Monday 26 August 2013

"There are Always Cupcakes"

Ohhh... that's good

Advice. According to the Oxford dictionary, the word advice is defined as: noun; guidance or recommendations concerning prudent future action, typically given by someone regarded as knowledgeable or authoritative.

Have you noticed that the world is full of people who love to give unsolicited advice? And I would wager that 99.9% of the time, the 'advice' provided is neither prudent nor given by someone regarded as knowledgeable. Sorry, Oxford dictionary.

When it comes to mental illness there is an endless supply of this so-called advice. It's almost always well meaning. Most of the time it comes from wanting to say something reassuring but there is almost always a lack of understanding that mental illnesses are just that - illnesses. Real illnesses.

In the two decades since my first diagnosis of depression, sometimes living with full blown major depressive episodes and sometimes in remission, I have pretty much heard it all and read it all. I accept and understand that my illness has to do with my brain circuitry and a hereditary disposition. Yes, there have also been situational stressors that have aggravated the illness at times, but that has not been the root cause of it for me.

I also understand that there are many things that I can do to try and maintain a healthy lifestyle: eat well, practice good sleep hygiene (yes, it's a thing), get regular exercise, manage stress, and surround myself with positive, supportive people.

But here's the kicker, people. These things will not always prevent a relapse. I cannot control my illness any more than someone with cancer can. Yes, I can (and do) treat my illness with both a scientific approach (with the professional guidance of my doctor) as well as holistically in the ways that I outlined above. Quite simply, I do everything that I can to mitigate risk of relapse.

And here, again, is a big difference between those of us who have been diagnosed with mental illness versus someone who has an illness or disease that shows up in a more physical manner: we get a lot of ridiculous, often annoying and sometimes hurtful, so-called advice. My favourites over the years have been "Just smile and think about all the good things in your life" and "Go for a walk and get some fresh air."

Granted, this is solid advice if you are sad or angry. That's because sad and angry are feelings - not illnesses. Focusing on the good or a bit of exercise can change your feelings fairly quickly, and that's a great thing. It doesn't work so quickly and effectively for someone battling a disease such as depression. These things alone will not make the black dog of depression go away.

I know it is really hard to understand this if you haven't experienced it yourself so I will compare depression to cancer, again. Would you tell someone fighting cancer to just go for a walk or think happy thoughts and expect that to be solid advice in which to battle that particular disease? Perhaps not.

Why is this well-meaning advice hurtful at times? Because it can be delivered in a way that can come across as dismissive and condescending. And sometimes, it's given with an undertone of 'you just aren't trying hard enough." A person experiencing a major depressive episode is already dealing with the feeling of being alone and overwhelmed, with feelings of inadequacy and guilt; the last thing they need to feel is misunderstood or that people lack empathy and caring.

Please don't let any of the above stop you from sharing some supportive words of hope, however. Hope is literally a lifeline to a person experiencing mental illness. While 'advice' is everywhere, kind gestures can be rare. Just take a moment to consider that the pain is real and all they really want to hear is that you are there for them. And if you still really want to provide a moment of comfort why not choose from this list, all of which are solid suggestions in my opinion:

Knowing that there are always cupcakes is a good thing.
KB xo


  1. Well said Kristin. I often remember that behind advice is the effort of a well intentioned friend trying to do what they can. The list is handy though, although I would organize my baseball cards, as I am too old for Pokemon! ;)

    Keep writing...

    1. Thanks, Simon. Agreed - and it's not the well-intentioned that upset me so much...
      Have fun organizing your baseball cards (when you aren't playing the game)!

  2. Just reading the list made me feel better! And I must admit the very first item - don't listen to Bob Dylan - made me laugh out loud! (oh and as an ex-librarian, I particularly liked "visit the library"...) take care, Kristin - again thanks for sharing...

  3. Thanks, Patty! So glad you liked the list - I am a big reader so I like any suggestion that has to do with books!

  4. Great post again Kristin. I'm like you, the well-intentioned, but not quite knowing what to say, are not the people that make me angry or frustrated. It's the dismissive people that bother me. The ones that insinuate that this is something I can change right now. Recently someone I care about a lot told me that needing to go to counseling makes me weak and basically told me that she was superior to me for not needing this. I thought a lot about this. Would she have gone there if I had cancer or diabetes? No way. She was intentionally trying to hurt me and this was her weapon of choice.
    I will take your list and use it. I love the idea of sleeping on a pile of blankets. I think I will get them out when I get home and sleep on some and make a fort with the others.


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