Thursday, December 10, 2015

"Helpful" Things People Say That Only Make It Worse

I'm going to preface this with saying that I understand that these words and phrases are almost always said in an attempt to be helpful. I get that people utter these when they want to say something, but really have no idea what they should be saying or doing. Which can happen for a number of reasons - they've never felt the way you do so they can't empathize; they're bad at expressing their emotions; they really don't have time to talk but want to say something "consoling". These are just a few of the potential scenarios. And truly, we appreciate the effort. But because this post is written in an effort to educate and to help people better understand,  I'm attempting to clarify what these actually sound like to those of us suffering. When you say these things, we may shut down, and you don't understand why because you're doing all you can think of. That, in turn, might hurt you. That's the last thing we want.  I'm sure there are plenty more examples. I'll provide my top. And please, don't feel bad if you've said these to me, or anyone else. Virtually everyone has.

  • Bummer. Bummer is for "I've stubbed my toe and it wore of my fresh coat of toenail polish." Bummer is not for "I'm in a terrible depressive episode and don't want to move from the bed." It minimalizes and trivializes what we're battling, however unintentionally. 
  • "Sorry, girl". (Assuming you're an adult female. The equivalent would be dude or bro for a man, I suppose.).  I don't know why this drives me up the freakin' wall, and I feel bad that it does, but it does. Partly, we know how I feel about the use of girl for women. It makes it sound like it's a little kid's problem. Partly, it just sounds cliche. If you can replace what you've just said with an emoji, it probably doesn't help a ton when we're having a terrible time. If you truly feel bad, say something to the effect of "I'm really sorry to hear that you're going through this." 
  • "If I was there I would .. hang out/come over/participate in/etc..." . I understand that it's supposed to be the thought that counts. And most of the time it is. But when I have spent a week curled up in the house with depression, desperately need to get out, feel like nobody wants to/can see me, and am one step shy of  begging someone to hang out, I need an affirmative reply only. Anything that points out that you cannot spend time with me, no matter how much you'd like to in theory, only points out further that I'm still alone.  Here's one more person that I can't spend time with. When we see that little "so and so commented on your post" notification, you've given us false hope. I know it's done with the best of intentions, but honestly, it hurts more than it helps most times. It might sound silly, and maybe it is, but it's true none the less. 
  • "Ugh", as the sole response. I've just bared my soul and you've said "ugh." We're emotional and we are hoping for something like "what a jerk I hope he dies a fiery death," (insert scolding/abhorrence as relates to topic). I'll admit, I'm occassionally I'm guilty of this when driving or when someone continually texts me even when I've said I am unable to talk. And again, this is acceptable for "I stubbed my toe", but not when we desperately need to talk. If you're driving, or can't reply right now, we understand, assuming it's not life-threatening. But we want a real connection, whenever you have a chance to reply. Not something that looked like your cat texted. (See post Everything's OK for a longer rant.. err... explanation on this subject). 
  • "Smile, relax, take a deep breath, calm down." You say this and I say "I hope you don't value your head because it's about to roll."  I spend several hundreds of dollars on therapy and medication each month, and probably will for the rest of my life. I have to beg out of social situations, spend days curled up in the chair with my book (at best), because I'm too depressed to face people. I get so agitated with hypomania that I can't stand myself at times. If I could smile or take a deep breath and fix it, I would. It'd save a lot of time and money and angst both for me and those around me. So clearly, that's not an option. Also, I KNOW I'm not calm or relaxed or smiling. That's why I'm talking to you about my struggles in the first place. And once again, this dumbs it down, like it's a choice, and I'm choosing to battle a mental illness. 
Again, we know that when you say these things you mean no harm. In fact, you're probably trying to help. But if you truly want to help, make it personal. Reply in a manner that's directly related to what we've said, that shows that even if you don't fully understand what we're going through, you're there and you want to make it better, even though that's probably not within your power (since it's not even within our power). I wrote this post a while back on how to help someone battling depression, and gives more specifics on ways to react.  But when in doubt, telling someone you love them (assuming it's appropriate), you care, you're there for them, and asking what you can do to help, usually does the trick. 

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