Updated: Mar 12, 2020
We've all had some unhelpful comments said to us at some point in our lives. So unhelpful, in fact, that we've questioned whether we've heard them correctly. My personal favourite is when I've been to the GP and they've asked me what I think is wrong with me. If I knew, hun, why would I be clogging up the stale waiting room, dodging coughs and sneezes every 7 seconds whilst simultaneously breathing in all the nasty fumes seeping out of the 30 year old leaflets to wait for you to give me an answer?! I can assure you I would rather not be here if given the choice because I’m likely to leave with more than I bargained for after sitting amongst that lot.
When I was diagnosed with depression a couple of years ago, there were a select few people who were understanding and made a really shitty time a little easier. However (oh how I wish there wasn't a however), there were a few people who threw a number of unhelpful comments in my direction too. I was about as impressed as this little fella below.
'You have a good life. What do you have to be depressed about?'
What people often fail to understand with depression is it is not a choice. You choose to have an extra piece of garlic bread with your meal because, well, why wouldn't you? You choose to watch videos of cute dogs (or, FINE, cats) on your instagram newsfeed instead of getting stuck into that report you need to do for work because, again, why wouldn't you? No one (I repeat, NO ONE) chooses to be depressed. It doesn't matter how ‘good’ your life is, if depression wants to come and ruin your life, that's exactly what it will do. Depression robs you of the ability to see anything good in life. It's like being forced to wear black and white contact lenses and then being asked to see in colour. You feel so numb inside that you don't get joy or happiness from anything. The last thing any of us need when we are depressed is to be guilt tripped into feeling even worse about ourselves and our situation than we already do. So please, don't make us feel worse, yeh?
You read that right. I was genuinely told, at the peak of my anxiety, to ‘just chill‘. What I struggle to understand, to this day, is why anyone would think I would choose to feel anxious if it was that easy to get rid of it? I would really like to speak to someone who actually enjoys having unpredictable panic attacks, uncontrollable trembling, pain and tightness in their chest and issues concentrating or sitting still. If they could teach me how to enjoy it, that'd be grand.
'You need to exercise more'
If you want to piss me off, telling me to exercise more to cure my mental health issues is the best way to do it. When I was first diagnosed, I was exercising four times a week, just like I do now. By anyone's standards, that's pretty good going with a full time job! I'm not debating the research that suggests physical activity can be good for your mental health, but even professional athletes suffer from mental health conditions despite putting in all those hours. I know, MIND BLOWING fact I've just revealed there.
Exercising is undoubtedly part of a healthy lifestyle, BUT it's not the sole miraculous answer to solving every mental health issue going. Now back all the way off, ta.
'Meditation is the answer'
Controversial opinion but I HATE meditating. Perhaps it's something I will grow to love eventually, but right now, meditation actually heightens my anxiety. Firstly, I find it really difficult to practice (someone with anxiety unable to control all their thoughts?! Who'd have thought it!) Secondly, I get trapped in my own head when meditating. All the thoughts I had nicely organised (I’m talking filed, categorised, colour coordinated- the lot) suddenly come out to play. If you were on a diet, you wouldn't lock yourself in a room full of all your favourite junk food now, would you? For me, I see no difference.
I know meditation works wonders for some, and that's fabulous, but like everything, there isn't a one size fits all for managing mental health. So, in short, please don't tell me a 5 minute meditation is going to solve all the issues I've been facing for many years. If that was the only cure, trust me, I'd be rocking an orange robe and giving the Tibetan monks a run for their money with the amount of hours I'd be putting in. (No, but seriously, I would genuinely jump on any opportunity to wear a robe every day because any excuse not to have to wear a bra and I’m there)
'You're overthinking it'
Anxiety is a natural human emotion and I'm not even debating that. However, the kind of anxious thoughts I and many others with anxiety issues experience or have experienced are thoughts that most people wouldn't often think about twice. For example, I used to talk myself out of going to my French classes at uni because I'd missed a whole semester when my dad was ill. I had chronic fears of people laughing at me, to my face, for how bad I was in comparison to them. I would get so worked up that I avoided the situation completely. Risking my whole degree was less scary than stepping one foot inside that classroom. Now that is real talk.
I am a lot more vocal now when I find people’s comments unhelpful and I’m not afraid to say how they make me feel. I know that doesn’t come easy to us all, especially when you feel at your lowest, but I do it now because I know it’s an important part of looking out for myself. Expressing how certain comments make me feel prevents me from getting frustrated about what has been said or harbouring negative feelings towards people who often mean no harm by what they say.
So, what do I want people to say instead of all the things I’ve listed above?
The good news is there are a number of things people could say that would be FAR more helpful and perhaps even comforting to hear when I‘m battling my anxiety and/ or depression. These include:
'I'm worried about you. Do you want to talk?'
'Do you want to go somewhere quiet for a chat?'
'I'm always here if you need to talk about anything'
'Is there anything I can do to help?'
That's it. Just ask someone if they're okay and tell them you want to listen and, most importantly, you care. It really is that simple.