Over the last several years, I’ve pretty much had a “word of the year” choose me. It’s a ritual I didn’t set out to create, but one that continues to show itself to me. It’s actually kind of weird. Continue reading “2017—Will It Be a Year Full of Mercy?”
With Thanksgiving in the rearview mirror and the rest of the holiday season square in our headlights, there’s lots swirling about for most of us. Life is busy enough, but then add in the extra holiday stresses and pressures, and no wonder “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” can ring hollow. Continue reading “Pardon Me, But Do You Know Whose Shoe This Is?”
Does having a belief or opinion always mean you’re being judgmental? Judgment, as defined by the Cambridge Dictionary, is the ability to make decisions or to make good decisions, or the act of developing an opinion, especially after careful thought. But add an “al” to the end of the word, and the definition changes to tending to form opinions too quickly, especially when disapproving of someone or something.
I think we’ve got a lot of +ALs flying around these days. Continue reading “The JudgmentAL World of the Know-It-All”
Losses. Fights. Scarcity. Illness. Abuse. Accidents. We don’t need Freud to tell us that no one gets through life unscathed. We merely have to live it. And I’ve lived long enough to experience how the hard parts of life help create you—shape you. Continue reading “Sitting with You in the Suckiness”
If a sentence begins, “Well, at least YOU…” you can bet your sweet bippy that it is a comparison that aims to show the speaker in greater need or pain than the listener.
“Well, at least YOU know some of the people at the party. I don’t know anyone.”
“Well, at least YOU have a job to complain about. I can’t even find work.”
“Well, at least YOU have a kid who tries to get good grades. I can’t get mine to care.”
You get the idea. There are some people who always seem to need to rank higher on any “scale” of life being discussed. Kristen Wiig’s Penelope character from Saturday Night Live is the queen of “one-upping”:
Most of us are not Penelopes. (Thank God!) But I think it’s safe to say that most of us have been guilty of occasionally one-upping someone—even another’s pain. For whatever reason, we sometimes feel the need to have our own situation acknowledged as primary. Maybe it’s rooted in the frustration of feeling unheard, but…no matter what…it’s annoying. And it’s super annoying when it’s about another’s pain or loss.
Within the year after my dad died from his battle with cancer, another family suffered the loss of a husband and father in a car accident. My mother was friends with the new widow, and she offered her comfort in her time of loss. I will never forget the woman’s response. She said, “Well at least you were able to say goodbye. You knew your husband was dying, and you had that time with him. I didn’t. Mine was gone in an instant.”
You know in cartoons how sometimes a character gets hit or mowed down and then they get up and try to briskly shake off the effects? That was my mom. She eventually replied, “Yes, I did have that time to say goodbye. But I also saw him suffering for months, and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”
I remember sitting there and wondering what the point was of this “grief contest” that the widow created. Both women lost their spouses. One got to say goodbye. The other didn’t. One’s husband suffered at length. The other’s husband was gone in a flash. Was there a prize for greater loss?
It was unfortunate that what should have been two people coming together in pain that they each understood all too well instead became a “Oh, yeah? Well, my grief is greater” conversation.
Clearly the widow was hurting and trying to make sense of things, so we have to put the conversation in that context and give her grace, but…it really stuck with me.
Clinical psychologist Susan Silk created the “ring theory” to illustrate a simple way for people to know how to avoid saying the wrong thing to someone going through a crisis. It’s completely common sense, but we are not always led by common sense now, are we?
In a nutshell, comfort moves toward the center (the person in crisis or pain), and any kind of comparing or complaining can only be shared with someone in a larger ring.
This theory allows for the widow of my story to say whatever because of the loss she is suffering, but since my mom was in the same boat, they were pretty much together in the same ring.
It’s not rocket science to understand that you shouldn’t tell someone who just lost a job that your boss is a real d-bag, but…sometimes we do.
Or if someone is sharing with you that they feel a certain way to cut in and say, “oh, yeah, me too! For me it’s like…” but…sometimes we do.
Or if someone is going through something as horrific as the loss of a child to say that we understand that loss because we’ve lost a parent…but…sometimes we do.
We are so very human, but we need to fight the urge to chime in and one-up one another.
We all know our own struggles best. After all, we are the ones going through them. It makes sense that we would feel most intensely about them. But that’s how it is for everyone.
