What Not To Say

You know what I hate being asked?

“Why is your anxiety so bad today?”, or “What’s causing your anxiety?”, or “Why is today so hard?”

If I knew the answers to any of those questions I’d probably be a lot better off than having to tell someone, “I’m sorry, my anxiety is really bad today.” or “I’m not doing very well today.” It’s the downside of being so self-aware. I understand that when my anxiety is particularly bad or my mood is swinging particularly low, it means I’m probably being difficult in my relationships. Because my mental health is not anyone’s fault, I don’t like to punish people when I’m having a bad day. So I say “I’m sorry” when I realize that’s happening, and then I get the questions. Suddenly I feel like, not only am I being disruptive in my relationships, but I need to know and be able to put into words the reasons why I feel the way I do, why I act the way I do. I suppose I’m fortunate for the times people ask the questions. At least that tends to mean they believe me. It’s even harder to apologize to someone for something I can’t control and have them think I shouldn’t be using my mental health issues as an “excuse”.

You know what I hate to hear?

“You should take fish oil.” or, “You should make sure you’re getting some exercise everyday.” or, “You should cut back on your (insert person’s pet toxin of choice).”

I might smile and nod while you tell me these things. I might offer that I exercise as often as I’m able, that I take the recommended supplements. I might outline the many ways in which my eating habits are above and beyond the average. I might even understand that you’re trying to help me because you care. I might remember to appreciate that.

But what I feel is responsible. I feel as though if I could just exercise more, find the winning supplement combination, be just a little more exacting with my diet… if I could just do the One Right Thing than all of this would go away. I’d be cured; no more anxiety, no more mania or depression. Just me and the perfect blend of fish oil, exercise, and whole grains.

I feel the blame you are assigning with your words. I feel the fault of my mental illness being laid at my feet; I am helpless to prevent myself from shouldering the load. If I only I could do more, try more, research more. If only I worked harder, I could be well.

I know that these are not the things you mean for me to feel. I know that you mean well. When I am at my best I am able to trust your intentions. And so…

You know what I like to hear instead?

“I’m sorry, is there anything I can do?”

Nine times out of ten the answer will be no. No, there is nothing you can do that will take away this anxiety. There is nothing you can do that is going to convince me in this moment that all is right with the world. There is nothing you can do to restore peace to a very troubled soul.

Except…

Except for the one thing that you just did, which is to tell me, through your question, that you acknowledge that I am being truthful about my state of mind and heart, and that you are willing to support me in the moment of my distress; that you do not assign blame but you are willing to share the burden. I won’t need anything from you, except to know that you are there when it is hard as readily as you are there when it is easy.

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