I have won the support network lottery. My family, friends, and partner are some the most understanding and loving people you could ever hope to meet. However, despite all my years of talking and writing about my mental health issues (and yeah, some totally unrelated flotsam and jetsam), I still find it hard to verbalize my woes, or to reveal the specifics of my struggle. Part of that is the fear that talking about it will actually exacerbate the problems, and the other part is that I will alienate, upset, or worry my loved ones to the point where they become depressed, guilty, angry, or anxious.
So, when I do have to get real with people and really get my share on, I try to imagine that first I’m having the conversation with a compassionate figure, who won’t judge me or have any undesirable reaction. The traditional compassionate figures are Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary (is ‘Virgin’ capitalized there, btw?), or the Buddha, but since my spirituality is complex and religion is polarizing, I have chosen Ben Affleck. This is not the literal Ben Affleck, but a composite of the performances I have enjoyed, what I imagine he would be like as a director and writer, and his role as co-founder of the Eastern Congo Initiative, because I love his humanitarian work and political activism.
I know it sounds random, but Ryan Gosling is firmly out of my league and I think it would be hard for me to think about myself when staring into his dreamy eyes.
So, I imagine that we’re just hanging out and he has just agreed to do the film adaptation of my (soon to be written) novel, which he loves. I think about the worst of my symptoms, fears, and struggles. I don’t self-edit or make judgments, I just write it all out, no matter how silly it seems.
Here’s what our convo is like (where Me is, well, me, and Imaginary Ben is “IBA”):
Me: Hey Ben
IBA: Hey Michelle. I’m so excited to be working on your film. I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but you are every bit as pretty as you are talented.
Me: Don’t be fooled, Ben, it’s real hard work.
IBA: So how are you feeling?
Me: Well, I have this ever-present, all encompassing sense of dread that I don’t know how to manage.
IBA: That sounds rough, Boo. Is it about anything specific?
Me: No, Ben. It just feels like if I don’t follow a very specific set of guidelines, the world will literally end and I will fall into a never-ending state of abject terror.
IBA: What do you mean by guidelines?
Me: Well, sometimes the guidelines are helpful things like “Don’t eat staples” but most of the time they are things like, “If you wear yellow, your car will break down”
IBA: Damn, Girl. That sounds awful. Why don’t you tell your friends and family?
Me: Because it’s easier to sort of complain about things in the abstract and sulk than it is to try to describe the soul-crushing dread I feel when trying to choose between two identical sandwiches in the ready-made section at Whole Foods. I’m scared that they will feel scared, hurt, or frustrated.
IBA: It sounds like you are in a lot of pain. I’m sure your friends and family just want to support you. It may be hard for them to hear and understand at first, but you have to give them a chance.
Me: I guess you’re right.
IBA: No problem.
Then we hug, obviously, and I feel much better.
Let me know if this works for you, even just as an exercise. As always, consult with your therapist or healthcare professional before choosing an imaginary friend.
Be well and happy!