When Depression Turns You into an Asshole

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There is this great Kanye West song called “Runaway”. (Here is a link to the video: http://youtu.be/Bm5iA4Zupek )
It’s great for a lot of reasons, but I want to use it as a starting point for talking about when depression turns you into a jerk. [Insert Kanye joke here.]

The chorus says “Let’s have a toast for the douchebags/ Let’s have a toast for the assholes/ …Baby, I got a plan/ Run away as fast as you can.” Sometimes when I’m really hurting I get bitchy. I can see it, but, instead of correcting it, I own it. I hold on to it tightly because I think I’m really as awful as I’m acting, and what I want is for people to see how terrible I am and save themselves by running away. I think that all I can do is cause pain. I am nothing but a burden, and I want other people to see that “truth”.

It’s like those movie scenes where an animal is being released into the wild, and the human caretaker has to act hateful toward it so that it will do what is best for itself and return to the wild. I think I’m saving you. When I’m really ill I feel like I can only meaningfully contribute to the world by taking my wicked self out of it. This is a LIE! I am not an asshole. You all send me texts, emails, and messages telling me you like me, but sometimes I still act out my pain–perform the hurt I feel.

I want to encourage you to acknowledge this about yourself if it is true for you. But more importantly, I want you to recognize that you may be pushing people away, and this will not help you fight depression. If you hurt, show it, but acknowledge what it really is. It’s depression taking control. So here are 2 ideas for addressing negative behavior.

Recognize the real issue and address it
I can’t emphasize how important it is to recognize the roots of your actions. What is motivating you to be a jerk? This takes work. I spend a lot of time reflecting on my thoughts, feelings, and actions. I journal and talk to my husband. Depression makes you feel deeply, so I suggest thinking deeply about your feelings.

Saturday morning my daughter came to get in bed with my husband and me. She immediately asked me a question about God followed by a question about Heaven. My husband, an atheist and morning grouch, was frustrated. He didn’t say or do anything, but I can read him really well.

It pissed me off. I was angry at him. I got up and began slamming things around in the kitchen as I made coffee and my daughter’s breakfast. I even cursed at the toaster. My husband and I coarsely exchanged words, but then I began to reflect on why I was so angry. It had nothing to do with my husband’s atheism or his frustration at my exposing our daughter to Christianity.

It’s that I am currently struggling with feeling like I have my feet in two ponds–a Christian pond (my parents, church group, a few friends) and a secular pond (my husband, more friends). I had been holding on to that struggle, afraid to mention it anywhere but in my prayers.

So, I told my husband what I had been feeling, and the tears began to fall, but the fight was over and my anger was gone. I felt sad, yes, but also relieved. My anger could have put a wedge between my husband and me for the whole day, and my depression could have deepened the wedge over time.

Our differing spiritualities is a big issue, but I won’t let it ruin my marriage and family. My husband is an amazing partner and supports me completely–including my Christianity. I would be a fool to push him away, and when I saw how my depression was turning a real struggle into undue suffering I began to regain control. Maybe it sounds easy–it isn’t. It takes a lot of practice, but it’s worth it. Search for why you are hurting and refocus your attention on the real reason you’re being combative.

Find role models
When you don’t know how to act because you are hurting, focus on someone else–someone you can look up to. Not someone in an ivory tower; not someone you put on a pedestal. Choose someone who has overcome struggle and shown love to great extremes. Jesus is a good example whether or not you believe in his divinity. The way I see Jesus through the accounts in the Bible is as a radical preaching love over legalism and showing love despite suffering and alienation. Helen Keller has been a role model for me since I was a child. She faced tremendous struggle throughout her life and not only persevered but also flourished.

It can even be people you know. I have 2 dear (but geographically distant) friends from growing up who I still text with regularly. They are both role models for me for different reasons. One seems to be able to do it all–she helps people in her job, she is great at being an adult even though she’s still in her early 30s, she has a beautiful family and home, she takes care of herself. But she knows struggle, too. And she tackles her struggles with the same focus, positivity, and directness with which she faces everything else. She reminds me of how capable I really am. The other friend has faced serious struggles as well, but she has never let that stop her from moving forward, being herself, and pursuing her goals. She has this gift of being truly unique and genuinely talented. She taught me to be a rebel before I knew I was one. And she inspires me to keep moving forward like she has. Yes, I can call them anytime, but sometimes it’s enough just to think about them and feel inspired and proud to know them. Find people you can look up to and be inspired by.

