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Sep 25 2012

The Friend Manual, Part IV

This one is all from you–from the brilliant comments on Part I, Part II, and Part III of the Friend Manual series. You made me think of new things, put into words things that had been percolating in my mind, and in the case of this comment from tolladay, reduced me to unexpected tears over my laptop.

So here you go, the advice of your co-commenters:

15. Unsolicited Advice is Awful
(From Ashley, herself!)

Please don’t tell me what kind of medicine is good/bad, what kind of therapy is good/bad, and how I should cope with things UNLESS I ask you for that advice. If I complain of depression, a headache, an allergic reaction, a panic attack, or PTSD, the correct response is not “Why aren’t you taking [MEDICINE]?” or “Why haven’t you dealt with that yet?” or any other attempts at help that read like you think you know more about my life and conditions than I do.

Even if you have the best possible intentions, just don’t do this. It always manages to sound like the worst mix of unsympathetic and nosy. If you simply can’t contain your medicinal Holy Grail, start with “I might have a suggestion–are you interested?”

16. Just Listen
(From anthonyallen)

What helps me most is to have someone just simply listen. You don’t have to solve my problems for me, you don’t even have to understand them, but if I work up the courage to actually speak about what’s gotten me into my latest spiral, all I need from you is that you care enough to really listen to me. That alone helps me more than all the therapy in the world and all the meds there are.

17. Don’t Make Comparisons
(from Nepenthe)

The biggest thing I ask from friends is that they don’t make that comparison, unless they actually have depression/an eating disorder.

It’s like… no, your temporary sadness does not have any meaningful comparison to the suicidal ideation that has plagued me for 15 years. Have your down days ever led you to be sequestered in a locked ward against your will? Has your diet ever led you to burst into tears in a grocery store because the thought of dealing with food was too overwhelming? No? Then I think we have very little in common in this regard.

18. And Another Thing About Not Being A Therapist…
(from chrislawson)

I’d add one more point (although it’s in a sub-class of trying to be a therapist), and that is: Don’t suggest new therapies that you read about in a magazine/on the news/in a pamphlet at your local health food shop. Most people think they’re helping when they do this, but they don’t understand that people with chronic illnesses (and not just in mental health) get bombarded with crappy information from well-wishers who know nothing about the illness or the evidence (or lack thereof) for the treatment they are enthused about. Essentially what they’re saying is “I know nothing about your condition or this suggested treatment, but if I pressure you to put in the effort of researching and/or trying it, then I get to feel good about myself.”

The Friend Manual, Part I
The Friend Manual, Part II
The Friend Manual, Part III 

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Scott Gibbons

    Thanks for posting this series Ashley.

    I have suffered from depression for over 20 years myself. However, I see some pretty obvious traps described in these posts that I have fallen into in relating to friends and colleagues who have their own individual experience with mental illness.

    Something else has struck me in reading these. There is a some good advice that I can heed as a parent also. A month ago I realised that my 16yo daughter was depressed. Two days later, before my wife and I could act, our daughter attempted suicide. Since she is 16 we don’t get a lot of info from the doctors but we are hearing about a whole range of things including general anxiety disorder, depression, body dismorphia, paranoia, and mild agoraphobia. There is a lot of gentle common sense relationship stuff that you have included here that could well assist us in moving forward with our daughter.

    Thanks again.

  2. 2
    Nepenthe

    I should clarify my comment, because it seems, in retrospect, a bit abrasive.

    There is, I think, meaningful similarities between people with the same sorts of disorders with different levels of severity. When I say “temporary sadness”, I’m not referring to someone who’s had a depressive episode, but then got better; it’s my mentally healthy friends/acquaintances/family that I’m addressing.

    And, on the other hand, I often find great comfort when a person who has similar issues expresses knowing sympathy. I feel less alone and alien knowing, for example, that other people with eating disorders have some of the same thoughts about food/eating that I have, especially the really weird ones. It’s just not something that I think neurotypical people can grok. And maybe affective disorders are different from eating disorders too. It seems like, from reading and experience, eating disorders have sort of a typical “course”, if you will, with a lot of very specific commonalities, whereas affective disorders are more personal, without concrete thoughts that are shareable or expressible.

    Egh, word vomit. YMMV, etc.

  3. 3
    Kate Donovan

    I’m the author (well, with the exception of Part IV), and I’m sorry to hear that your daughter is facing such a rough time. That you care, that you’re evaluating what you can do to relate to her better is priceless. Thank you.
    The best of hugs and smiles to your daughter.

  4. 4
    Scott Gibbons

    Thanks Kate. My apologies for missing your name in the by-line.

    I am certainly ensuring that she is never short on hugs :)

  5. 5
    robertbaden

    Those of us who have biochemical problems like diabetes that affect our diets have our own set of problems. I can’t imagine what someone with PKU goes through.

  6. 6
    PhilM

    Thanks for your posts. I’ll jusy say it helps.

  7. 7
    Torie

    I love this series.

    I have an extremely rare neurological disorder that most people have never heard of, and that probably seems stupid and trivial to people who don’t have it.

    It’s called misophonia. Basically, certain sounds (for me, sounds associated with eating) cause me to feel profound anxiety, distress, terror, and rage. There is no treatment and no cure. When I hear someone eating, I feel like my insides are going to explode, and if I don’t escape the sound, I feel so horrible that I explode in a destructive, sobbing rage. On one occasion I attacked a person who was making chewing noises, but most of the time I injure myself or destroy something.

    And I realize it sounds funny… but it’s not. And that time you felt annoyed when your mom chewed with her mouth open does not really compare.

  8. 8
    Daniel Schealler

    I have a friend who’s going through some shit. Came back to this for a well-needed refresher.

    Thanks for putting this up. Think I’ll do better next time.

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