I just read a post by a good online friend (one I have been lucky enough to also meet in real life albeit over a year ago), the lovely Clive Edwards.
I was going to just share his blog on my facebook wall but whilst writing a comment to go with it I realised that this is an issue I have more than a few words to say about. It is about an issue I have come across in my personal life, my friends lives and also as an issue in conversation to do with fighting the stigma of mental distress in society and discrimination about mental health issues.
Here is a short extract.
I am tired of saying I am OK or OK-ish or fine or other euphemisms. We have to find a place where telling the truth isn't whining or complaining. That becomes part of the stigma.
Here is the blog of Clive Edwards, 'Thoughts of a Mood Swinger'.
I am sure this is how many of us feel when healthy friends ask how we are, we often say 'I am ok' or 'not bad', 'better than last week' 'yep, getting better thanks', yeah fine' or even maybe 'not great but musn't grumble, not as bad as some'. But are all these comments really the honest truth and how much are they subjective to the average or mean of our lives?
When you have chronic pain what you (and I) might consider an ok day with manageable pain, that we can still think, do light tasks, cook a meal and do light housework but are still in pain and discomfort and in need of painkillers so might still be(generalising and imagining we have the same tollerances to pain)in the amount of pain that would make a healthy person go to the doctors, have 2 days off work and make their family check in on them offering help.
Or when you have clinical depression and are not suicidal and not happy and well and depression free you might still be depressed but can function and can put on a happy face to see friends for a few hours before going home and feeling alone, depressed and dejected but you tell friends you are 'ok' how ok are you? Would how you feel if felt by a person who has never felt depressed or had any mental health issues make them break down in tears, take time off work or have friends rallying around as you are having a 'hard' time?
But when it is not a one off, when it is ongoing and has been known about by your doctor, family, colleagues and healthy or busy friends for sometime is it hardly surprising that we start to say 'I'm ok' or 'yeah fine'. Because if(even though it may be a form of therapy and a survival technique to you) you talk about your mental or physical health problems for too long or too many times over a protracted length of time people get bored. It's like the news. If you hear the same thing over and over again you get a little immune to it, maybe even bored of it and sometimes even resent hearing about it because you have your 'own problems' or are 'busy' or even, and this is one I have had said directly to my face but its not an exact quote "You have had this problem for a while now, isn't it better yet?' and when I replied something like "So and so has improved but doctors/professionals say I need to do so and so and its hard without support or money" was followed by "what are you doing to make it better, are you always going to be like this?". Let's just say that last person probably thinks they are being taxed too much and that people on benefits are scroungers ;-), sadly though I am related to them :-(, woops!
It's not to say that the busy, working, 'normal' people don't care about us, don't want to help us, don't wish we were better or would love us to be pain free, but because of stigma of mental health issues and also how people with physical health issues become invisible unless they have real support or are able to engage in an almost average life on a par with others, but they get tired of asking how we are when they probably know that this or that problem will always have an impact on us. And they don't want it to have an impact on them. Some will be hurtful, tactless, ignore us and belittle us and others may be the best supporters, friends and family anyone could ever wish for but most people are inbetween, in the grey world where old fashioned comments rear their head like "mustn't grumble" and "you just have to get on with things like I do! I don't have it easy but you don't see me complaining!" or the one that is bound to make you feel extra guilty "I wish I could help you more, but I'm so busy, if you just moved closer to me I could do so much more to help, are there not people closer to you that can help?" is because it comes from someone who has to care for great great grandparents, 5 kids, 6 dogs and 3 aliens as well as a husband bound to make you tell them you "ok" because they are such a caring person and you don't want to burden them anymore. Because that's another feeling that pops up. That if you do say how you really feel, mentally or physically you are burdening them.
We may feel either like we are complaining if we tell the truth about how we are or worried we will lose a friend or be labeled as negative and ignored, when in reality the fact that we are still fighting to live and have not given up on life with all the mental health and physical health issues we have to deal with actually means we are strong. Not in the same way as most, because we are nervous about getting out the house, clean the taps 5 times after washing our hands, hear voices, have low self esteem and think we are horrible, have fibro, arthritis, are blind, deaf, in a wheelchair but because we are still fighting to have as independent life as possible.
So if we want to create awareness or spread awareness or just get a little more understanding and support we have to think about how we word things. Yes I know, it's the people with the problems who again have to do all the work but remember we are more adaptable and stronger than the 'average healthy person' whose life never changes much ;-). Even if right now we are down and in pain, grrr.
Anyway, just a few thoughts of mine to get you thinking. Next time someone tells you they are ok or fine stop and think, do they mean it? Can you give them time now or later to give them all your attention? Might it be worth, after a long chat with them checking up on them a few days or week later instead of just thinking that you have done your bit? We know people are busy, we are human and there are lots of us and we all interact in each others lives.
So let's try and think about how saying "I am fine" when you are struggling doesn't give a nice person a chance to help you and hearing "I am feel so lonely and in pain" doesn't make you wince wishing you could do more but feel guilty and really uncomfortable.
Or find out how talking tackles discrimination.