Tag Archives: sadness

Stop trying to make me feel better

This post might turn out to be a little ranty, as it is a topic that is weighing on my mind lately, and involves some of the ways I’ve been treated over the past year.

First of all, I just want to say, in general to everyone – when you see someone sad, stop trying to make them feel better. Just seriously, cut that out. It’s not helpful.

Ok, I should be more specific. There are definitely ways to comfort a sad person that are very helpful and I do strongly support those things. It should, however, be noted that those things all involve accepting the person’s feelings and sharing them, not trying to change the person’s feelings.

Don’t try to change my feelings. Seriously.

So earlier this year I was in the hospital and had to stay overnight there. Eventually, once Nee left and it was nighttime and just me in my bed that I wasn’t allowed to leave even to pee, I started crying. A lot. It was overwhelming, it was frustrating, I felt quite unwell, and I guess I just needed to cry. At some point a nurse popped her head in to check on me (or she noticed my vitals were off, since I was wearing a bunch of monitors at the time) and saw that I was crying. She immediately came in and said:

“Don’t feel sad! It’s not worth it!”

Now, this nurse was a sweet lady. She took time out of her night shift to sit with me while I blubbered, and I did and still do appreciate that.

Unfortunately she also kept saying things like “don’t cry!” and “don’t feel sad!” and “it’s not worth it!” and I REALLY wanted her to stop. I WAS crying, I DID feel sad, and “worth it” wasn’t really a factor at the time. Yeah, her intentions were good – she wanted me to feel better – but in the process all she was actually doing was invalidating my emotions.

Because in the end, when you do that, that’s what you are doing. However good your intentions are, and I’m sure they are very good indeed, invalidating another person’s sadness is not helpful. Don’t do that.

Wanna know another really bad but also really common one? “You shouldn’t feel that way.”

NEVER SAY THAT.

What a person “should” feel is irrelevant, and telling them that their emotions are incorrect somehow won’t suddenly make them have the “correct” emotions, whatever they are. All that sentence does is invalidate those feelings, which ultimately does more harm then good.

What matters is what I AM feeling. Let’s just deal with that, and for crying out loud, LET ME FEEL IT.

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I feel kinda broken

This is a post about me. And, fair warning, it’s written off-the-cuff, with only a few days of thought behind it and no editing to speak of. We’ll see how it goes.

It starts with Robin Williams. I’ve seen a lot of talk after his death about a whole range of topics. About suicide, mental illness, depression, disability, the way society seems to believe that it’s better to be dead than to be disabled… all sorts of things. Many of them could make topics of their own. However, what I want to talk about is one little (huge) thing that came up on my facebook feed, and the comments generated.

Basically, someone posted about looking at old pictures of Robin Williams, and seeing that he had “sad eyes.” Then there were several comments by people agreeing. That even in the pictures where he is smiling, his eyes are sad.

… I don’t see it.

Now, I struggle with feeling broken and worthless a lot. I live in a society that is obsessed with work and view people who don’t work as… well… I’m not even sure what. Something very bad. Worthless. Broken. Having weak moral character. That sort of thing. My previous attempts to work tended to leave me screaming and bashing my head into whatever was nearby, so I don’t try anymore because I don’t want to wind up like that anymore. I hope someday to try again, but I will need to be VERY careful. Because, you know, of that screaming and bashing my head thing. So I try to not feel like a broken human being and sometimes it’s really difficult but I get by.

This, the failure to see his sad eyes, has left me feeling like I’m broken. It hit me SO HARD. I’ve looked at pictures, and I’m trying to see what other people see, but I can’t figure out what they are looking at. So I asked facebook to see what kind of answers I’d get. The first couple of replies were heartfelt and genuine, but completely unhelpful to me. One reply was more about a “whole picture” thing, and another talked about no longer seeing a “spark.” What is a spark in someone’s eyes? I mean, a spark is what you get with electricity, or hitting flint and steel together. I do not know how to translate this into the metaphorical eye spark that people are talking about.

I want to know where it is. Now, I know I don’t see facial expressions the way NTs do. I get that. I know that it’s hard for me and I only seem to see expressions in crude, simplistic ways. I try to compensate the best I can, be open about it and ask that people be direct with me, and otherwise just live with the way I am. This is one of my difficulties. But again, this time… it got to me. It got to me a whole bleeding lot.

