So as you all may have noticed, I have been gone for a while. I promise there is a good reason for this: I started a new job, had a bunch of training, was without internet for two weeks, and was on the road for my job for the better part of a week. In other words, I’ve been busy as fuck and am only just now getting my feet back under me to start a new routine. But I’m BACK, and can now bring you fresh content from the new and improved self with a new and improved job.
So the biggest reason I have been gone is because I’ve been in the process of lots of adjustments, and it has been taking up a lot of my time and energy. Particularly my depression and anxiety have been acting up and I’ve needed to do a lot to cope (by a lot I mean watch ridiculous amounts of Supernatural). It’s been a long time since I’ve really had to adjust to a new kind of culture. My new office is loud, silly, close-knit and very familial. My last office was quiet, lonely and depression. And so as I get used to these new people, I’m finding myself with a bit of culture shock at how different people approach social interaction. Mostly I’m finding that I’ve gotten spoiled by hanging out with people who all know about my emotional and mental issues and know what to do not to upset me.
For the most part I adore my new coworkers. However I’m someone with a lot of baggage. It’s interesting that when we first meet people, we assume that they do not have a history that might involve triggers, mental illness, physical illness, or other difficulties. But more often than not, they do have histories with these sorts of things. Because you never know what someone’s baggage is until you get to know them, it’s often a very good idea to not say potentially triggering things to someone you don’t know very well. Particularly if you are going to be around someone for a long period of time, it’s good to ease into some of the more difficult topics.
In general we understand this: we don’t say race related things or sex related things around new people, or at the very least we understand that it’s in bad taste. But mental health related things seem to be fair game. So with that in mind, here is a handy dandy list of how NOT to freak out your new friend/acquaintance/coworker who has a mental illness.
1.Do not use mental illnesses as descriptors.
It’s been said so many times before, but no you are not OCD because you really like to clean and you do not have depression because you’re having a shit week. Your bank account is not anorexic, and the weather is not bipolar. It’s one thing to use these types of terms if you know the people you’re around, you know their histories, if you have one of these diseases, or if you have some understanding of what impact these terms will have on the individual you’re speaking to. In general I don’t suggest using them in these ways anyway, but particularly when you’ve only known someone for a week, just don’t use illnesses as casual adjectives. (Sidenote: if everyone can strip the word “purge” from their vocabulary when it’s not being used in the puking sense, it would make my life so much better).
2.If someone has quirks, let them have their quirks.
People are weird. People have different bizarre tendencies. Many times these tendencies arise for reasons good reasons, or because of particular interests, fears, or beliefs that an individual has. For someone with a mental illness, they can be important coping mechanisms. As an example, I’m a fairly picky eater. This is because being in control of what kind and how much food I eat is the only way I can eat right now without some major panic. Being able to say no to things and have that simply be the last word is extremely important to me. When you question, harp on, tease about or simply repeatedly bring something up that’s a little quirky about someone, you could be bringing up something that they do entirely intentionally but which they don’t want to share with you. It can be extremely shameful to be teased over something that’s related to your mental illness. There’s no particular reason you need to draw attention. Just let it be.
3.Let people have secrets.
This sounds weird but that’s the best way I could think of to phrase it. You are curious. You are outgoing. You ask questions. Great! Let someone not answer if they don’t want to. Let someone be vague if they want to. Example number two: I go to a lot of therapy right now. 4 appointments a week, totaling 5 hours. It’s a lot of time and effort and energy. It means I often have to jump through hoops to get my work schedule to work with my therapy schedule. When I say I have to leave a little early but I’ll work late tomorrow to make up for it, just let it be. When I don’t want to tell you what I did last night, it’s probably because I spent 2 1/2 hours in a therapy group with confidentiality rules. There’s a difference between curiosity and prying, and staying firmly on the side of curiosity will make people feel safer with you.
4.Avoid jumping into hot-button issues.
This does not mean never talking about important or sensitive things. It means asking the other person if they’re comfortable talking about it, starting with more neutral things about that topic, and working your way into some of the more difficult and personal aspects. If you want to talk about school shootings, that’s fine, but don’t start out the conversation by saying “those crazies all just need to get locked up” because I cannot be held responsible for any damage you or your property may incur after those words have been spoken. Instead of starting with your opinions about an issue, start with some facts or a question.
5.If you’re uncertain if you’ll offend someone, don’t say it (or at least don’t say it yet).
Most of these tips are for relationships that you intend to continue. This means that you’ll have all the time in the world down the line to say that absolutely hilarious one-liner about schizophrenia if and when you’ve come to understand your new acquaintance and their boundaries (although pretty please just don’t). Part of getting to know people is feeling out your boundaries. You may have to censor yourself a little more at the beginning of a relationship as you learn about that person, their pet peeves and passions, and you ask them more about themselves and their experiences. You CAN always ask. If you’re thinking of asking about something, ask if that’s alright. If you want to invite more vulnerability and openness into the relationship, be honest and open yourself. Take your time getting to know people. It’ll all be ok.
6.For those who HAVE a mental illness, recognize that you may have to just keep your mouth shut, and that other people’s habits do not have to be a commentary on your own.
I haven’t exercised in at least 8 months. I feel disgusting just typing that, but it’s true. Towards the end of last December, my dietician told me that I really shouldn’t be exercising anymore because I wasn’t consuming enough calories to sustain it. I stopped exercising when my gym membership at the local college ran out. I haven’t exercised since. It’s something that I’m incredibly uncomfortable with, but also something that is necessary because my body has simply been exhausted for years now. In my new job, people talk about exercising fairly often. It’s something that comes up. There’s an exercise facility in our new building. This topic is TRIGGERING AS FUCK to me. When my coworkers talk about exercising, I feel inadequate, I feel like I have to make excuses for my choice not to exercise, I feel lazy. But simply because they exercise and enjoy exercising does not mean that they are assuming I need to as well. Their behavior is not a judgment of my behavior. I need to take responsibility for my feelings and work on new coping mechanisms for a new environment.
I hope these tips are helpful to navigating new social situations for y’all. It’s good to be back! I have a whole queue of new posts and I’m SO excited to be writing again.