By: Kryss Jobes
It seems innocent enough on the surface, but let’s take a closer look. Imagine you’re going through a rough time. You feel that downward swing in motion and you are overwhelmed. You’re doing your best to take care of yourself and your responsibilities, but that leaves little energy for much else. Underneath it all, you just want to be left alone, right? You want time alone to relax and recharge. Now imagine you’ve just finished explaining this to a close friend or family member. You’ve given the back story of how the state of your mental health has made things especially difficult lately. Then you explain how you don’t want to talk to or be around anyone because you just don’t have the energy for it. Of course you don’t intend for this to hurt their feelings; you’re telling them because you think they will understand, right? But then it happens. Innocently enough, they ask “Even me?”
It hits you like a ton of bricks and stops you in your tracks. The panic and guilt start to rise in you as you try to figure out how to respond. Rationally, you know they didn’t mean to guilt trip you. You understand that they probably don’t realize that’s what they’ve done. But none the less, you now feel guilty, maybe even selfish, for wanting time to yourself to take care of you. Now you’re torn. Do you reassure them and tell them they aren’t included in that. Or do you struggle to try to explain that yes, sometimes they are also included in that all encompassing “I don’t feel like talking to or being around anyone right now.”
To most people, it is such a simple phrase. But to those who live with mental illness, those who just want their loved ones to understand, it is one of the worst guilt trips out there. It is difficult enough to muster the courage to open up about these things in the first place. Especially when you never know how it will be received. All you can do is just be honest and hope for the best. That is what we all do. But that one little phrase can be crushing to someone who has just finished opening up to you and explaining why they haven’t been talking as much or why they haven’t been able to spend time hanging out. To them, it feels like you’ve taken it personally and made it about you instead of understanding that it is about them.
It used to be a real issue for me. I would do my best to explain what I was going through and how I was feeling. I would finish up by saying that I didn’t feel like being around anyone at the time. I wasn’t angry or malicious in my words. Just honest. Then I would be hit with that inevitable, “Even me?” Instantly, I would freeze with panic and a wave of guilt would wash over me. I would forget that this was about me and not the other person. I would berate myself, asking how I could have made someone I care about feel like I didn’t want them around. So I would back track and reassure them, “Of course not you. You know what I meant.” This happened many times before I started to wake up. I’d start feeling angry when someone said that to me. I started resenting it and them. I started asking myself why was it okay for them to take something that was about me and my feelings and make it about them. I started to understand that that wasn’t them being understanding or helpful at all.
But I also understood that they probably didn’t mean to make me feel guilty. It’s an automatic reflex that I’ve felt myself in similar situations. So I started to speak up about it. I started letting people know, when they would reply with that, “When you say that, it makes me feel like you are taking this personally instead of being understanding.” And it’s true; they didn’t realize the negative affect it had. It was just their reflexive way of showing they cared.
Things have gotten better for me since I started speaking out about that one little phrase and the damage it can do. It can be scary to stand up for yourself, especially after having already been courageous in opening up in the first place. Your feelings and what you are going through is about you. If you chose to open up to someone about it, you don’t have to let them make it about them and make you feel guilty. Don’t be afraid to be honest. It’s part of the battle we are all warriors in.