If you are a caretaker dealing with a friend-turned-asshole, I encourage you to use the same techniques but in a different way. Allow your loved one to feel her pain and give her space and encouragement to reflect. Be ready for deep issues to spring up from silly arguments. When you’re depressed almost everything is an existential crisis. Let the conversation go where it needs to go as your loved on works through her layers of feelings.

Also, research books, movies, etc. about inspirational stories of overcoming struggle and share these possible role models with your loved one. My dad gave me a great book he read about Abraham Lincoln and his struggles with melancholy throughout his life–and look what Lincoln did despite his own pain. So many inspirational, historical figures have struggled with depression.

Most importantly, please don’t run away even if your loved one is an asshole. Unless you are facing abuse (in which case I strongly urge you to save yourself before you try to save your loved one), don’t run away, but don’t let yourself be a doormat. Vent to trustworthy friends who will support you and show you love. Stand up for yourself but stay available.

In the “Runaway” video–about 3 minutes in–Kanye West climbs up on top of a piano and sings, “Run away from me, baby!/ Run away!” with desperation in his face and voice. It’s like he’s saying, “Please! Save yourself! Get away from me!” It is beautifully sad to me. He seems to understand self-loathing–the kind of self-loathing all depressives know. I want you to know that when you’re a depressed asshole, depression is the problem, but pushing people away is not the answer. Force yourself to step outside of your blinded self-loathing and see what is in control. Give yourself time to reflect on your actions and talk to someone about your real issues. Also, look outside of yourself for inspiration. Don’t compare yourself to others–you are unique–but try to use some of their lessons, ideas, and methods to help you face your own issues. And remember that you are irreplaceable and one day your strength might inspire someone else to keep fighting.

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Are you wondering if your loved one is depressed or just an asshole? Here is a related post with some of my thoughts on that very question titled Wild Mood Swings

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4 thoughts on “When Depression Turns You into an Asshole

  1. Thank you for this post! Anger and frustration are the biggest ways my anxiety, depression, and bipolar 2 and recovery from drug addiction manifest themselves. I don’t mean to be a complete bitch – it’s my mental illnesses acting out.

    I also get angry easy over the lack of understanding from some people, like people who equate “depression” with “sadness”. I detest when I’m trying to express my illness to people and they either try to one up me like we’re in the depression Olympics or something, or people who come back with a comment like “I know how you feel. When my dog died I was devastated”. Objectively I can see they are trying to relate to me in the only way they know how, but in the moment I’m incredulous that they are equating sadness over the loss of a pet with a lifetime struggle to not give in and give up.

    I’ve also seen people who love me get frustrated with my mental illness. I tend to take it as a personal attack, like they don’t give a shit, when really, they get frustrated that they can’t “fix” me. And I’m sure they get tired of being on the receiving end of the bitchiness. But when I’m trying to say how I feel and I get back a “you never feel good”, I feel like no one can see the effort it takes to even get out of bed. I feel like I’m trying so damn hard, and apparently it’s not working. So please, caregivers, be gentle. I know it can’t be easy, but comments like that are incredibly painful. So I agree completely that caregivers need an outlet, and have to look after themselves too, so they don’t get to the point where they are as frustrated with me as I am with, well, my mental health issues in general. I can only imagine how hard being a caregiver is.

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    1. You bring up so many good points, and I hope to end up addressing them all. I love your plea for caretakers to be gentle. It takes so little to make us act on the hurt we’re feeling. Gentleness is key to getting through to a wounded soul.

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  2. Thank you for this post. I never realized that depression can manifest itself in that way…. this explains much about my behavior and becoming easily frustrated. Explains many things. I can relate to your illustration you gave about your daughter & husband…. not the same exact issue, but my husband and I see things differently on many levels. He is a great man and so faithful. But I get so frustrated with him so often when he can’t see things the way I do. I like that you were able to come back to him later and discuss the matter without anger. I am having trouble with that part. What if I try to bring up the issue later with my husband, but he will not talk about it…. or at least not reasonably? any suggestions?

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    1. This is a great question. I’m thinking about an answer and will post something on the blog soon to address anger. I will think more about your question. Thanks for sharing!

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