All too often, I’ve seen people dish out unsolicited advice to those suffering from mental health problems and loneliness, usually along the lines of “Seek professional help” or “Call the suicide hotline number” or “Check yourself into hospital”. While this may be appropriate advice to give to someone who is in legitimate danger or is new to the game in terms of seeking treatment, most of us just want someone to listen and not abandon us, rather than give us ‘solutions’, many of which we’ve either tried or are unavailable to us due to where we live or due to insufficient income to be able to afford proper treatment.
As for loneliness and social isolation, I’m disappointed that the general consensus of many is that we should accept it and learn to love ourselves instead. This might work for some people, but human beings are a social species and loneliness and social isolation are very bad for most people, as multiple studies have proven beyond shadow of a doubt. The people who’ve given me unsolicited advice on the subject have generally been people who weren’t lonely at all and had never dealt with prolonged social isolation or marginalization from society.
People who’ve never experienced severe mental illness or have only experienced milder forms of mental illness fail to understand than for many of us, there simply isn’t any help , or the help we received failed to sufficiently lessen our symptoms. And many people who have recovered sufficiently enough from mental illness to lead productive and fulfilling lives usually didn’t do so alone, as they hsd love and support or something or someone to live for, such as children or a partner or simply passion for life that their illness hadn’t robbed them of.
Therefore, I am about to list some of the most common forms of unsolicited advice that I’ve received, along with my response to each of them:, so that I can refer to this blog entry whenever I’m given unsolicited advice;
- “You need to talk to a therapist”. I’ve been in one form of therapy or another since I was 13 years old (just over 20 years, if you must know). I’ve seen multiple therapists, psychologists and school counselors in my time and in all that time, little healing took place, although my last therapist was at least able to help me understand how trauma has affected my brain. And as of now, here in Lincolnshire, England, I cannot even get a referral and I’ve been told that even if I did, the wait time on the NHS would be months or even over a year. As with many people who are mentally ill, I cannot afford to pay for a private therapist.
- “You just need to find the right medication”. I’ve been on one form of antidepressants or another since 2001 and none of them have helped, in fact some made matters worse and the withdrawal symptoms of some of them was worse than cocaine withdrawal. I’ve been on SSRIs, benzos (which at least helped with my anxiety) and even antipsychotics,
- “Go volunteer somewhere”. I love it (sarcasm) when people advise those of us struggling with loneliness and mental health problems to volunteer, as if it’s that easy. I have severe social anxiety and I struggle to do basic things involving being around others, such as going to the grocery store or riding a bus, If I can’t work (which I can’t) then I can’t volunteer either, for the same reasons. I did look into volunteering opportunities near me, but pretty much all of them required social skills that I do not have.
- “The more you try something, the easier it will get”. Exposure actually doesn’t work for me in many aspects of life, especially when it involves being around people. For example, I am afraid of riding buses, but even if I were to ride 10 buses a day, it wouldn’t make me any less terrified and self-conscious. I’m afraid of children and teenagers and if I’m living in a place where there are a lot of families, my fear gets much worse, as opposed to if I lived in an area that was mostly single people and childless couples, where I might see the odd child or teenager here and there. Many times, what happens with me is that regular exposure to something I’m afraid of just results in more trauma.
- “Stop comparing yourself to others (we all have problems)”. Believe it or not, I don’t consciously compare myself to other people, it’s just that by being around others, my mind torments me with it and I have little control over such thoughts, except to self-medicate with alcohol or drugs. I feel like I am constantly reminded of what I’m missing out on and what I’ll never have whenever I go out or whenever I watch television or even a fictional show or film. I also know that everyone has problems from time to time, but most people have a life that’s worth enduring and overcoming those problems for, rather than the piece of shit existence that I have. Besides, knowing that other people might be suffering doesn’t make me feel better about my own suffering.
- “Try going to a support group”. Firstly, there are no support groups where I live and the nearest one us in Nottingham, which is too far for me to go to on a regular basis, especially as many of their meetups are in he evenings, which clash with train times. Secondly (and most importantly), I never do well in group settings. I will either sit there like a rock and feel awful about myself, or I’ll blurt something out that might be inappropriate or embarrassing and I have a tendency to interrupt people without knowing it at the time. The last group I went to (the anxiety group in Nottingham) was a total disaster and I didn’t feel welcome at all. I decided not to go back when I posted something on the group Meetup.com page about how I was feeling, but all I got was (funnily enough) a bunch of unsolicited advice.
- “Churches are great places to meet people in the community”. Churches are not great places to meet people when you’re single, childless and transgender and not even religious.. If I were to walk into a church congregation in this town, I’d be about as welcome as a fly buzzing around a picnic.
- “You just need to learn to love yourself”. Listen, I don’t love myself and never will. Try being born in an ugly body that doesn’t match your gender identity and having people tell you from an early age that you’re ugly, ‘not one of us’,, stupid and a spastic. Even if were comfortable in my own skin despite all of those things, I could never love myself.
- “Stop being so negative; think positive!”. Believe it or not, I’m not a negative person; I have depression. I don’t complain, I don’t broadcast my sadness outside of the internet and I can appreciate history and the beauty of nature. I am neither a negative or a positive person and I don’t believe in that ‘glass half empty / half full’ nonsense, but I do not believe that positive thinking would make any difference to my shitty existence or shitty circumstances.. Please don’t tell me to “think positive” because my brain doesn’t work that way, sorry.
- “Check yourself into the emergency department of a hospital”. No thanks! The last time someone landed me in the psychiatric emergency department of Rochester’s Strong Memorial Hospital, it was one of the most terrifying and pointless experiences of my life. I was left on a couch / bench in a hallway and unable to leave for 8 hours before being discharged after I managed to convince the on duty psychiatrist that I was not a danger to myself. It was a terrifying place and patients were treated as criminals. I still can’t get the screams of that place out of my head when I sometimes experience flashbacks. If I were to do the same here in the UK, I would wait for hours just to be discharged or treated like dirt, because the NHS simply doesn’t have the resources thanks to the Tory government not giving it sufficient funding.
- “Call the suicide hotline”. I can’t make phone calls, sorry. This is partly due to hatred of my male-sounding voice, but also because I find phone conversations extremely difficult, especially if the person on the other end of the phone is a stranger who doesn’t know me at all.
- “Pain is temporary, you’ll get through this”. No, in my case my pain certainly isn’t ‘temporary’ in nature and my desire to end my life never goes away, even on not-so–bad days. People who make such statements are either people who’ve never experienced treatment-resistant mental health problems or chronic loneliness and social isolation that will literally make you go crazy, even if you’re not already. I would only say these things to someone who’d lost a relative, because people usually heal after the grieving phase is over. And many people DO experience positive results from various forms of treatment, but I am not one of those people.
So there you have it; the unsolicited advice that people have given me over the years, which I’ve either tried and failed at or which wouldn’t work in my situation. I will probably add to the list as I’m sure more examples of unsolicited advice will come to me after I hit ‘publish’. I don’t need unsolicited advice; I need people who understand me and will stand by me and bear with me. I need to be able to fit in somewhere in this society. I need surgery to ix my deformities, which are far more than just ‘cosmetic’.. I need to live in a place where I feel safe and completely unwelcome. I need love and support, just like anyone else does.