At all. Say anything. Actually fucking talk to them, I would have thought.
M e n t a l i l l n e s s is a desert. Communication is water. You can create water out of air, simply by saying ‘action’ and starring in a scene from your favourite film where the beautiful lead character reaches out and helps a friend. Sound fun? It’s not. It’s quite hard work, which is what actors usually say in interviews – and this movie is silent and in black and white and imaginary – but gosh, the rewards are colourful and the investment in your own hope and sense of wish fulfilment: golden.
Talk. Say words. Anything really. Except not anything because there is a right-ish and squeamish approach, which is why I’m writing this because I feel I can guide you in a general direction while still maintaining the simple rule that the best way to talk to a depressed person is by actually talking to them, if you catch my drift. As in, what use is my advice on what to say if you secretly never plan to push the boat out to water.
You see, I’m quite certain that due to the mild corruption of society (consumerism, the original popularity algorithm) and outsourcing malaise of social media, we have been essentially trained to keep quiet about emotional ailments and self-stigmatise common garden-variety troubles which we are all quietly going about dealing with on a daily basis. Depression, anxiety, mood swings, self-loathing, loneliness. I mean, how embarrassing is loneliness? Imagine actually trying to tell someone you know and respect that you have been feeling lonely and that it is becoming quite a problem lately.
i am cool
I would know, I tried. Well, I wrote about it on my website and that was a big step for me. This is another one. I’d like to involve you, radical magical mr / ms person whoever-you-are – let’s get married in a fiesta of concepts, I’ll let you keep your surname – I’ll permiss you to rely on your instincts, but I will carry a fairly big stick and give you a polite yoga master tap every now and then if I sense you falling into the bad habits that so many of our smart-pants-cynicool generation still do. Bad habits that result in my least favourite sound right now, especially when it comes to mental illness …
Polite silence. Sorry Justin, won’t be checking in on you there – you seem to have it all sorted.
Ah, mate, yeah, I was going to ask you about your Mum but I didn’t want to seem condescending as you are the expert on the matter and I’m only new to having a family member with schizophrenia.
Sure, the last one was a recent, real life example. Bless my friend. He said this by email. And honestly, it’s not even the novel concept of my biggest problem being that someone might appear condescending towards me – the thing that has me rushing out of bed to hammer this down is just the admission of a self-censoring subroutine. I mean, I get the sense that my friend is nowhere near alone. One thing we are probably all united in is a complex myriad of psychological excuses for getting out of doing really basic things like say – uh –
- Asking for help.
- Asking someone if they need help.
- Following up with a friend who is down.
- Admitting to being down.
Like, how many times have you maybe thought about toying with any of the above – only to let the faint, tickly trickle of pleasant endorphin based ‘get out of awkwardness jail free’ cards rain down like a hotbed of ghost lawyers dressed as you pouring your favourite cordial promising they can maintain these positive intentions of which you think while not actually placing you in harms way of ever having to carry them out.
👻 👻 👻 I don’t see why we should leave our comfort zone in this instance. I mean, what a week. We are tired and busy and this whole ‘talking about our feelings’ business will just complicate matters and could lead to an untenable situation of creating more work than we had anticipated and even the thought of this hypothetical botheration has us tensing up in the stomach. Nah, best to just pat yourself on the back and give yourself a little nod for being a decent enough person to have at least naturally conjured up the basic desire to help or reach out or connect while also maintaining the dignity, intelligence and street-smarts to not do anything rash like act on these impulses and reveal the pulsating, quivering tangle of nerves, bad dreams and unresolved conflicts that you actually are. 👻
So, now, I’m going to mention AA. No, not that AA.
The two A’s.
They go hand in hand, as far as I’m concerned. They are two peas in a pod and I want you to be aware of them.
Part one – Avoidance
It’s rife. We avoid situations that might make us stressed. We avoid interactions which could embarrass us socially. Fair enough.
If someone we know is depressed or down or not themselves or by themselves or not quite right or recently single or having a hard time, we are likely to sort of, well, avoid them. Not directly, not exactly, but not the opposite either. We siphon them off to a complex friendship ditch in the quarry of our minds. We could ring them but – yeah nah – maybe a text – a quick back and forth and – yeah – that’ll do, right? And distraction and smoke and mirrors and a hundred more tomorrows and nothing really changes.
You could barge on in and call someone. Yes, I mean type the actual numbers and ring them.
If you fall in the camp that perceives phone calls as anxious concepts then I suggest you try getting over this in any way possible. Why? Because some of us are in a co
mmunication connection drought and I am declaring a national emergency. You’ve read the articles, you’ve seen the stats. People are desperately unhappy and / or isolated in the nerve-control-inner-monologue-disaster-manipulation-self-destruct-bunkers of their sonic the groundhog twilight youth. It’s not pretty. I’ve been there. Some days I’m there still. And all I can say is that when someone calls me out of the blue I adore it.
Big Shout Out to all millennials and gen-z who have stopped reading at this point
Yeah, I was born in 1980. If you don’t like talking on the phone then remember that the very a c t i o n of reaching out to someone in a format that you are not completely versed in is in itself a powerful a c t. You can transmit power simply by proving that someone existed in your mind and their name was held by your hand. Words matter but actions rule. In this time of binge communication and lightweight haiku newsletters, how breathtakingly charming and dramatic the notion of a phone call.
