The on-going explorations of a polyamorous pansexual man

October 22, 2020 / by Michael

Reaching Out For Help

We live in pretty stressful times. Our modern society was already pretty stressful. But now we add in a pandemic and social distancing rules and unemployment and birthdays being canceled. Remember when we didn’t have to weigh the risk of visiting a parent? When you didn’t have to feel guilty for hugging a friend? It’s been a rough year and that is made even harder because all of us feel more isolated.

I’ve worked through a lot of depression in my life and recent events have definitely brought up a lot of those same feelings and behaviors. In particular, when I’m stressed or depressed, I tend to not want to reach out to my loved ones for support, despite the fact that I know that’s one of the best things I can do for myself.

What Prevents Me From Reaching Out?

I had a really hard couple of days recently and I had a really good discussion with my therapist about support networks. I wanted to identify why—especially when I’m not in a good place—I hesitate to reach out to those that love me and would want to be there for me. Logically I know it’s what I should do, but in the moment I usually don’t do it.

I imagined being in a situation where I had a really bad day and needed someone to hold space for me. I imagined picking up the phone to call them and then I paused my mental exercise. What emotions am I feeling? What things are tugging at me not to reach out? I would identify something, write it down, then repeat the exercise. Is that everything? What else is causing me not to reach out?

I felt there were three things that were preventing me from reaching out:

  • I feel I don’t deserve it. When I feel the need to reach out I think of all the things I feel I’m not doing good enough in that relationship which makes me think I don’t deserve to ask for help. I feel like I’m a bother or a burden.
  • I want to impress people. Especially people I’m dating or those I respect or admire (and I tend to hang around people that I respect and admire a lot). It’s probably because I want to seem like I have my shit figured out and a part of me still thinks that needing help is a weakness.
  • The last one, I don’t fully understand yet but there is some kind of allure to the strife? Like as I imagined asking someone for help, there was a part of me that was disappointed that the suffering would end. This is something I need to do more processing on.

Counter the Negative with Positive

What things are preventing you from reaching out when you need help? Identify them. Write them down. What do those things tell you about what you believe about yourself?

For example, I realized that I thought:

Because I feel like I’m not a good friend, I don’t deserve to ask for help.

So I wrote down a positive thought that counters that negative thought.

I am a great friend and I show up for the people I love and they show up for me.

Now, it was hard to believe that at first. My inner critic was screaming “But you aren’t a great friend! And I have a whole list of reasons why you aren’t!” Some of which are true. I’m not a perfect friend to everyone all of the time, so of course there will be “proof” that I can throw in my own face of my own shortcomings.

But here is the mind fuck: It’s easier to do something when you are telling yourself you are good at it. Just like it’s easier to accomplish a hard task when your friends are cheering you on, it’s harder when people are actively tearing you down. And that includes yourself. It’s okay if you aren’t perfect (honestly, who is?), in fact it’s okay if you are kinda bad at it at first.

Imagine that you allow negative thoughts to fester in your mind like “I’m a bad friend. I don’t text Mary often enough and we haven’t seen each other in weeks. She probably thinks I don’t care about her.” When Mary pops into your head or you need a friend to lean on it’s easy to convince yourself that you shouldn’t reach out because you are a bad friend. So you don’t. And now your brain has even more evidence that you are a bad friend so next time you want to reach out it will be even harder. It sucks. Believe me, I’ve been there.

Now imagine if instead you woke up and said to yourself every morning “I’m a great friend and I show up for the people I love and they show up for me”. Maybe you don’t believe it at first, but you keep repeating it. Then when your friend Mary pops into your head, you shoot her a text or a call and tell her you are thinking about her, because that’s what someone who shows up for the people they love would do. The two of you catch up and make plans to hang out next week. Guess what? You are doing it! You are showing up for people and building those friendships.

If your goal is to be a better friend you will have better results if you are encouraging yourself and telling yourself you are a good friend.

Prepare for Battle

I think another important lesson I’ve learned about breaking this kind of depression and loneliness cycle is preparing for battle. Like an athlete practices the plays before the game or a musician spends weeks practicing before the performance.

If you are like me, then really hard depression days are just a given. They are going to happen. I have found that I can hone those skills by working on building those relationships and replacing my negative self talk with positive self talk before the moment where I am feeling completely paralyzed by loneliness or depression.

As we practice reaching out to our friends and practice positive self talk, we get better at it, just like practicing an instrument. Then when it’s time to perform, we know exactly what to do. It’s muscle memory.

Change Follows Intention

I’ve heard this approach called “Fake it till you make it”. I don’t like that phrasing because it carries a negative connotation of being deceptive, that you are faking your friendship. Instead, I prefer to act with intention. If you want to be a good friend, tell yourself that you are a good friend. Write it down on your mirror. Repeat it each day. Start believing it is something that you are. Your actions will start to follow your intention, which makes it easier to believe and then easier to do. That’s the power of intention.

Identify the negative stories you are telling yourself, then replace the negative with positive. Repeat those to yourself every day until you believe it. Be intentional.

Reach out. You are not alone. Seeking help is strength in action. You’ve got this!