The talking cure

17 Sep

I’m having a rough time—with leaving Berkeley, with adjusting to a new home, with not knowing exactly what I’m doing next. I know these are all normal things to feel anxiety about—as opposed to my fear that spiders might lay eggs in my face—but it’s still not a pleasant sensation. Over the past few (several) years, I’ve learned various techniques to deal with depression and anxiety. Some of them even work! The one thing I can’t stop doing, whether it works or not, is talking about it.

Thanks a lot, cognitive behavioral therapy. I mean, I’m not sure it’s a bad thing: talking it out is a lot healthier than repressing it into an ulcer. (Not that the two are mutually exclusive!) Experience indicates that the only way to get past my problems is to talk about them. But there’s a difference between sharing with a medical professional and airing all one’s dirty laundry on the internet. None of the strangers who read my blog or Twitter feed really need to know that I feel like sleeping all day. But that doesn’t stop me from telling them.

I know this isn’t just a “me” problem. I come from a generation of overshare: we’ve been given so many outlets to talk about ourselves, and we’ve been encouraged to let our feelings out. When I was in high school, I at least had the decency to camouflage it in vague LiveJournal posts with Dashboard Confessional lyrics, but now we all spell it out. Is “TMI” even a thing anymore? I’ve definitely been shut up while telling a boring story, but I can’t remember the last time someone didn’t want to know an embarrassing personal detail. Are you kidding? We live for that shit.

Talking too much about our problems still seems preferable to not talking about them at all. As much as I cringe at the way the “it gets better” campaign was co-opted—most recently by The CW’s absurd H8R—I appreciate the fact that people are talking about and responding to bullying. There was a time when being picked on meant being picked on. You accepted it as a fact of life, and you didn’t tattle. Do people even say “tattle” anymore? Probably not. Either because the concept is outdated, or because there’s some new street slang I’m not aware of. I’ll just wait for one of my hipper friends to enlighten me.

But what do we expect when we talk about our issues? Bullying requires intervention, but what are you going to do about my anxiety? Maybe nothing. Maybe just listening helps. And, speaking for myself, I think it’s more about talking than it is about anyone responding. I don’t expect you to hug me while whispering platitudes in my ear, or to offer me a handful of Klonopin. I just feel better when I write. If I can take a genuine feeling of moroseness and transform it into a mildly entertaining tweet, at least I’ve produced something. And maybe I can smile a bit at how lame I’m being. Besides, wallowing is more fun when you drag someone else into it.

I guess my fear is that you might take my words as, at worst, a cry for help, and at best, fishing for compliments. When I say I spent the whole day feeling like I was walking through the Swamps of Sadness, I’m not asking you to make a therapy appointment on my behalf, or even to tell me I’m too nice a guy to feel that down. (Note: no one has ever said this.) And I will concede that there are people I turn to for pep talks and occasional adoration, but I tend to be more direct about that. When I put it all out there for a wider audience, I don’t have ulterior motives. Sometimes a self-deprecating joke is just a self-deprecating joke.

And what about when I’m being serious? You know, like right now. Why do I talk about my need to talk it out? It’s partly a form of (free) therapy, as I said, but I’d like to think there’s more to it than that. Sometimes I share because I want someone else to relate. If you know I feel shitty and I know you feel shitty, maybe we both feel a little less shitty. Or not—I don’t know your life. But I can’t be the only one comforted by the thrill of shared experience. I like the idea that someone can read what I write, or listen to what I say, and think, “Yeah, I totally get that.” Even if that thought is immediately followed by, “Good thing I’m not enough of a self-involved tool to blab about it on the internet.”

Which is all to say, I think I feel better after writing this, so I’ll stop. But I could go on. Believe me, I could go on.

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