March 13, 2009

"Just think positive!"

These three words are just about the most condescending, and even insulting, thing you can say to someone with depression or chronic anxiety. I mean no offense to those that have offered this advice, I know it's given with the best of intentions. Truth be told, I imagine it's difficult to think of anything to say to someone who's trying to work through feelings you just can't understand. When in doubt, most people reach for the cliche. Hell, I've done it myself- that's why it's called a cliche, right?

But the feelings this little gem of wisdom ignites within me go in two directions (and occasionally both ways at the same time. Those are fun days.). Sometimes, I feel flawed, desperate. That little nasty voice in my head says, "What's wrong with you, anyway? You're just doing this to yourself, snap out of it and move on! Lots of people have it so much worse and your drama here is SO SELFISH."

I hate that voice. Seriously, shut up already and GET A REAL JOB OUTSIDE MY HEAD.

The other side of the coin is NOT self-directed: sarcasm rules. "Oh, gee, why didn't I think of that? All this time I've been sitting here with knots in my stomach when I should have just gone to my happy place! Visualize sunshine and cuddle bunnies! Wheee- all better, thanks!"

Last night I went to a class at my church and witnessed a listening expert in action. With cool maneuvering, she neither offers advice nor minimizes the situation. She also doesn't agree or disagree- her island has no opinion. She is a loving, sympathetic Switzerland in human form. (By the way, yes, I know Switzerland is not an island. Just go with it.)

That is the key and, I'm sure, a skill that comes only from long experience. As a leader in our church, this woman is often faced with the concerns, troubles and opinions of others. They are looking for comfort and a place to safely speak more than any kind of validation. She can, in the same day, listen with equanimity to a person's heartache over catcalls as she went into Planned Parenthood and hours later to someone else's outraged disgust at the woman she saw entering the clinic while she was protesting outside. Her opinion is her own, but she does not deny your response to a situation. It's real for you.

There is no fixing other people. "Just be positive!" is the ultimate minimizer, implying a level of control that simply does not exist. My mind, my gut, that bitter little voice, have an instinctive response outside of any attempt I make to "turn that frown upside down".

It takes me more time to process life. Maybe it's messy, but that doesn't make it any less valid nor does it mean that I'll never come to terms with a situation. My way through just doesn't look like yours. Telling me just not to feel that way is akin to me saying, "Oh, come on. You just need to focus on something else and your migraine will go away. You're making it happen with your lie-in-the-dark-and-puke attitude."

I appreciate the love behind the advice, I do. That's what keeps me from screaming, "Keep your happy bunnies out of my living room!". If you want to help and really feel like you have to say something? Take a tip from my friend at church. We may both live on islands and they probably look the same from the outside, but you can't see what beasts hide in my trees. So don't tell me to just hang on the beach with a pina colada and soak in the view. If I have a fortified shelter set up and the night makes me nervous- I have my reasons, whether you see them or not.


Lis' said...

My island needs a bigger secret stash of rum.

Great post Meg, really well written.

Meg said...

LOL! how fun would THAT be to find in the forest! That's the joy of islands- there's always surprises. Look at LOST.

I hope there is no smoke monster on my island.

Lis' said...

Okay, confession time... I've only seen the first episode of LOST. I know, I know, throw rum at me! (or near please, I think that would hurt less).

I think I'll rent the first season or try to DVR re-runs so I can "just think LOST" ... ;)

Alison said...

I admit I struggle with what to say to someone in your position, or other difficult positions. Here is my best "whatever I say will undoubtedly sound incredibly trite compared to what you are experiencing. But I care about you and I want to support you!"

Kristi said...

Wow, I agree, incredibly well written! Big words too. :)

As some who has been there and is still there and been told to "Just get over it", or "whats wrong with you". Both from my ever so loving husband who you would think would understand, I hear where you are coming from sister!

Lea said...

This kind of reminds me of the time I slipped on ice in a parking lot and fell to the ground while holding Asher, and he bumped his head a bit. When I relayed this to Eric, he sounded all panicky and said, "Be careful!" Um like yeah, that really helped me feel better and whoa, why didn't I think of that??

ambersun said...

Hi from Australia

Thanks for your post - it really helps to hear how someone else is struggling with stuff.

A lot of my friends were really good - instead of 'think positive' they asked what they could do to help.

All the best.