Have you tried taking painkillers?

Last week I was talking to a friend about some of the things I am wrangling with. Said friend came back and acknowledged that they had no idea what they’d do in that situation. It was, in many ways, a really good moment.

I tend to be fairly focused on problem solving, and failing that on figuring out how to keep going and how to get through things. Some of the things I’m dealing with cannot be fixed, only managed and lived with. So on one hand, advice for how to fix things is great and I actively seek that, but people simply acknowledging that they don’t know is also great and saves me a lot of time and energy.

Like most people struggling with various long term issues, I get offered advice from people who have little or no experience of the problems in question. People who think everything can be fixed with mindfulness, yoga, time in nature, a bit of time off… and while that’s undoubtedly well meant it’s also not even slightly helpful. If you aren’t dealing with the same issues as someone, what you can think of in five minutes is really unlikely to be something we haven’t thought of. We’ve probably already tried. If it was as easy to fix as these fixes suggest, we wouldn’t even be in that much trouble in the first place.

What’s even worse than the suggestions from people who don’t know, is when they insist on doubling down on their solutions and not taking no for an answer. One of the most commonly occurring examples of this is being asked to consider antidepressants if you are talking about being depressed. Now, I guarantee you anyone who has got as far as knowing they are depressed has already considered antidepressants. They may have tried it and found that either it didn’t help, or that the side effects were unbearable. They may not fancy the risk around an intervention that can actually increase your suicidal feelings. Antidepressants really help some people, but not everyone. For the person who isn’t a doctor and has no experience of serious depression, they can seem like a magic bullet, but they aren’t.

Similar things happen around diet, exercise, supplements… part of this comes from the toxic idea that illness is basically the consequence of not trying hard enough and if you tried harder you’d get better. This is nasty stuff, fundamentally untrue for many conditions, and can be harmful. I think part of it comes from wanting to believe that if they try hard enough, they won’t get sick themselves.

I think there’s also an issue of people who have had mild run-ins with a condition and don’t realise they had a mild dose. I see this a lot around depression. If you can cure your depression with a bit of mindfulness and a nice bath, then you weren’t seriously depressed to begin with and your interventions won’t fix the person whose mind is being crushed into dysfunction by a much more dangerous form of the condition.

It’s ok not to know what to do. It’s ok not to have answers. It can be helpful just to listen and express care for the person who is suffering, or to offer to be there if they figure out anything that would help. Often it’s relevant to offer practical interventions. The friend in question who was so helpful last week didn’t suggest I should go for a walk, but took me for a walk somewhere I could not otherwise go, listened to me, encouraged me, and was kind. That was genuinely helpful.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

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