Before Opening Your Mouth

These past couple of days, I’ve had some really great conversations with people about the healing process and how difficult it is to be an individual struggling with a disability. Emotional healing, physical healing, the whole spectrum.

I’m not sure why it didn’t quite hit me before, but most people are unable to provide adequate comfort and and use discernment around people-such as myself- who have undergone serious emotional or physical trauma. This shouldn’t come as surprising.

Although we- me and you- talk openly about trials and tribulations of all kinds, but when it comes to be affirming and empathetic, the discussion ends. An excuse I’ve heard for not practicing affirmation and empathy is that some people cannot understand because they haven’t gone through the exact same experience. While it would be great if we could all relate in this way, that would only mean more people suffering. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

After I returned home from the ICU in November I was struggling with borderline PTSD and severe anxiety and depression. The plethora of questions and promptings from friends and family that encouraged me to rehash the serious and unfortunate events was not something I was ready for. In fact, it’s been about five months now and only recently have I been emotionally prepared. Nonetheless, I answered the questions, but didn’t realize later on that re-visiting this trauma was horrible for emotional healing.

I’m sharing this with the hope that you will read and hopefully think more seriously about how to approach a friend or family member whose physical and mental health is in a shaky place. I want my experiences to become a teachable lessons that I can share with others through my spoken and written words.

Do Not Say

1. God has a plan.

2. Jesus loves you, therefore, you have no reason to be depressed. Depression is sinful.

3. You’re such a fighter!

Explanation: When I was hospitalized, I felt like my life was falling apart. It DID fall apart. When my plans for school, work, and relationships fell apart in a matter of twenty-four hours, I did NOT feel comforted or encouraged by the phrase “God has a plan.” I didn’t disown God, by having these feelings. Depression is a mental disorder. The many stigmas Christians have attached to the word “depression”  and “anxiety”  are wrong and the result has been a lack of healthy discussion about the issue. In the hospital intubated, and in a wheelchair and at home when I found myself crying about my situation, I did not feel strong. I don’t feel worthy of praise for merely surviving a life-threatening event.

Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful for my friends and family who helped keep me standing these past few months and I’m not disqualifying anything they said to me. If you read this and thought “oops I said that to her” it’s OK. No long term damage was made. My goal with this blog post is to promote better conversations, not idle on ones that weren’t my favorite .

Do Say

1. Nothing. Zip. Zilch.

2. I’m sorry that you feel this way. What can I say or do (if anything) that would make this better?

3. I don’t know what you’re going through and I’m not going to pretend that I do. Forgive me for anything that comes off as insensitive and if you feel like talking, please help me understand your situation more fully so that I can better serve you and help you with this healing process.

Explanation: this may sound weird, but have been many times when I asked people like my sister or my mom to simply sit with me. I said “if I feel like talking, I’ll speak up, but for now your presence is enough.” Sometimes it is that simple. Instead of assuming you know the right words or actions, ask! What can I do or say? Another “do not say” would be, “I know how you feel.” No you don’t. Everyone is unique and so are there issues.

Lastly, nobody likes a heart breaker. Don’t pretend to care and then leave. Let’s try and be better supporters of our friends and family who are struggling!


9 thoughts on “Before Opening Your Mouth

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  1. I was thinking just today that others don’t understand my illness because they haven’t experienced it – and I don’t want them to, but I would like the assumtions to stop. Also, all the Facebook posts telling me if I just take this supplement or change my diet or whatever…good grief. Thanks for this post!

  2. Help me to help you. Life’s twists and turns…suffering and pain…compassion and love. Thank you for helping us to see that we say, “Poor you” with our hurried ways and words when sitting beside you “waiting” beside you is the hard work we do not want to take time to do for you and others. Love you.

  3. Thank you for putting into words your experiences. I found that it was hard for me to tell someone how to help and what I needed because I really didn’t know what I needed at any particular time. Having someone just sit with me was helpful, but the only person willing to do that at the time was Brad.

  4. Thank you for sharing. You are so correct. I strive to do this better. I need more practice. I think I get overwhelmed with how can I fix the situation. Just being there for someone is so powerful.

  5. Hi Kayla, I’m glad you wrote this. Even though it has been 12 yrs. since Ezra left us, we are still moving through our grief. I can hardly remember now the stinging words spoken by well intentioned friends. Thankfully at the time, somehow I realized that most of us don’t know what to say or do and we feel helpless. It’s something we don’t learn. Maybe because none of us are exposed to it enough, or because hurting people seem to be everywhere we are somewhat numb and are moving on to the next person and the next hurt or need. Definietly the obviously “wrong”things that were said were the most hurtful but the other things or maybe the things NOT said, were almost harder to understand. Sometimes I would think, how can this person whom I am so close to, not know what I need to hear?” But you know what? Many things have happened to people close to me since and a I still find I don’t know what to do…or what to say. I just try hard not to say the “stupid” things. One thing that I wish people understood is that hearing one talk about Ezra is the greatest gift. It makes so many people uncomfortable. I wish they knew that it is music to my ears and heart. I try to pause and breath and remind myself that “We just don’t really know. There’s not a class…not enough role modeling…not enough empathy in an overloaded hurting world.” It takes a lot of patience and “pre” forgiveness and an awful lot of trust that most people hurt with and for us and love us even if they aren’t sure what to do or say. Sorry, I’ve said more than I should have. Thinking about you Kayla, often, and wishing you well. Love, Eva

  6. I so totally understand this writing. I, too, went through a lot of trauma after being hospitalized too many times as a child. I had to “be brave and not cry”. Later in life when I had my gall bladder out, all this unhealed trauma came roaring up and it was not pretty. No one really knew how to help and would tell me to “get over it.” Yeah? Like how? I now have the tools needed to release and heal myself but it’s been a long journey.

  7. What you’ve written here is so true and what I’ve found that most people are well-meaning but completely ignorant of what mental illness actually is. Sometimes I’ll read posts online or hear someone saying that people should just “get over it” and I wanna smack them – it doesn’t work that way!!

    Thank you for sharing this.

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