Projecting, Understanding, and Sympathy, not Empathy

I originally tried to write this post, and a couple of others, at the beginning of July. I had had a bad few weeks. I tried a few times to finish those posts, but I inevitably gave up.

I feel like giving up a lot these days.


The people around me have tried to be supportive during my bad few weeks. They’ve pulled me outside of my wallowing. They’ve made suggestions.

They are good people. They are well-intentioned.

I have not felt better.


I am going to be reiterating a bunch of ideas that are said clearly and simply here. I am going to add my own voice to them, and my own experience, and my own emotion. If those are things that have value for you, then I am glad I can provide you with them. If you are simply here looking for help understanding, and follow the link and ignore me, you won’t be missing much.


In my very first blog post, I shared my thoughts on the insensibility of mental illness.

It is a perfectly natural compulsion to try to make sense of things, and to want things to make sense. The world is cleaner and more navigable and less intimidating that way. Unfortunately, it is also less true. Life can be brutal and unfair and unclear, and to ignore the times when it is, or pretend that it isn’t, and to make sensible, ordered, rational, causal links out of smoke is to lie to ourselves about how much we understand and how much we are in control.

I am not sure those lies do more harm than good.

I am sure that they cause people to see the devil’s face in the smoke.


During the past few weeks, many people have made suggestions to me as to how to improve my mental health. Some of them also suffer their own mental health issues. Some of them have recommended I do the things that work for them. This is done in the earnest hope that what has worked for them will work for me. They are trying to help me.

Some of the recommendations I have received include recreational drugs, being social, jumping headlong into new experiences, music festivals (with recreational drugs), being anti-social, a quiet retreat, music, literature, junk food, healthy food, and doctor-supervised rehabilitation on a farm in Connecticut.

In every case except the farm in Connecticut, these were things that the suggester sought to alter their own mental state when necessary.

My brain is not their brain.

No two people are alike. Even people that suffer from conditions similar to mine can’t predict how my brain will react to stimuli. Medical professionals use mostly an educated guess and check model.

The assumption that the things that you want are the things that I want, or the things that have helped you will help me, does me no favours. The good intentions are very much appreciated, but I am tired of having people tell me what’s wrong with me and what’s good for me. We’re all just shooting in the dark.


I broke up with my now ex-girlfriend a few weeks ago. I did this because I am not well, and because I did not conceive of a way I could get well while maintaining the relationship. I had the love of a good woman, and I didn’t think I could keep it and my health, and I chose to chase my health.

I haven’t gotten better. I guess I was always going to get worse before it got better. Chalk up another bad few weeks.

Like a prisoner keeping time on his cell wall.


I’m at my parent’s house while I look for a new place to live. I had been sharing an apartment with my ex. I agreed to be the one to move because I felt like I was the one at fault.

Intellectually, rationally, I think that no one was at fault. I think that the relationship was just one of the things crushed slowly by the weight I’m carrying around. That doesn’t change how I feel, which is like a failure to her and to myself.


Some days it’s a struggle to get out of bed. Some days I lose. I really thought today was going to be one of those days. It’s a small miracle that I was able to water my dad’s garden and eat seven or eight olives and a handful of almonds.

I’m back in bed now. I still haven’t walked my dog.

I feel like a failure to him, too.


I’ve had a few honest-to-goodness good days, too. I really have.  The good days, or good hours, feel like a breath of fresh air.

The rest of it, what seems to be my default setting, feels like being trapped under the ice.


I’m not here to complain, I’m not here for pity, I’m not hear to air my dirty laundry. I wrote a whole paragraph about reactions to my break-up from people in my life, and then cut it, because I didn’t think it would help anyone who read it.  I am trying to provide an honest and unfiltered account of my experiences with mental illness: my feelings, my decisions, my reactions, my hopes, my fears, my troubles. I am trying to do that in the hopes that other people will find it easier to talk about or understand.

I am a child, lost in the wilderness, searching for a way home. I hope that the details of my journey can help some people avoid the pitfalls I fall into or understand the pitfalls someone they care about must tread lightly around. I’m not an expert, I’m not doing everything right, and I’m certainly not special.


I want to end on a positive note. I tried to two paragraphs ago, but it sort of got away from me, and then I spent the next paragraph apologizing to nobody in particular about my blog, because it is my natural state to feel self-conscious about my actions. So I’m going to let someone else do it.

Several people linked me recently to this speech. I’m not going to parcel out the pieces I agree and disagree with, or try to add my own perspective to it. It is a very good, heartfelt speech that is very clearly difficult for him to give, but he does it anyways, because he recognizes the importance of discussing this openly, and the affect it can have on others struggling with their own mental health. I’ll let it stand on it’s own.


2 thoughts on “Projecting, Understanding, and Sympathy, not Empathy

  1. I have followed you here from I have been having a ‘bad week’ in some respects. I too feel like I may have been living with depression (mild/moderate) for possibly ten years or more. I have identified a huge amount with so much you have had to say here. It has inspired me to take some personal responsibility to make necessary changes, but also to seek some help initially. I do not think I require medication, but more to empower myself to take control of my life. I have also contacted a volunteer association locally to make a contribution to others who need help in my area. Thanks for writing so honestly, intelligently, and thoughtfully.

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