How to Handle People When You Cannot Handle People
April 21, 2014 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Seeking coping strategies for dealing with the public on small and large scales during a major depressive episode. My old ways of dealing with a deep low like this are not compatible with the life I've built since the last time this happened, and I would like to keep that life together.

Here's the basic situation: I've been dealing with some pretty severe depression for most of my life. The past few years have been one of my longest stretches without a major episode and in that time, I've been making my living in a way that demands pretty intense engagement with the public. I'm an actor, a comedian, a promoter and a reporter - there's barely a dollar I make without engaging with the public in some way.

I got into counseling right away when some personal setbacks set me spiraling the way I used to. I've been here before, the condition runs in my family and I know what it feels like when depression pulls the point out of anything and everything. I've likened it to an athlete who knows he has a knee injury in the past - he knows what it feels like when his trick knee needs some rehab; I know what it feels like when my trick brain needs some care beyond me just tanking through things.

Regenerating my Social Hit Points is really difficult right now. All I really want to do during a low is disengage from the world completely, hide in my room, watch superhero shows and cry a bunch. Eventually, I remember music exists and then the working out again starts to happen, then I start to remember there's a point to life and that mine's actually pretty fucking rad when I can stay out of my own way. But I'm not there yet and my professional obligations don't really leave me with a lot of time to get there in my own time. Dealing with the public is usually extremely easy for me; that's why so much of my work revolves around it. But lately, it's a huge problem.

I've got an appointment with my counselor near the end of the week and we'll be covering some of this problem but between now and then, I've got rehearsals to go to, kids' shows to do, other shows to put up posters for (that is, repeatedly going into strangers' spaces and asking for a favor gaaaaaaah) and interviews to conduct. This episode is already screwing with my work: I barely got my last interview done / article filed in time, I spaced rehearsal completely this morning, gave a shitty performance last Monday and a mediocre one Friday, haven't been to open mic in weeks and am way behind on promoting anything. It won't always be this way but thinking about talking to anyone right now makes me want to shut down and vanish.

Dr. Google doesn't really have much to offer me about this. I know my usual way out of an episode but my new life doesn't really work with my old coping strategies and I want this life to still be intact when I begin to recover. I hoping that this might sound familiar to some nodes of the hivemind, that some of you may have figured out good ways to handle the public (like, sometimes a whole lot of the public) when the idea of being seen by anyone or having to process hu-mon language sounds impossible, makes you wish you could teleport back into your sweat pants in the blink of an eye.

My counselor and I are gonna figure out how to handle this long term. I need to handle the rest of this week first though. Any ideas are appreciated.
posted by EatTheWeak to Human Relations (14 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
The good news is your depression is lying when it tells you your life won't survive an "off" couple weeks. You'll be fine. Your life will be there.

the idea of being seen by anyone or having to process hu-mon language sounds impossible, makes you wish you could teleport back into your sweat pants in the blink of an eye.

You just described the entirety of my life. None of my depressive episodes has ever had the good grace to turn up during my time off, so I've just had to muscle through each and every one. What you gotta do is just keep showing up. Half-ass it if you've gotta, but keep on showing up. Your reward is that every night (or however your schedule has it), you get to watch superhero shows and cry and feel no guilt whatsoever, man, because that's your medicine.

But first. Every day. Show up. With at least half your ass.

I've got rehearsals to go to, kids' shows to do, other shows to put up posters for (that is, repeatedly going into strangers' spaces and asking for a favor gaaaaaaah) and interviews to conduct.

Go to rehearsals. Go to the kids' shows. Put em ALL in your phone now, with an annoying alarm reminder, so you can't space 'em. Get a friend to put up your posters (yes, still a favor, but asking a friend for a favor is a little less horrifying than asking a stranger. UGH street teaming is the worst thing in the WORLD.)

haven't been to open mic in weeks and am way behind on promoting anything.

If a handful of missed open mics could derail a lifetime, nobody would know who Marc Maron is. Don't sweat it. If you can afford it: Instead of going out and stumping yourself, throw money at the problem: buy some cheapie promo time on podcasts (MaximumFun charges a pretty low rate for personal plugs, as I recall...), and let other people promote you.