Or a text, or a fax, or whatever. You do you.
Part 2 – Acknowledgement
You: How are you?
This is the point at which many people will baulk and retreat inside themselves. “Oh no,” they flail, “whatever will I say now. I’m not a trained psychologist. I was just eating an ice-cream when this compelling website implored me to phone a friend who has just lost their job and moved back in with their parents, and now here they are putting me under the pump with their gloriously honest answer to my classically mundane question. Quick, author of this post, or “ Justin” (or poor woman’s Tony Robbins) as you seem to go by these days, what would you have me say next wonderboy?”
Dude. It’s okay.
No, that is that you’d say to the person. ‘It’s okay.’
Or, how about ‘I’m sorry to hear that.’
Be brave. Remember love. Think slow.
There’s no rush. You don’t have to solve anyone’s problems.
Do you know what a sad person needs more than anything? Ice-cream, sure, but… they need understanding – and the golden child of this conversation – acknowledgement.
I can’t tell you how important it is to have your feelings validated by someone.
Me: I feel – lonely.
You: Justin, that must be hard.
Me: Yeah – it is. It’s just my thing.
You: How long has this been going on?
Me: Oh, gee. A long time. It’s just been lately that I’ve really noticed it. I know I’m by myself too much. I don’t know. Often it feels like everyone else has people around them all the time but I’ve ended up by myself and that seems unfair.
You: You know there are a lot of people in your position.
Me: Yeah, apparently.
You: It’s nothing you’ve done. It’s just….how life works out sometimes.
And so forth. So, my main point is that rather than jump in and …
Me: I’m feeling lonely.
You: Have you joined any sporting teams or gone on facebook and tried to start a bushwalking club?
Me: No. * feels twice as alone *
Like, we’re programmed to live in this quick-fix society where everything has a solution and maybe if I just pressed the right combo of buttons I could defeat this evil ‘self island’ game that seems to be hijacking my waking vibe and ability to feel confident and consistent.
Well, no, because we are people. We are not programs. We are not machines.
We are rainbow scented, space cadet, all-feeling all-fleshy
And we are struggling. And we need gentle, thoughtful, nurturing.
Yes, even you gavin. Especially the blokes! (No shit, I know – who knew…..)
And we need acknowledgement.
That means – the simplest, smallest action of all. Showing us that you are listening.
“ dat sounds hard. ”
“ i’s sorry to hear dat “
“ ooh dat sux ”
“ u poor fing ”
Well, maybe not the last one. Perhaps that could be construed as a bit condescending. Especially when gavin has pulled the mining truck over to tell bernedette that he’s been having panic attacks. I don’t know what kalgoorlie mining co’s policies are on hugs in the superpits, but I would probably suggest that a hug would suffice.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried to tell someone that I’m feeling down and all I’ve really wanted is a pat on the head and a ‘there there’ and all I’ve gotten is a hardcore delivery of suggestions of ways I could go and fix my problem and all I’ve wanted to do is reverse myself into a sinkhole of melted soap mattresses and initiate myself into a tribe of sophisticated duck wizards who would tuck me in and quack me a bedtime story.
Failing that. I have my friends. My acquaintances. Many of which have had a crack at connecting with me, and, unfortunately, it seems like (in the pyramid of petty social conventions), left me with the unnerving impression that I will be a lot better suited to life if I can continue with my only-child training and adapt to be a largely self-soothing, self-serving, self-analysing unit of progress and production who occasionally sees a professional psychologist in secret and deals with my complex emotional affairs in a setting that won’t bend the day of my loved ones out of shape.
don’t you open that trapdoor
because there’s something down there
“How’s your depression?”
He said it so casually. It was right up there with ‘did you see the carlton game’ and ‘how’s the tour going’ – I was gobsmacked. Truly taken aback. It was a wonderful moment of feeling shame and elation. Shelation.
“Uh, yeah – it’s okay”
I bought myself some time to conjure articulation in a subconscious Atlantis beneath the sea of deadpan humour.
“I think it’s getting a bit…easier.”
Did I say that? I don’t know. Did I mean it? Possibly not. But I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that Bruce asked his question. And even if I didn’t convince myself with the answer, hearing yourself say a hopeful statement, when prompted, is a song that can keep you company through a week of grey thoughts.
It’s communication. It’s action. It’s the vibe.
Bruce talked to a depressed person. He just barrelled on in there and talked to me.
I know what you’re thinking. You think you’re going to offend the depressed person. You’re terrified that you’re going to, god forbid, make them worse with your incorrectly placed question. You might say the wrong thing? You might, what’s that word the kids like to use… ‘trigger’ them.
I’ll tell you what’s triggering.
I’ll tell you what’s offensive.
In a garden of night, be the candle we’ve forgotten how to light. 🕯️
Talk to a depressed person today. You don’t even have to know if they are sad, or lonely. Chances are your instincts are already spot on.
For you are the intelligent dreamer – and I trust you to carry the weight of your own lack of practice.
We can do this. We can train ourselves to be better.
We can reach. For the stars. For the truth inside.
For each other.
maxwell the morose party star of fitzroy sez:
“search for the hero inside yourself”
RESOURCES: Amanda FKING Palmer has a self-help book about asking for help, no less.