Positivity Triggers Negativity

What do you do when others’ positivity triggers your negativity? More specifically, when their efforts to encourage the positivity of others and when others are positive toward you.

A few years ago, I talked to my therapist about my feelings regarding my birthday. I don’t like to celebrate it — not with parties or anything. Yes, getting cards from my immediate family and a few friends is fine, and yes, going out and doing something with my partners and my daughter can be fun, but the more I think about the storm of birthday notifications on social networks, the more panicky I get. I combat it by shutting off my Facebook wall around my birthday, but some of my friends and family go around it by sending Facebook messages instead. Most of them send the exact same message every year, right down to the punctuation. I’m still trying to figure out how my acquaintances — distant cousins, people I knew back in college — even remember the day, given that I set my birthday to private.

What really sucks is that even when it’s people I care deeply about — like one of my closest friends from high school, who once sent me a message a week early (she always gets the date wrong). She said some really sweet things, and I just felt worse and worse the more she said.

And it’s worse when I think about actual humans — including my family — calling me and making me talk for 5-10 minutes in the guise of them “thinking about me”. Look, you already sent a card; do I really need to be forced to be on the phone with you too?

I’m pretty sure this is due to my social anxiety. I’ve had it all my life to some degree, but I can count two times when it was the worst it’s ever been.

The first was in 2003, when I was supposed to be DJing a kink convention party but everyone kept complaining about the music I chose (retro-progressive). Eventually I turned my computer over to a fellow event organizer and went up to my hotel room. I stuck one of my straps between my teeth, threw myself on the bed, and screamed. Eventually I overcame it and went back downstairs, and one of my friends from my group pulled me aside and told me to take out my feelings on her ass. That did help a little, and she enjoyed it, but it wasn’t until later in the evening, when about eight of us were hanging out in my room, casually and lightly playing while talking, that I started to feel better.

The second was in 2015, and it completely blindsided me. I was at my department’s office holiday gathering at a local driving range. I was there for about an hour, and I’d talked to a couple of my friends, but after our VP gave her speech and said the food would be out in a few minutes I had what I think was a combined panic attack and depressive episode. I walked upstairs, out of the building, and to my car. I texted my boss and told him that I was having a depressive episode (he was aware of my depression; I don’t hide it and I’m not ashamed of it) and had to leave. He said he hoped I felt better. I appreciated that. I worked from home the next day, and the day after I was back at work and back to some degree of normal.

That episode, by the way, is what led me to pursue antidepressants (via my doctor) and therapy. If your company offers EAP, use it; I got eight therapy sessions for “free” — my company picked up the bill, no questions asked.

All of that backstory exists to explain why I have so much trouble when others are positive toward me. I can’t take compliments because I don’t know what to do, and saying “thanks” feels like I’m being lame. I don’t like being told I’m doing a good job for the same reason. I guess because I’ve always been the person giving the compliments, and haven’t been the person who receives them from the people I want to (referring specifically to people in my past that I’ve wanted to be friends with, or had romantic interest in), I never expected anyone to say anything nice about me. Sure, my family did, and I know they mean it, but when you’re a kid and you have a supportive family, in your mind you come to expect that. It was outside the house, though, where I was always shunned, always left out of the circles I wanted to be in, that built this up inside of me.

Being in a marriage that was awful for the last 75 percent of it probably didn’t help either.

So that’s why I don’t want people to observe my birthday in a public way, and why I don’t want them to call me, either. I think cards are often a waste of money, but my family is old-fashioned. I told my boss not to observe my birthday in any way, and to pass it around to the other managers on our team. I told my team’s administrative assistant the same thing. I say it every year on Facebook.

I don’t need other people’s positivity making me feel negative.

As a person living with both depression and double-depression, I feel like it’s “right” for me to be a little depressed all the time — that’s where my normal is. The drugs don’t change that. They’ve cut down the frequency of my depressive episodes, and they’ve made it easier to deal with the feelings that cause them, but I still have those feelings and I’m still a little “down” all the time. You see it in the way I casually interact with people who say “hi, how are you?” to me. Usually I go with “still human”, although one day the cashier at the work cafeteria said that and, in the happiest tone I could fake, I said, “I’m terrible, thanks very much.” It threw her off her game enough for me to escape (after paying; I didn’t just drop my food and run).

This is why I tend to sit quietly at my desk and only talk to my work friends when I absolutely have to. And those are my friends. Imagine what I’m like with everyone else.

The same thing happens on Facebook and Twitter. People post positive things, and each one chips away at my “normal” depressed state until a vein of “depressive episode” is revealed. But like so many others in my situation, once there’s a wound, I keep picking at it.

When I was first diagnosed, I thought I could deal with it. I didn’t think it was that bad. For a long time I actually thought it was cyclothymia because I had “productive” periods that I thought were on the manic end of the scale. But productivity and mania aren’t always the same thing, and I guess they’re not in me. In the past year I’ve come to terms with how I feel. I’m not happy about it, but I accept that it’s who I am and how I am.

I just wish that I could share in what other people get out of positive words and imagery. I wish that others’ positivity didn’t trigger my negativity. And some days I wish that I wasn’t on antidepressants, because there’s little worse than poking at a place that’s supposed to hurt and only feeling numbness instead. My therapist said that that’s normal with the drugs I’m on, and we’ve worked to find ways for me to deal with that situation (and they work, kind of), but sometimes I just want it to hurt.

At least then, when it stopped hurting, I might feel positive for a little while.

(This post first appeared on my personal Fetlife in 2016.)

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