It was a relatively normal summer Friday at the store. Meaning the smaller initial rush at opening, another bit of a rush about an hour later. A bit of a lull and then a slower build up to and through lunch and then a slight taper down towards mid-afternoon. I was doing relatively well, in all regards. I had moments of irritability (and I mean unjustified, or overblown for the circumstance) and moments of surprisingly dark thoughts (the kind I have managed to keep under control), but as a whole it was a good day. I was energetic, in good spirits, I was enjoying my day and my job.
But then it happened. It was close to noon, but the time doesn’t really matter. In fact, I didn’t even realize what had happened until about an hour later. What happened wasn’t necessarily that bad, or even terribly out of the ordinary. When it dawned on me what had occurred, it was the ease at which it happened. An absolutely instinctive reaction.
Now before anyone panics, nothing bad happened. In fact, I don’t even think anyone even realized anything HAD happened. That’s the problem. I had a default reaction that was so smooth and effortless that it was unnoticed.
To be fair, only those who know me well would have noticed something off. And although this was one of my regular customers, he (as far as I know) has no idea that I struggle with anxiety and depression. So what happened?
He asked a simple question, and with a simple two-word sentence I deliberately did NOT answer the question. Not only that but the sentence was a simple statement, yet open-ended that the focus was back to him (and off me) and whatever he wanted to chatter about. It went. something like this:
“Hey Andrew! How’re you doing?” so I fired back enthusiastically “It’s Friday!”
He took the bait, and started telling me about what he had planned this weekend, and how he totally deserved the weekend. I just kept smiling, nodding, adding the normal interjections of “yep” “wow” and so forth…
I didn’t tell him he comes off as fake as a 3 dollar bill. I didn’t tell him he had zero clue about what a hard week really looks like. I didn’t tell him I was working through the weekend. I didn’t tell him how I was doing, because at that moment his over-the-top personality (real or faked, I don’t know) was like nails on a chalkboard in that moment.
I didn’t tell him, because I think, in that moment, it would have been like opening pandora’s box. So I didn’t. Without even thinking, I dodged and deflected. It was absolutely instinctive. The closest comparison I can think of is self-defense training. Or First-Aide training. You practice and practice, you do drills, you do simulations. Over. And. Over. And. Over. And then you do it all again, so that when you’re in a situation that requires it, that training comes back faster than lighting and you just do. The training takes over and you just do what needs to be done. The thinking (and usually shakes and nerves) comes later.
This was similar. I’m sure I’ve done it countless times and never even given it a passing thought. The fact that I was able to recognize what had happened is a good step (I think). And no, not every single person needs to know every single thing about me – although I do try to be as honest about my life and my illness as possible. I don’t do it for pity, I don’t do it to brag, or for any other reason but to give people a name and a face, instead of “1 in 5” or any other statistic or catchphrase. Stats and catchphrases only go so far before they just become background noise.
But back to the dodge. I think back at how effortless it was. It was like it wasn’t Andrew, but my twin, my alter-ego putting on an act. I know to some degree we all do it, it’s how North American society works. You ask how someone is, not out of any shred of interest or concern, but as a way to start a conversation. You really don’t know, or even want to know how they are.
And there have been many moments, where I so desperately want to scream back to such a glib question “I’m terrible! My mind wants me to kill myself, yet I can’t even stop to take a breath, because I need this job, so I can afford rent and groceries and meds that I wouldn’t be able to afford if I didn’t have group insurance!!! My mind swirls with more thoughts of death and destruction in a mere second than you probably have in a whole week! But I can’t tell you that, so I smile at you and say ‘I’m great! How are you?’”
I take comfort that for once I recognized the dodge, and how effortless it was. I’m thankful that I am starting to recognize that habit along with other patterns. I may not be able to do much about changing them at this point. Heck, I don’t know if I’ll ever get to that point. But recognizing these habits and patterns is a step, albeit a tiny one, towards changing them.
Maybe one day I’ll be able to tactfully reply. Maybe one day I’ll have a better grasp on who and when and how to talk about my struggles. Until then I’ll keep fighting, failing, falling, and struggling to my feet again. It’s the only way I know how to live. Its the way of the Phoenix, after all.
And maybe one day, I won’t have to think about ‘The Dodge’