“You can talk to me”

This is another of my mental health awareness themed posts and focuses on the support offered by friends and loved ones to those who are going through times of mental unrest.

Over the months, since I came clean about my mental health problems, the phrase for which this post is titled has been uttered and/or sent via electronic message more times than I could begin to keep count. It’s reached the point where I expect it somewhere within a conversation with half of the people I communicate with.

The sentiment behind the words is truly lovely. It’s their way of saying that they care and that they’re available if I need someone to reach out to.

The only problem with those words is that reaching out is part of the problem, and I’m sure that most people who suffer, or ever have suffered, from a mental illness will be able to relate to me there. A lot of the issues stem from a lack of confidence and the belief that our problem is artificial, thanks mainly to stigma. We feel guilty for having mental health issues because there are people who have it so much worse than we do, plus we don’t want to bother anyone. So, reaching out isn’t something we do easily or lightly.

This then causes something of a paradox: we really do want to reach out and talk to people; we don’t do it for the reasons mentioned above; we hope people will contact us off their own back and allow us the opportunity to voice our woes minus the guilt (or at least a great reduction in the guilt); we feel lost and lonely when people don’t reach out to us and this exacerbates our mental health issues. It’s the profound circumstance of one being one’s own worst enemy.

I’ve been told off by a few people lately for not disclosing my suicidal thoughts when they occurred. Questions such as, “Why didn’t you reach out to me?”, have been asked with the conversation ending invariably on the statement that titles the post. The simple fact is that I’m not going to talk to them off my own back. I just can’t. If I could then I would.

The suicidal thoughts seem to be behind me now. It’s been several weeks since the last time and I’m feeling much more positive now. Well, probably about the same as I was prior to the suicidal thoughts kicking in, which would mean I still suffer from depression and anxiety; however, at least I’ve picked my way through the trough and maybe there’s a zenith to come. I can’t see that zenith and have no way of knowing if it’s there thanks to the trees and undergrowth I’m having to cut my way through, but the incline of my path would suggest a hill lies before me.

I would say to those who have a penchant for uttering the immortal “You can talk to me” line not to stop saying it. Yes, it’s something of a platitude, but that doesn’t mean the person you’re saying it to isn’t grateful. What I would also suggest is that these supportive people check in off their own back from time to time just to show the struggling person that they do think of them without prompt and that they are important to them. Trust me; you have no idea how good that is for the self esteem of a person who thinks of themselves as worthless. The knowledge that we’re in somebody’s thoughts in a positive way is akin to turning on an endorphin dump valve!

There is one snag when it comes to a person with mental health issues talking, and, again, I’m sure my fellow sufferers will back me up on this one: we will rarely communicate the full truth of our issues. Be it through a lack of complete trust in the person we’re talking with, a fear of ill judgement, a secret we’re keeping for another, or whatever other reason, there will always be something that we’re too afraid to admit.

Further to that, the things we won’t admit to them we will admit to someone else, but then we’ll omit certain other details with them that we’ve shared elsewhere. What happens is that a bunch of different people are getting different versions of the same story. There isn’t a single person in my life who knows the full and absolute extent of my mental troubles because there’s always one detail or another that I’ll leave out. I’m wondering if that very fact is detrimental to the helpful nature of talking about my problems.

Despite that—talking to the supportive people again—don’t try to force the sufferer to say more than they feel comfortable with or there’s a very high chance that you’ll alienate them in doing so. Remember that you aren’t there to solve their problems for them. Knowing every intimate detail of their issues won’t change that fact. Only the sufferer themselves can fix what’s broken.

The conclusion to all of this then is that if you truly want to offer support to a person suffering from mental health issues then don’t just leave it at an offer for that person to talk to you whenever they want. The strong likelihood is that they won’t. Be prepared to make the first move every so often and they’ll open up to you a whole lot more. Also, don’t offer to be there for them to talk as a token gesture. We have mental health issues; we aren’t stupid. We know a genuine offer of assistance from a fake one. If you don’t mean it, don’t say it.

Watch this space for more mental health awareness posts in the near future.

14 thoughts on ““You can talk to me”

  1. Firstly, thank you for writing and sharing this…
    Secondly, you are a freaking overcomer!
    Thirdly, I couldn’t agree more with everything you said. People do know when the offer to talk is genuine and when it’s fake.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Firstly, you’re welcome. It was my pleasure 🙂
      Secondly, I’ve got a long way to go before I’ve overcome my issues.
      Thirdly, I’d say maybe ten percent of offers to be there for me to talk have been truly genuine. Ninety percent were lip service at best.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A-freaking-men.

    This was wonderfully written, Paul. I just tweeted this post saying that everyone needs to read this. I couldn’t agree with you more. As a fellow sufferer of mental illness (as well as other poorly understood, highly stigmatized issues such as infertility), I hate when well-meaning people say “you can talk to me” and then figuratively retreat. As you describe, my shame and guilt I feel override my desire to take the person up on their offer.

    To what you wrote, I would add another pet peeve regarding people’s well-intentioned behavior: when we do open up and talk to you, please practice active listening. You don’t need to “fix” me, and offering a smattering of “have you tried’s” is nothing but annoying.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. An excellent addition! That’s so on point. Active listening is a talent so few people possess and, as you say, all we get is pseudo-advice. While it’s said with the best of intentions, it’s rarely anything we haven’t already tried and hasn’t worked.

      As for people retreating after offering to be there to talk to, they can just shove themselves somewhere I’m not too much of a gentleman to say, but I won’t say anyway. Haha.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Oooh 😮 maan…

    So sorry 😐 to know that you’re facing this challenge in your life…

    Only those that are truly experiencing this condition with understand the depth of your true feelings…

    But I’m so glad to see that you are trying to get past this..and that you didn’t actually act on your suicidal thoughts…

    Talking does help.. but not everyone is helpful because lack of understanding and some will try to make you feel bad for having a condition that you have no control over..
    And have no answers as to why it is plaguing you…

    Believe me Paul..
    I have a condition of my own that I cannot find a reason for..

    It’s unexplainable and I get so annoyed 😠 whenever someone insinuate that I am faking ..and I can get past it if I want to…
    For this reason I don’t even talk about it..

    Just to let you know just how much I do understand your story…

    But you are a strong willed man..
    And you write so beautifully… and you express yourself very well…

    So keep on making it your outlet…
    Tell your story…
    You will find compassion and support from your audience….

    What you are going through is out of your control most times..
    But with the self awareness of it you can learn how to deal with each episode to train your mind from sinking with it.. but instead to rise above it…

    And you seems to be doing just fine..

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I have absolutely no time for anyone who tells a person with mental health issues to ‘get on with/over it’. If they took even the slightest glance past their own ignorance they’d realise that we’d love nothing more than to get over it, but the fact we can’t is the entire bloody problem! This is entirely why stigma needs to be stamped out. It’s why I’ve started writing posts like this in the hope that I can inspire others to have the courage to stand up and say “I’m not okay”.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very well put. It makes a lot of sense. I also know what you mean about telling different people certain aspects but not one person knowing everything. It can become very scrappy and fragmented and isolating. So glad you’re blogging about it. It’s so important that we hear male voices.. as I think possibly that women are more naturally inclined to reach out than men, who need more persuading as it defies (outdates and bollocksy) masculine social norms to be vulnerable with another person. Great blog hun. Xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You know how I feel about stigma. It can swing on my left one! I’m not going to pretend I’m okay because ‘that’s what blokes do’! Time to shake off the tags and start coming clean to ourselves about the kind of people we are. It will be a lot easier if people choose to take the advice I’ve offered here.

      Like

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