I read this post last month. It’s written by “a 30-something working mother living with bipolar disorder.” The post, like all her posts, is beautifully written and explains very clearly all the questions the writer would prefer not to hear from her friends. Once, I would have agreed with it. Now, I’m not sure I go along with its assumptions.
I understand very well what it feels like when people say things that show the gap between them and you. Things that you can’t answer because what they say shows that they and you are on a different wavelength.
Of course I understand it. I wrote something similar a few years ago in a book explaining social anxiety. This is what I wrote:
Cheer up it can’t be that bad!
Why don’t you smile? You have such a pretty smile.
Are you ok? You look bored.
Cheer up, love, it might never happen!
Smile, you’re ruining the scenery.
He’s so shy.
You’re QUIET, aren’t you.
What did you do during the weekend?
A penny for them.
This is Susan. She doesn’t like associating with people.
…Or the Sarcastic Ones
You’re full of conversation today.
I can’t get a word in edge ways.
You’re a bundle of laughs.
Don’t draw attention to our symptoms
You’re as red as a beetroot.
What’s up? You look as if you’ve seen a ghost.
Don’t Insist on Details…
…of our weekend/holiday/whatever. If we don’t want to say, it’s probably because we’re embarrassed to say we didn’t do anything.
Don’t Patronise Us
As recently as a couple of months ago, I had someone put on a ‘sympathetic’ face and speak to me in a tone of voice that you would use to address a small child or a pet. I am certain that people think I’m a bit backward, mentally defective, not all there, etc.
Just as people in wheelchairs don’t like it when others address questions about them to other people, we don’t like being treated like small children. I know our external behaviour sometimes resembles that of children, but internally we passed that stage a long time ago.
I don’t think I agree with any of that any more. It’s true that those things are annoying. It’s particularly upsetting to hear sarcasm directed at you, highlighting a feature of your personality that you would dearly love to change.
But ‘don’t say’ statements make a big assumption. They say: you are normal and I’m not. And they say: you can have a normal conversation with me, leaving out these things that annoy me.
Well, I don’t know about you, but if I have a list of things I mustn’t say, my tendency is not to say anything at all, because I’m too afraid of forgetting or getting confused and saying the forbidden words.
So I’m beginning to think that we who banish words are defeating our purpose. We’re repelling the very people we want to come close.
Instead of telling people what not to say, we should accept that these things will occasionally be said, and work out how to respond to them. Even if it’s only to say, “I can’t answer that.” Or to make a joke out of it. Or to explain why the statements are annoying. It all depends on the context and the way we’re feeling. But responses can be worked out in advance, relieving the pressure to react on the spot.
Maybe my next post should list possible responses to the statements above. If you have any ideas about how to espond, I’d love to read them in the comments section.