Compassion does not work well.   It makes a bold claim about pain or the experience of others from the point of privilege. False allies are motivated by compassion and niceties. Compassion is a dominant voice over the voice of the marginalized. Advocating without paying attention to the advocated. Compassion is a patronizing control over the other person. “Oh, I didn’t think you could do it alone, so I stepped in…. Oh, you still can’t do it.”… and so on.

Instead, the aim should be kindness. This, by my formulation of it, is directly dependent upon an empathetic understanding of others that one wants to help. It is first necessary to understand the other as best as possible. Listen to the other give an account of his or her pain or suffering directly. Don’t reduce the other’s experience to your own selfish experience. Instead let others speak for themselves. Kindness then follows from what the other needs, not what you think [hope] they need.

Niceties dictate. Kindness listens. Kindness is harder than being nice, but worth the effort. It allows for a more open dialogue in understanding between people.

 

More on this some other time.