But mostly, above all, remember that the "oh god all destroyed never recover" feeling is depression, lying to you, like it does. Feel free to give that lie both middle fingers with a vengeance.
posted by like_a_friend at 3:56 PM on April 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Tell some friends and colleagues. Tell them you're going through a rough patch and need some gentle shoving to avoid isolating yourself, so could they please nag you about rehearsal and drag you out for meals (or show up with food at your place) and that kind of thing. You already seem to know that your particular depression really wants you isolated; don't let it shame you into obeying it.
posted by rtha at 4:09 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

One approach:

What are the things you have to do that you can get away with doing half-assed until you feel better?
What are the things you have to do that you have to do a good job at that you can put off until you feel better?
What are the things that you can't blow-off until you feel better?
What are the things that you can blow-off until you feel better?
What are the things that are hardest for you to manage now? Easiest (relatively speaking)?

These aren't all mutually exclusive, or all inclusive, but trying to get a handle on things from this perspective could make it easier for you to figure out how to get through this as best you can. You'll probably end up with a few things that seem impossible, which could make things seem even bleaker, or might lead you to say "fuck-it, I can only do what I can do."

To help get you started: My guess is that going to an open mic is one of those things that you can either do half-assed (everyone has off nights), or put off until you feel better (because really, either people aren't sitting around waiting for you to show up, or they are, and your cachet will be higher if they can't take you for granted). Promoting stuff probably looks similar, unless you have external commitments/deadlines you have to hit.

Progress in most things rests less on how many setbacks and full-stops you hit, but that, in the long run, you keep pushing forward.
posted by Good Brain at 4:13 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Spring is actually a weird time for a lot of people with depression and mood swings. You've been through winter, your body has been fighting off winter viruses (and lack of sun light), and then you get the allergy season.

I personally pump up my Vitamin D and B complex, but if you are on meds, you may want to look into seasonal changes, not just winter SAD stuff. It could be that your brain doesn't like Spring or other changes. I get really funked out in the Fall and I bought a light box and it seemed to help, and I also upped my D to 10,000 a day. But if you are on psych meds, maybe some adjustment at the seasonal changes might help?

Things that help me are someone who I can vent to when I am particularly down, because I know it will go away. Making a list and sticking to it. Once I get 3 things done on my list, I can either move on or say, fuck it, I've had enough for one day.

Splashing the face with cold water seems to help. But you really need a support system as well, friends or family? Depression is some lonely ass shit. If you can't shit, shower and shave, that should be your marker to really see a psych med dr. If you can do the three S's, you can make that list and power through, with some crying and venting situations, as long as you don't carry those on all day.

Honestly, I think it depends on the cause, is it brain or vitamin or situation or what? Or a trifecta combination? If you're that overwhelmed, do you need to talk to someone before your counseling appointment for reassurance, or are you truly at the edge? If so, call the nurse helpline and see what they say, or a friend or family and see if you can talk your way through it.

Wishing you all the best and some {{{hugs}}} in case you need 'em.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 4:28 PM on April 21, 2014

If you haven't listened to the Mental Illness Happy Hour podcast, I really recommend it! A stand-up comedian interviewing his friends about the link between creativity and depression -- what is there not to like? Seriously, listening to that has gotten me through some rough patches and I always feel more hopeful afterwards.
posted by selfmedicating at 5:01 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Rest on your hu-mon abilities a bit! Going around to put posters in windows is one of the more rinse-repeat automatable tasks on your list: "Hi, I'm in this show and was wondering if I could put this beautiful poster in your window for a few weeks." Rinse, repeat. Maybe approaching it this way can free up some mind space for dealing with the other stuff, rising tide style.
posted by rhizome at 5:06 PM on April 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

The tips above about prioritizing are right on. Be your own best ally in figuring out what is the bare minimum you need to do now so you can focus the rest of your time on feeling better.

Also, try embracing work as a refuge. I don't know about you, but in my years working as a waitress, I found that "fake it until you make it" mostly works for me. After 30 minutes of walking around with a fake smile on, it starts to feel a bit less fake. I felt less down during the hours at work than my hours at home alone.

Also, try doing all of this in a hypothetical way. What would I say now if I were my normal self? How would [specific confident person] handle this? Honor your current feelings while not letting them dictate your every interaction with the world.
posted by salvia at 5:44 PM on April 21, 2014

In short, try to create a caring and supportive internal persona who can understand your current limitations, triage work accordingly, create as much space as possible for self-care, and encourage you to muster your best self (or fake cheer) when it is most necessary.
posted by salvia at 5:52 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Give yourself time to walk for 10-20 minutes to get light/air before and after your events. Suck in as many sensual and aesthetic inputs as you can, whenever possible. Let yourself blank out and just perceive and physically feel. Close your eyes in the sun for a minute, before you walk - feel it on your face and hands. Observe patterns, in crowds, flocks of birds, trees. Give yourself 30 minutes for a good cup of coffee where you know the staff are really nice.

