I am well enough, now, to recognise that sometimes those around me are walking on egg shells. Honestly I can be incredibly sensitive and fly off the handle about almost anything when I’m having a bad day. However on a good day I’m pretty stable and it’s not so easy to knock me off kilter, so I’ve picked some phrases that annoy me (even on a good day) so you know what to avoid and don’t have to walk quite so carefully.
You’re Always Ill.
Put it this way, how often do you get a cold? It’s likely that people with mental illnesses get colds no more frequently than you do. The difference is that we are sometimes ill because of the long term illness that we suffer with, making it look as though we’re ill more often. However, swap out the problems with our brain for a more visible problem, a wheelchair for example. This person may have colds just as frequently as us, and will need to use the wheelchair every day… would you tell them that they’re always ill?
Chances are, the person you’re saying this to is trying really hard to manage their condition and in saying this you’re likely insinuating that they aren’t doing very well. So please, before you say this just consider their feelings. We’re not asking for sympathy all of the time, in fact I’d prefer my illness to be ignored for the most part, we’re simply asking that you don’t make us sound attention seeking, lazy or useless which is how this phrase makes me feel.
Everyone feels that way sometimes.
Do they? Do you? Consider this carefully because I think most people don’t and I understand that it often comes from a place of trying to help. The problem is that a mental illness is a real problem, a real illness – it says so in the title: ‘mental illness’. You’re right that everyone is sad, stressed, anxious, angry or tired sometimes; but that isn’t actually the same thing.
I’ve said before that I have pretty regular mood swings as a symptom. People can have mood swings, but do they push you from suicidal to completely despising everybody who talks to them and then you swing into such a high that you can’t control what you’re saying or how you’re moving? Do you have to monitor every single thought and emotion that passes into your mind just to avoid erratic behaviour? It’s the same with any mental illness: do you really understand the symptoms? Do you really think that everyone feels this way sometimes? It’s unlikely that this is the case…
If you’d like more information about symptoms of various illnesses to help you to understand why not try the MIND website?
Try to be positive.
Oh we are trying… we are trying so hard to be positive! I completely understand where people are coming from with this one – we do often get worse when we allow ourselves to mope and dwell on the difficulties we face, and I’ve often suggested on this blog that we push our boundaries and do things to improve our mood. However, I think this largely comes from a lack of understanding, because you’re essentially telling them that their problems aren’t that worthy of emotions and that’s not going to help. Instead try something a little more practical if you really want to help: invite them out for a coffee or bring coffee to them… I’ve written a post about this here> Loving in Tough Times
There are people doing much worse than you/what have you got to complain about?
There is always someone doing better. There is always someone doing worse. That makes no difference, and makes our individual suffering no less relevant. Mental illnesses don’t care whether people are suffering more than you, mental illnesses just want to make you suffer and they do this regardless of anything physical or emotional happening in your life. My brain doesn’t regulate emotions to reasonable levels so there were times when I’d spill something, not be able to cope with that and I’d go back to bed…. yes I was well aware that people were suffering more than me and that spilling something wasn’t a good reason to go back to bed, but at the time it was all I could do to cope.
By saying things like this you’re encouraging people to feel guilty about the suffering of others, as well as feeling guilty that they’re upset when people are in worse situations. It won’t help them. It won’t help you either, as they’re likely not to speak to you about how they’re feeling again.
This may have felt like a bit of a rant and I suppose that’s inevitable since I’m talking about the most irritating things that people say to me. The reason that I wrote this is not to lecture people or to upset them about how they may have spoken to people in the past, but to educate on why these things don’t help and may hurt. I want to encourage good relationships and careful thought before we speak to people because I think that is really important. So please, think carefully before you speak and ensure (as much as you can) that whatever you say is kind, truthful and helpful.