Before you speak, THINK
Updated: Dec 20, 2019
“It’s always something with her.”
“Ugh, what is it this time?”
Insert eye roll here.
Have you heard these words before? Have you said them? I’m embarrassed to admit it but I have. You probably have. Most people have probably said or thought something similar about a friend or loved one at some point in time. We probably didn’t think it was a big deal, probably didn’t mean anything harmful in saying it. Speaking for myself, I hardly gave these kinds of thoughts and comments any consideration at all.
Until I did. Until I heard them being said about me. Until they were said to me.
This is the hardest blog post I’ve set out to write yet. It’s difficult for me to write because I know that it will likely cause some hurt when I post it. It’s difficult because I think it might hurt some people I really care about. I’m anxious that it might cause tension and stress in relationships that I’ve only just begun to heal and repair. And yet it’s a necessary part of the story to address. It is an important conversation to begin. It’s important because it is part of the true story of my struggle with mental illness. It’s necessary because it’s part of the story for so many others still struggling.
Part of the stigma and the ignorance surrounding mental health lies in the way we speak about it. Not just about the illness itself, but about the behavior and the character of the one who is ill. We would never, ever respond to a loved one who is battling cancer for the third or fourth or fifth time by saying “Ugh, this again? I thought you worked through all this last time. How many times will you get treatment for that until you can put it behind you?” But we say it to those who are battling addiction and relapse once or more. If a dear friend suffered from pneumonia and then later from influenza and a little later from meningitis we wouldn’t answer a call from the hospital by saying, “What is it THIS time?” But we say it to those who battle depression and later anxiety and later suicidal thoughts.
And I can understand; it is exhausting to love someone who battles with such a complicated, nuanced, chronic illness. It’s painful to watch them suffer when the solution seems so simple and available from an outside perspective. It’s frustrating to offer help and advice only to be met with defensiveness or irritability or downright denial. It is draining, it is all consuming and it is stressful. Imagine for a moment, then, what it is like to be the one who actually suffers—one who knows there is a problem but cannot see it clearly for his own troubled thinking, one who has been told time and again he is a lot to handle or extreme or irrational and yet he knows no other way of being and lacks the tools to change his frustrating, irrational behavior. Imagine struggling with that reality every single minute of every single day of your life perhaps with no respite no treatment and no system of support.
I am not excusing the hurtful and damaging behavior of myself or anyone else who battles with mental illness. I’m not using it as a means of justifying manipulative, passive aggressive or deceitful tactics common among so many whose mental illness has led to substance abuse or addiction. I am not advocating that you loosen or eradicate boundaries that you have put in place with us in order to protect yourself and those you love. I am suggesting that there lies a huge difference in speaking about and addressing these behaviors and transgressions and in speaking about the individual who commits them.
I have been called selfish, ignorant, manipulative, liar, reckless, careless and worse both to my face and behind my back with regards to my mental illness. Some of the harshest, cruelest words aimed at me throughout this experience came out of the mouths of those I loved and trusted most. They may not have been intended to hurt; it did not lessen the sting. Women whose babies I’ve cared for, whose hands I’ve held beside caskets of lost loved ones, whose achievements I have celebrated with a specially chosen card or gift have suggested that my social media posts are motivated by nothing more than approval seeking vanity. I have read posts and comments directed at me indicating that my excessive drinking and self-starvation were a means of garnering attention. Just to clarify, you can rest assured that I did not intentionally self medicate my underlying depression with alcohol until I became addicted to the point I was hopeless and wanted to end my own life because I was only seeking attention. Unless you have asked me directly or have clear irrefutable evidence backing your assertions, you cannot purport to understand the reasoning or motivation behind anything I write, post, say or do. I am not for a minute suggesting that the intentions behind my every post, blog and conversation are completely pure and honorable. To be human is to err and to sin and to struggle every single day in every possible way imaginable, deed, word and thought this side of heaven.
But consider too, that your own struggles, your own sins, your own mistakes might not be so very different from the person who suffers from addiction or other mental illness. Brokenness looks a whole lot different from person to person. But brokenness is brokenness. No brokenness is better or worse. The same dark, hot, prickly, writhing, bottomless hole that burned within me and that I tried to extinguish with alcohol, with exercise, with accolades, and with approval until it nearly killed me exists inside of you too; you just call it by a different name—jealousy, greed, anger, self righteousness, materialism, laziness, pride...the list is inexhaustible.
And so just what do I hope to accomplish by penning this latest blog? Am I looking to justify or defend my previous actions or behaviors? Am I searching for apologies or amends? Am I seeking the accolades and approval of the masses? Am I looking to publicly shame and ridicule those people in my life who have spoken to me in a harsh or careless way because of a lack of understanding or in the midst of navigating their own pain and brokenness? No. I don’t need or want any of those things. I am merely encouraging the reader to think. Before you speak, think. Think before you speak about someone. Think before you speak to someone. Ask yourself the following questions:
Is it True?
Is it Helpful?
Is it Inspiring?
Is it Necessary?
Is it Kind?
*Free printable pic available at www.aedriel.com
I asked myself those questions before I wrote this week’s blog and I can honestly answer yes to them all. Maybe if we start to analyze our conversations both in person and online with these criteria in mind we can start to do a better job of making tough topics a little easier to tackle in our homes, in our communities and beyond.