Tuesday, July 12, 2016

We got some 'splaining to do...

As someone who has worked in mental health, I have had patients describe this to me.   As a woman, a person with a disability, and a person with a mental illness, I have experienced it.  As a human being, I see it over and over.  It’s when person A tells person B what person B’s experience is.  This gets called different things: mansplaining, whitesplaining, straightsplaining…you get the idea.  What I have observed that I find particularly alarming is that the person doing the ‘splaining is the person who belongs to the majority group.  History is written by the winners, but so is the present in this case.  When I first got my diagnosis of Major Depression, I had people whom I know love and care about me, explain what I need to do next.  Apparently their cousin’s girlfriend’s nephew’s bestie has depression, and she started running 5 miles a day and eating more pineapple, and now she’s great!  Or ZOMG, Psych meds are poison!  You can’t take those!  You may feel better mentally, but there’s a .00000001% chance your liver WILL explode.  I like to believe this comes from a well-meaning place.  I think there’s also another motivating factor: No one wants to be powerless.  When we see someone suffering, especially a loved one, it’s awful.  We mean it when we say we’d trade places with them if we could.  So if there’s anything at all that a loved one believes can help, they’re going to cling to it.  When we reject it, they may take it personally.  That’s on them though, not you.  You’re not required to make someone feel better about your illness.  There are a number of ways you can respond to sanesplainers: “Oh! I hadn’t thought of that.  Thanks,” and then get on with your life.  “My doctor/therapist/treatment team/guru and I are making those decisions, but thank you for wanting to help.” Lather, rinse, repeat as needed.  “I had no idea you’d gotten your MD!  If I’d known I would have sent a gift!”  Okay, this one’s getting snarky.  It happens.  How ever you choose to respond, there may be some pushback.  Just remember that you are responsible for yourself, and do what you can to be safe.  After having someone push a Multi-Level Marketing juice as the miracle cure for my CP several times, I’d had it and told him, “you have to stop.  Now.  My friends support me in doing what needs to happen to be well, but they don’t make the decisions.”  We’re not friends anymore, and I am totally fine with that.  

I want to go back for a moment to something that I said earlier.  Our loved ones may be saying these things out of their own feelings of powerlessness.  My suggestion for how to deal with well-meaning sanesplainers goes like this: “I really appreciate how much you want to help.  If our positions were reversed, I’d do anything I could think of to help.  But what I need right now is…” Fill in the blank.  A sandwich? Someone to listen? A ride to your next appointment? A girl’s night or guy’s night out or in?  Again, you are not responsible for taking care of other people’s reactions to your illness.  But these are opportunities for relationship building that will last long after the episode is over.  Please remember to keep yourself safe.  This includes in relationships too.  I know I have a hard time not feeling like a burden to my loved ones when I am not doing well.  But when all is said and done, my time comes around to be there for someone else.  This is the nature of healthy relationships.  As we work through the challenges in times of crisis, we are also working on strengthening our relationships in times of wellness not just with friends and family, but also with ourselves.

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