Whenever you can put yourself in a place of receiving and letting the other interlocutor do the work, do it. You don't have to be on and selling all the time, even when you're selling. Listening (even the appearance of listening) will still give people a positive impression. Give them your eyes and let them go on (e.g. for postering - ask how people are doing, let them talk, tack the request on at the end). Save your 'on' energy for performances and rehearsals. If some of the shows you're doing are stand-up (vs plays), use your most familiar/handy material.
posted by cotton dress sock at 6:31 PM on April 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I think if you didn't worry about feeling bad about the way you feel and the way you feel about yourself, it would be easier to talk to people. Otherwise, I say just fake it till you make it for the next week.
posted by defmute at 8:30 PM on April 21, 2014

Like you, I've been dealing with depression for nearly my entire life, and when I'm feeling depressed, I feel like People are an insurmountable and scary thing. I also work in customer service! And have for nearly a decade. I have to approach and engage strangers in conversation 100+ times a day, even when I am feeling like "what the fuck am I even doing out of bed and who authorized me ever interacting with other humans, this can only end in disaster and probably me crying and other humans thinking I am an idiot."

So I can tell you what has worked for me, but I do find it kind of challenging to articulate.

What I do is I try to take my... self out of every interaction I have. I do this by making everything about what is going on around me, and the person I'm talking to. Like, I try to forget my identity and any thoughts I'm having or have ever had about who I am, and just focus on what and who is outside of that. I don't have to think about anything else. It might sound like I'm trying to stifle my personality or something, but I don't think that's what's going on. It's actually incredibly freeing to absolutely take your own intentions and motivations out of a scenario. When I'm feeling like this, I find it (yes, seriously) helps to wear black or neutral colors and dress as simply as possible. You just try to fade into the background of everyday existence.

This might be especially suited for customer service, as that is what most customers are looking for: a pleasant, unobtrusive body to help them with their whatever, but I think it could help in taking steps toward being able to People when you feel you can't.
posted by moons in june at 10:26 PM on April 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

The priorities do sound helpful. Write them down so that that way if you are later further into the depression, you have something concrete that was written down at a time when you weren't (or were less) depressed, so you can't do that depression exaggeration thing.

I do a lot of self-talk to get through these kinds of things. It's not exactly that I pretend I'm different people in my head, but more that I exaggerate different aspects of myself. So one bit will be moaning about how much I don't want to get up and go to work, and another bit will say "but if you get up you can have peanut butter toast for breakfast," or something - sort of gently coach and encourage the bit that doesn't want to do anything except stay in bed. Pay attention to the things that particularly exhaust you and come up with things that you can do to mitigate the exhaustion. For example, when I have to work a 7.5 hour shift, which is exhausting even on a good day because I'm an introvert, I make sure I am organised and bring my lunch so that I can eat alone in peace and quiet and don't have to go deal with more people on my precious break time.

Make your plans: all I have to do is get through this rehearsal and then I can go home and get in my trackies and cry in front of the television with a litre of ice cream. 6 more posters to put up and then I can get back in the car and crank up Nine Inch Nails really loud while I drive home. (Or whatever.) As for the getting through part, slap on the mask, assume the persona of the role you need to fulfill and just act like it's you. You can do it.
posted by Athanassiel at 2:39 AM on April 22, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sorry you're in the shit right now.

Something that's helped me is being able to say, "I have a life-threatening relapsing/remitting illness. It's flaring right now, and I won't be at my best for the next month." Big green X through every day on the calendar.

It's ok to be sick, especially if you can balance your priorities as Good Brain suggests.
posted by Jesse the K at 1:55 PM on April 22, 2014

This might be a bit corny, but when I need to psych myself up to do something that's really hard because my anxiety and/or depression is kicking my ass, I'll pretend I'm a fictional character I admire who would be able to do it and use that to get a tiny bit of extra energy or boost. If I have a little way to dress a little like them, I do that. But then I think about it and try to hold myself a bit more like them. I usually do this with video game characters (Commander Shepard works best for me) but YMMV on what to use.

Good luck, and hugs.
posted by NoraReed at 5:57 PM on April 28, 2014

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