I remember when my friend went to a suicide support group after her son killed himself. People had been endlessly plying her with platitudes, saying remarkably ignorant and thoughtless things, and one day at group someone said, “Well, God must have needed him so He took him home.” My friend became livid, as she was prone to do at that time in her life, and told the person who said this to shut up and never say such a ridiculous, horrible thing about her son again. She told the group that God doesn’t need people. People need God, and where was he when we are at our most vulnerable? Where was he when her son needed him? She was so sick to death of people making stupid, offhand, simplistic remarks about her and her son.
I thought about her and that incident today, because I had a bad day on Friday. I have them fairly frequently. Those who know and love me know that steering clear of me on those days is in their own best interest. And they are right. I can barely stand to be around myself most of those days.
So, on Friday, my young first cousin-once-removed, who is twenty years old and male, was here talking with us. I told him I was having a bad day. He said “You should be more positive, and then things wouldn’t seem so bad.”
I replied, “Well thank you. I’ve been waiting my whole life for someone to tell me how to make it better.” And the conversation deteriorated from there. Then we had to leave to go to a dinner engagement and I haven’t seen him since.
Today I sent him an email explaining why I got so mad at him. I told him that I have been chronically depressed since 1968. Sometimes it’s better, sometimes it’s worse. At times in the past I’ve been suicidal. I said that most people carry a burden that the rest of us don’t know about, so flippant, offhand, simplistic remarks like “You need to be more positive” are unhelpful at best and insulting at worst. I’ve been taking antidepressants for years, I explained to him. Right now I take two different ones, one at twice the therapeutic dose. I said I don’t need advice from a 20 year old kid telling me if only I were more positive, I’d be fine. I am not fine. I am never going to be fine.
This is far from being the first time that someone has said something like this to me. I apologized to my cousin for not being more patient with him, given his age and level of testosterone toxicity. Because people a lot more “mature” than he is, and many of them women, have been just as flippant and insulting over the years. You know those ones who tell you, out loud, without one moment’s embarrassment, that “You can choose to be happy or not. If you choose not to be, then that’s your problem.” Who chooses to be unhappy, I ask you? If I could choose to be happy, believe me, I’d fucking pick that option in a hot second. Unfortunately life is not that simple. If you’re stupid, it’s simple because when YOU are simple so is life. I have often wished I were stupid so that I would be happier. Things would be so much easier. I envy stupid contented people, and I’m perfectly serious about that.
I guess the moral here is that often, we do not know what kind of burden others are carrying around, so please stop with the platitudes and simplistic advice and insulting pronouncements. If you don’t know what to say, don’t say anything. It’s OK. You don’t have to talk constantly to keep your brain from seizing up. Just shut up.