I started to read a book called “Boundaries” a couple of months ago. I had bought it a long time before that, but I hadn’t read it. I was nervous because I have talked to several people who were very callous and used this book as their excuse, but I have also talked to others who say it changed their life. Now that I’m actively reading it, although slowly, I have to say I understand why.
“Boundaries” is simultaneously comforting and terrifying for me. Te first time I read it, I had a legit panic attack that I am such a worthless human being who does nothing but take from others and I have nothing to give and I don’t deserve to live. That’s dramatic, but honestly, it was kind of dramatic. I got so lost in the way they break down how much help to take and not take, and grew terrified that I take too much, or not enough, and I talk about my problems too much but not in the right way, etc, etc, etc.
The basic thesis of the book is that it is ok to set boundaries, and say “No” to someone who violates them. It gives Biblical support for that which is incredibly necessary for Christians especially who are taught to “Give until it hurts.” It was comforting in some ways to hear that I don’t have to just always give in, and it’s ok to take care of my needs too. I needed that. However, it is a hard time for me to be reading the book, because I hate needing help, and I am in a season on life where it seems like no matter how hard I try not to, I need more and more of it.
My senior year in college, I went through what I now know must have been an incredibly severe period of depression. I had nightmares, a weird kind of sleep paralysis, anxiety, thoughts of worthlessness, and at the same time, I lost many of my friends to a crazy whirlwind of drama. Meanwhile, I was writing my thesis about Hell, so that was great. Every time I tried to talk to anyone about what was going on, it seemed like they would stop talking to me. I had very few friends left by the end, and I still treasure every single one of them for sticking with me.
One Sunday, at a household meeting(for those who don’t know, households are a religious version of a sorority, basically) I broke down. I started sobbing in the middle of the meeting(and I was leading it so that was bad.) I ran out of the meeting and collapsed in tears on the floor. No, I don’t know why I broke down on the floor instead of the perfectly good bed next to me. Maybe the cold felt good on my body, sad people do weird things. Minutes later, a couple of my sisters came in and they listened to my story. Really listened. They heard out what was happening throughout my year. I will never forget what one of them said.
“Why didn’t you tell us?”
I will never forget that, because I DID. I told them, over and over and over again. I tried my hardest, but I couldn’t get across what was happening. I couldn’t express the magnitude of what was going on in a five minute conversation, and I was paralyzed by the feeling that they were done with me because I was talking about my hard time.
This book has brought that feeling back to me over and over again in the last few months. I will read one page and feel like a monster for talking about my feelings, while the next page, I feel like maybe I need to be better about sharing them. I just keep thinking about that moment, I felt so alone, and even though I had tried to tell them, no one knew.
I think this is a problem for mental health issues. People get annoyed if others “complain too much,” or are “Debbie-downers” or “sad all the time,” and I get it! It is so hard to be happy when you are around others who are not. There is even self-help advice to stay away from these people, and murky psychological articles accusing them of being narcissists, or energy vampires. Of course, I am not saying these people do not exist, but I do think that people who are genuinely struggling may sometimes look the same as a narcissist or energy vampire or just a downer. What happens though, when someone is just genuinely having a hard time for a long period of time? What if someone is just grieving and they aren’t feeling better yet?
The point of the book isn’t just about talking about feelings, but it is an example of the things that has been hardest for me. The author uses two images to demonstrate when to ask for help and when not to. It’s ok to ask for help when you are carrying a large boulder, but when it is just a backpack, you can carry that yourself-the backpack symbolizes daily struggles. What happens though, when the daily struggles feel like a boulder, like they do with depression/anxiety/grief/whatever?
How do we decide when someone is upset “too often” or “too long” or “too much” or “too upset?” How does someone struggling with this know when they are upset too long/too much/too often/too upset? I had a huge wake up call to this a couple weeks ago when I took a hormone balancing medicine and all of a sudden the whole world was a different place. I spoke with hope, I believed in things again, I was able to focus on other people. Unfortunately, the medicine had tons of side effects, so my search for something better continues, but it was literally a night and day difference. I felt like someone had taken a blindfold off of me. How does someone in that kind of fog for any reason figure out how much upset-ness is too much for everyone around them, and yet still express how bad what is going on is?
So, I struggle with this book. I really do. I know, and appreciate, what it’s trying to do, but I also know what it feels like to be told everything is ok and you need to handle it yourself when you are screaming out and begging for help. I also know what it feels like to swallow pain so hard you think you will die from it, and that is a dangerous mess I refuse to start up again.
I guess what I’m saying is, if you struggle with depression/anxiety/grief/sadness, please don’t hold it in because you are afraid no one wants to hear it. Even if some people don’t, some do, and you may not know who they are, so keep going until you find them. If you know someone who is struggling, please be patient with them. You may not know how bad what they are going through really is, and you may not know how badly they want to fix it.