“You’re just trying to get attention.”
Time and again, I heard those words as I was battling with depression. I understood where they came from. My Facebook posts were doom and gloom, and I often acted out at home. I cried, screamed, and typed away.
Friends and family were concerned, but neither did they seem to take me seriously. They probably thought, “Oh, there goes Rebecca again—being sensitive and trying to get attention. Doesn’t she cry at least once a day now? She doesn’t even try to change or take our advice. And have you seen her latest Facebook post?”
It hurt. It hurt really deeply. Which is why I want to address this topic today and clear away some of the misconceptions around depression and attention-seeking.
First, is a symptom of depression seeking for attention?
My answer is yes, but not in the way most people perceive. When someone is posting jarring things on Facebook, crying every day, and acting out, they are usually asking for attention . . . because they feel scared, out of control, and desperate for help.
Think of a five-year-old for a minute. If a child feels frightened, confused, and desperate, don’t they, too, act out? And just as with a child, this behavior often is ascribed to selfish attention-seeking, when, in fact, it’s a sign that a need is not being met and that the person “seeking attention” does not know how to procure that need for themself.
In my case, I knew I needed help. I didn’t know what the options were. I just knew I didn’t feel loved, understood, or supported. I felt horrible, I felt like a monster. I didn’t want to feel like that, but I had no idea where to begin recovering or how. Advice and suggestions thrown at me weren’t relevant to or achievable in my situation, so, in desperation, I acted out and posted on Facebook as a cry for someone, please, to hand me a lifeline.
Your best bet, if you see someone around you acting in this way, is to approach them with unconditional love and support. To empathize and validate their experience. At the same time, you are not a therapist and shouldn’t have to take on the burden of trying to fix something beyond your scope. So, gently, recommend a therapist. Help find affordable solutions, recommend a firm or specific therapist you trust.
It’s up to the hurting person to decide whether or not they want to grab the lifeline.
It’s up to you to understand that, in most cases, this attention-seeking is a desperate cry straight from the heart of someone wounded on an incredibly deep level. Imagine if it was you, lost and alone, and every time you cried for help, people told you to stop seeking so much attention.
Be the one that hears and offers that lifeline.
If you are the one struggling with depression or any other hurdle and crying out, know your cries are extremely important and validated. The fact you are trying to find a solution despite your pain is incredible. If you are at this level, your best option is to find a therapist you feel comfortable with. See if your insurance covers therapy. Maybe you enjoy the “text a therapist” options available in the app. store if you are tight on money. Maybe all you need is someone’s arms around you, loving you despite everything.
You deserve all of that, and so much more. You have a right to require love, to seek a listening ear, to cry for help. You have a right to be heard and cherished. Keep seeking an answer, and grab any lifelines you come across.
For those reaching out to someone who is actively “seeking attention,” know how courageous and difficult that can be. You have zero responsibility for how the person suffering will react. You have your own needs and boundaries to maintain, but know that your love and patience is invaluable.
Challenge!: What is one action you can take to reach out to someone with depression/anxiety (maybe offer to help set up a therapy appointment or simply listen and love without offering advice)? If you have depression/anxiety, what is one action you can take to reach out to those trying to help you (maybe write a “thank-you” message or take the time to explain more about what depression and anxiety looks like for you so they can understand)?