People frequently tell me that I should talk more about how I’m feeling. That I should speak about what is going on inside me and that nobody would be bothered by it. Nevertheless I don’t like to speak about my personality disorder and the unpleasantries it includes without being asked to. Why? Just imagine:
Question: “How are you?”
Possible answer: “Right now I can’t feel my arms because there are just too many people in this room. It feels like everyone’s staring at me and I can hardly breathe. That’s why I would like to grab the butter knife from the next table and stab my thigh. How are the kids doing?”
Satisfying answer (smiling slightly): “A little tired but otherwise okay, thanks!”
Question: “Why are you never there for our Saturday brunch?”
Possible answer: “At that time I usually practice with my therapist and discuss traumatic events in a safe manner.”
Satisfying answer: “Oh, you know how I’m always so busy, most Saturdays we’ve already planned activities in order to get outside a little…”
Question: “Have you heard? So-and-so is seeing a psychiatrist every week!”
Possible answer: “If she’s going there every week it would probably be a psychotherapist, usually you don’t have to see your psychiatrist that frequently.”
Reaction: “Well it amounts to the same thing! Anyway, she has a screw loose…”
Possible answer: “I see. So do I have a screw loose as well, then?”
Satisfying answer (not too convinced): “Well I think it’s a good thing when people get help…”
Question: “So, how are things going with your…Saturday appointments?”
Answer: “Hmmm…it’s going really well all in all. Sometimes it’s exhausting. But I’m very glad to have my thera…”
Abrupt interruption: “You don’t have to tell me if it’s uncomfortable for you!”
Possible answer: “Does it make YOU uncomfortable?”
Satisfying answer: “No, no that’s alright.”
Talking about these things without being asked to can give the impression that you’re attention-seeking or even wanting to shock people. It can make people feel uncomfortable or actually get really awkward. Contrary to the general assumption that I have a problem with giving details about my illness the truth is simply that I’d rather answer specific questions where a person can decide how much they’d like to know instead of just rattling on and upsetting someone.
I noticed what it does if you “know too much” very early on in my life. In the schoolyard I was (among other things) unpopular due to the fact that I was often being too honest and nobody knew what to do when I started to talk about the things that were happening. That’s why I assumed that nobody could help me for quite some time. Even today I am amazed when I can just utter things I’ve been thinking for years with my therapist without her reactioin being worried or shocked or incredulous.
One cannot judge problems. Something that feels like hell for one person may be a piece of cake for another and I try to take other people’s problems seriously. But when the conversations during lunchbreak are about lost marbles and the newest favourite TV show and forgotten gym bags – how do you casually announce that you feel like your existence doesn’t make any sense? How do I do it today when I’m having coffee with someone? It feels wrong for me to take people by surprise that way. Radical honesty is amusing in the best case.
“Simply” talking about it is not simple because you always have to explain so much. Because you have to swear that no one has to worry. Because you’re not being believed. Because you’re being questioned for every smile (depressed people don’t smile, remember?). Because you’re suddenly being asked how you are in a completely different manner. Because you’re a spoilsport. Because nobody ever tells you just how much information they would like to have. Because thoughts you might regard as rather fluffy can shock other people and you have to stop before you’ve even really started talking. Because you can see what people really think on their faces. Because problems are being judged after all.
Because you’ve learned the rules in the schoolyard: There are satisfying answers and you’d better be giving them in order to avoid an unforseeable chain of reactions. “Simply” talking is often just possible with those who know “it” themselves – “it” being a specific symptom, for instance. But it is so important to talk to each other – also to people whose screws are neatly tightened and polished. If you actually want that…?