You can have my seat on the train, the money in my pocket, my umbrella, the last cookie, the literal shirt off my back. Really, you can have it. I’ll get another one or I didn’t need it in the first place or you need it more than I do and I’m happy to live without it. I’m a Giver. Capital “G.” When I was in fifth grade, I met my first homeless person — a man with a beard wearing army fatigues, begging for coins near the Lincoln Memorial — and I handed over all my souvenir money. That’s when it started, I think, the Giving thing, and I’ve never looked back. My therapists over the years have shared plenty of theories about it, but the simple truth is that giving makes me feel good. Life is wild and precious, like Mary Oliver said, and we only get one shot at it, and what am I doing with all this stuff anyway?
The problem is that while I’m really good at Giving, I’m terrible at asking for what I need. Maybe it’s because I grew up Southern and learned early on that women’s desires are not as important as men’s desires, and that God made me to serve, not to be served. Or maybe it’s because I was raised by a mother with Narcissistic Personality Disorder who conditioned me to believe that my most basic needs were frivolous at best, and an unpardonable burden at worst. Or maybe it’s because depression, and all the messages I’ve internalized from the media and politicians and church over the years, have tricked me into thinking I kinda suck and sucky people shouldn’t ask for things due to sucking. Or maybe it’s because I’m an empath and I understand in my deep heart what it would cost for someone to do something for me, or what it would cost them to say no.
When I was a little kid I earned some tickets to an Atlanta Braves baseball game for (lying about) reading a bunch of book over the summer. My family didn’t have much money, so snagging free passes to anything was a huge deal, and my dad loved the Braves. He gave me a crisp twenty dollar bill when we arrived at the stadium and before we even made it through the gate, I’d bought an official Braves batting glove and plastic batting helmet. We didn’t know it was Batting Glove and Helmet Night, and that all kids under the age of 12 were getting those things for free. I thought about it in the first inning and the second, worked up the courage through the Braves’ next several at-bats, and finally, during the seventh inning stretch, I asked my dad if I could have a little extra money to get a special souvenir, one that every other kid in my school wasn’t going to have just for showing up at the game.
If I live to be a thousand years old, I will never forget the heartbroken look on his face when he said, “Honey, I just can’t afford it.” What he didn’t say — but what I knew — was how angry he was at himself that he hadn’t checked the special giveaways before he let me buy the glove and helmet; and how sad he was that I felt disappointment on this rare night out at a real live Major League Baseball game; and how frustrated he was that he couldn’t even spare ten dollars because we needed that money for gas to get back home. It devastated me to devastate him. I wished the words back in my mouth, prayed he’d forget it, promised myself not to ask for anything ever again.
Probably my inability to ask for what I need is a little bit of all those things. It’s no way to live, I know. It’s not noble. Being a giver who is unwilling to let herself receive love from other people is a disastrous combination of personality traits. And I do need things! I need my girlfriend to hold me close sometimes and promise me I won’t feel how I’m feeling right then forever. I need my dear friends to laugh with me and listen to me and wrap me up in the light of their hearts when the world is too dark for me to cope. I need advice from my sister, encouragement from my co-workers, a safe place to land from my family. Sometimes I just need someone else to decide what to do for dinner.
When I started thinking about how to fight my Seasonal Affective Disorder this year, I made the terrifying decision that I would tell the people closest to me what I needed from them to help me fight my battles. I made that decision because I’ve tried to fight SAD all by myself for a decade and have never been successful. I made the decision because I’ve come to believe that my one wild and precious life will never be full if I don’t proactively, aggressively dismantle my childhood hardwiring. I made the decision because the people I love give me a gift when they show me how to love them. They give me a gift when they ask for what they need. And probably they feel the same way about me.
I asked my girlfriend to do all her ready-for-bed things earlier in the night because I always go to sleep before her — and need more sleep than her, especially in winter — and if she gets up and down out of the bed to do those things, I wake up more. She was so happy to do that for me, and she did a dozen other little things, too, once I asked her for that small thing. She pre-opens her nightstand drawer where she stores her laptop, so she can move it in and out of there without making any noise. She wears bluetooth headphones when she watches football on the bedroom TV, because it lasts so late into the night. I asked one of my best friends to take long walks with me in the park on Sundays, and to hold me accountable for doing it, and she said it was her absolute pleasure to be give me companionship and exercise and vitamin D-filled afternoons, three things that are essential for me for fighting SAD. I asked my closest friends to spend last Saturday celebrating my 37th birthday with me, and they took the train and drove in from other states and my sister even flew to New York, to turn an afternoon brunch into an all-day lovefest that ended with whiskey and midnight pizza. All these beautiful, brilliant queer women, loving me, loving me, loving me, seemingly unburdened by my needs.
It’s helping. Two days a week, I still end up face down on my bed by 6:00 in the afternoon. My creative energy is harder to tap into, and flows more slowly and dries up more quickly than it does during the spring and summer and early fall. The bone-ache of sadness is here — I’ve cried in every restaurant in Astoria in the last month — and so is the anxiety. So far, though, and for the first time ever, it doesn’t seem insurmountable. My SAD has always felt like a tidal wave I was destined to be crushed under; right now, it feels like regular ocean waves. I’m fighting it one crest at a time, falling down sometimes but not always, and knowing a life raft will be there if I need it, knowing someone will come. Not because they have to, but because they want to. Not because they sensed that I was drowning, but because I finally realized it was okay to call out for help.