Very often the ideal response to someone going through a challenge or crisis is so very, very simple: Listen. Listen so well that they feel heard.
It is so simple that sometimes it feels like it’s not enough. I need to do something. I need to help them or give them advice. But it is often perfectly enough. And if it’s not, the person will probably let you know.
Listen so that they know what they are saying matters to you. That they matter to you. It’s pretty impossible to say the wrong thing listening. The whole being quiet thing really reduces your chances of doing so.
Listening is a practice that is ongoing with every person and every situation. It’s never the same twice. But it always matters.
Want to rank high at something? Be an amazing listener.
At least that’s what I heard.
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My thoughts here are a bit passionately swirled, so please bear with me.
When people talk when they don’t know what they’re talking about—and not just talk, but judge—I have a problem with that. A big problem. I’ve been feeling it pretty strongly this week with the death of Robin Williams.
I, along with so many others, was devastated to learn of Williams’ suicide. The one glimmer of hope I felt in his passing was that maybe it would shed better light on mental illness. After all, if a man seemingly so full of joy could take his own life…depression must be real, right? And, thankfully, I have heard some good conversations started because of it. But it’s also brought to light some stunningly insensitive opinions on the topic, as well—most notably (at least for me) the comments made by rocker Gene Simmons. Simmons has since tried to renege on his comments, but I find even those words exasperating.
That kind of stuff feels like a kick in the gut to me.
Back when I taught high school, I went to a student’s funeral who committed suicide. The semester had just started, so I didn’t really get to know her, but I really wish I had had the chance to…What I did see was that she was quiet, sweet, and thoughtful. And she totally mattered. The world lost out when she decided to leave it.
According to Mr. Simmons, though, she had some “dignity” when she killed herself. Granted, his comments are on the far end of the spectrum. While his words are easy for most of us to dismiss as outrageous, there are other responses that, while not so blatantly offensive, still show a lack of understanding when it comes to mental illness.
As I shared in Beautifully Broken, I cope with depression and anxiety. It runs in my family, and it has definitely left its mark. Though my struggles have not brought me to the brink, I understand how the thief that is depression can steal your hope and bring you to dark places that on a good day you could never imagine.
I don’t pretend to know much about depression, but at least I know I don’t know. And I do know that whatever other people are going through, my best response is to listen and care.
I know that mental illness is an illness…and not just people being electively “crazy.” I know that there are people who would never say “get over it” to someone who has cancer or heart disease, but don’t hold mental illness in the same category. Yet it is.
I’ve heard from the pulpit how if we just “turn toward God” we wouldn’t need prescription drugs. I’ve seen people forego seeking help because they have been told to pray harder. Read more scripture. And while I truly believe that all of those things are important, I know that that kind of attitude from members of the clergy does an injustice—and actual damage—to people who are suffering.
There is no shame in illnesses like Multiple Sclerosis or asthma—or any other type of illness—and there shouldn’t be in mental illness, either. Jesus healed all types of sickness with his loving touch. I missed the part in scripture where he dismisses anyone’s hurts or tells them to snap out of it.
Is it possible that some doctors wrongfully prescribe antidepressants to people? Why, yes—in fact I believe that myself because I know people who have had a two-minute chat with a doctor who was then ready to write a prescription. Is there more research to be done on the effectiveness of these kinds of medications? Absolutely. But that doesn’t negate the reality that for many people, these drugs are both a life-saver and giver.
Meds work for some people and not for others. Psychotherapy works for some and not for others. Some people need both. For some, other treatments like electroshock therapy bring relief. Mental illness is not a one-trick pony.
And our response to it should not be to judge or to fix. Please don’t assume you know people’s brokenness—how they got broken, how they need to “fix” it, or what they are doing “wrong.”
As with all the rest of life, if we just tried to understand and care for one another…to have empathy for another’s experience…we could move mountains.
So let’s push to remove the stigma of mental illness. Let’s make it so that people who need help aren’t afraid of being seen as “less than” and instead feel safe to seek help as soon as they realize they need it. Let’s not judge the battles of those whose shoes we have not walked in. Let’s understand that this type of illness can hit anyone at any time, and the sooner we make these kinds of changes, the better for the whole world.
Let’s move mountains.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please seek help immediately. Don’t question whether or not you should seek help—just do it. The American Suicide Prevention Hotline can be found here, and here is a list of international suicide crisis hotlines.