Eventually I did get a reply talking about muscles in various areas of the face and THAT was way more helpful. I’d need assistance to learn how to see it or not, but at least it is the direct, literal expression that people are seeing, which they translate into “sadness” or “spark” or whatever else. This is why it can be so difficult to get help – most people aren’t even consciously aware of what they are seeing or how they are translating it or the fact that what they express is a metaphor. So when I need something in terms of muscles and skin, people struggle to help.

They don’t see the world the way I do.

I’m different.

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Talking to sad people

Sometimes people are sad. There can be all sorts of reasons why a person might be sad, ranging from intense personal loss to an imbalance in one’s brain chemicals and all sorts of other things. I don’t mean this to be targeted to any specific type of sadness, but more just sadness in general.

I’ve been running into an increasing number of people wondering about how to talk to or interact with loved ones who are sad, and I’ve also had a lot of experiences with times I have been sad, and people who care about me not knowing how to react or what to say. I know, the internet already has guides for talking to depressed people and whatnot out there, but I figured I might as well throw another one into the mix.

Now, I am not an authority on sadness, or on talking to sad people. The most I can claim is a whole lot of experience being sad, and experience with people saying helpful things and unhelpful things. However, people are individuals and no one answer will work for everyone. The best I can offer is general guidelines and directions to go when talking to someone you love who is sad. Ultimately, though, your best bet is to ask them what they need, and then believe them.

All that said, the first thing I want to address is a really big no-no; a mistake I see far too often. Never ever try to fix it. I think, when faced with someone who is extremely sad, people get uncomfortable. You may want to help but not know how, so you go into “fix it” mode. This is a Very Bad Idea.

With most of the types of sadness that I know about, there really is no fix. And even if there is a possible path to fixing it, the path is almost certainly long and stressful and fraught with difficulty, and the sad person will have to do most or all of the work themselves. If they are sad due to loss or mean brain chemicals or something, there really is no fixing it. There is only going through it. Trying to fix, while you may be trying to be helpful, can actually just come across as belittling. Don’t do it.

So what can you do instead?

Well, it may seem like a useless, not-helping thing to do, but you can offer comfort, acknowledge their pain and sadness, and be willing to sit with them and love them anyway.

YES. DO THIS. image by the fabulous robot-hugs

I know that when I am sad, these are the things that people can offer that help me the most. These are the things I crave. These are the things that are surprisingly hard to come by because people are too busy either not knowing what to say, or trying to fix that which they cannot fix.

It’s like that Hyperbole and a Half metaphor with the dead fish. People kept (metaphorically) trying to help her find her fish or reassure her that her fish weren’t dead or otherwise try to fix the problem but these were ultimately completely useless things. Just acknowledging the very dead state of the fish, and telling her that you like her anyway was all she wanted, but people were too busy trying to look on the bright side or be cheerful or fix things to do that.

Sometimes a person will be sad because they are dealing with something in their life that is very stressful. I’ve seen people feel guilty for spending time with a friend who is dealing with Stressful Thing, or wish they could help but felt helpless to do so. So I just want to say – if a friend of yours is dealing with a Stressful Thing, time with you can be time off from The Thing. Maybe they’ll want to talk about being sad, or maybe they’ll want distraction and someone cheerful to be around, or maybe something else entirely. I don’t know. The point is, you can be very helpful just by being a friend, even if you aren’t doing anything extraordinary. So if you want to help a sad friend, be willing to do that.

Feeling helpless or useless or uncomfortable when someone you love is sad is fairly normal. It can be hard to deal with. Also normal but BAD – don’t do this – is dumping all those feels onto the sad person that you want to help. Never, ever put the person you should be comforting into a position where they feel the need to comfort you. If you need to talk about your feels in this context, go to your own support network. Or as Susan Silk and Barry Goldman say, comfort in, dump out.

You may have seen this. I love this diagram. Wherever you are in those circles, send comfort IN, do your dumping OUT.

Finally, always take care of yourself. It’s really awesome if you want to be supportive to someone you love, even if they are very sad, and I congratulate your for it most heartily. The world needs more people like you. An important step in this process is making sure you are stable and ok; if you sometimes need to take a step back to breathe and recover, then do so.

If I was going to try to sum this up, I’d say let go of trying to do big gestures, and remember that the small gestures are a lot bigger than you might think.

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