I caught this video yesterday from Laura Barton on Healthy Place about why she doesn’t just come out and say that she’s struggling, and so much of it resonated with me. Before I get into my own thoughts, let’s take a look at what she has to say.
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When Laura talks about the reactions she’s afraid of getting she is 100% correct. A big part of why I hesitate often to tell people when I’m struggling, feeling incredibly anxious, depressed, or just mentally out of sorts is because I absolutely do not want to hear about how many other people are struggling worse. I already know there are a lot of people struggling. People who don’t have the resources I do, don’t have the support I do, with poor physical health issues or being a part of an underprivileged group, etc. I know, and I understand that I am privileged to have the things that I do and the tools to try and take care of myself that others do not.
And yet, my struggles are still struggles. If I am telling you about them it’s because I need someone to know. I need to be heard. I need to explain what is happening in my own head to someone who will listen to me. I am not negating anyone else’s struggle by talking about my own. Please understand when I, or someone else you know, comes to you and tells you that they are struggling with our mental health, it has likely taken all of our energy just to gather up the courage to tell anyone, so when you deflect like this it’s devastating to us. We carry these heavy, heavy, burdens with us every single day of our lives and we simply need someone to recognize them and maybe help us a little bit every now and again.
The other thing we don’t need is for you to fix it, or take responsibility for it. Laura doesn’t mention this but for me, before I can even begin to talk about my bad days, the ones where I really struggle, I have to get over my guilt. I have a history of people in my life who got hurt trying to help me in ways I didn’t ask them to help. I feel guilty about that because they didn’t ask to get sucked into the whirlwind of my depression. It just happened.
I don’t want to feel guilty about telling someone again. I don’t want them to get hurt. In fact, I never wanted anyone else to get hurt. I didn’t tell them then so that they would get sucked into it that far. I told them because I wanted them to know and understand what was happening. I wanted to simply be heard.
So instead of talking about the mental health struggles that I am having on a particular day, I revert to talking about how everyone is struggling. Saying things like “of course I’m anxious, everyone is right now”, or “the world is such a sad, depressing place” instead of admitting that I’m sad and depressed, or I’m so riddled with anxiety I can’t catch my breath sometimes, or that the future simply terrifies me.
Saying things like that might make someone worry about me and start treating me as a very different person, and I don’t want that. I will feel guilty about that. Yet, I also need to be heard and I want to listen to others who are in the same boat and I can’t do that without being honest about it. So please, if someone comes to you with how much they are struggling right now, don’t point out how much everyone is, or others have it worse. Simply nod your head and say that you understand, maybe offer a hug or some virtual thoughts and be there. That’s all. Simply be there, in person, on social media, on the phone, or in text messages. Be there.
See also – Why People With Anxiety Don’t Reach Out