Dear S,

Image from https://depositphotos.com

It is in my nature to blame myself.

By extension, it is also in my nature to engage in unhealthy levels of self-flagellatory introspection as a means to identify a route out of an unhappy interpersonal situation. Unsuccessfully, of course. Because no amount of intellectual consideration can truly influence the behaviour of other people.

Sometimes, you just have to accept that there are things that you cannot change.

And there it is: I can’t change you.

I can’t change…

  • your negative opinion of me
  • your decision to distance yourself from me on a personal level
  • how sensitive I am to rejection (only how I react to it behaviourally)
  • how I perceived your comments and actions towards me as a personal attack
  • how your behaviour towards me ground away at the limited amount of resilience and self-esteem that I had
  • how you routinely humiliated me in front of others that I respect
  • how you left me powerless to defend myself against you, or to action changes to counteract the damage that you caused
  • how you are so protected by others in power
  • the as yet unspecified incident(s) in which I apparently caused you such offence that you felt the need to belittle and/or dismiss me in every exchange thereafter
  • the lack of recognition of my efforts to make it up to you
  • the consequences of the months and years of holding my tongue, keeping my head down and simply absorbing your shit because there was no safe place to voice my concerns
  • the post-natal depression that suppressed my resources at the time I needed them the most
  • the lost hours that I should have been with my children instead of you
  • the effect that your behaviour has had on my personal life, especially my relationships with my family
  • the guilt I feel that I allowed this to happen
  • the past.

In reading this, I can see that if the names were reversed, you could be writing this letter too.

But the difference is, you are the person in power in this relationship.

You should be better.

You will not win.

Do Compliments Undermine Conversations About Mental Health?

Recently – or more specifically, since giving birth – I have experienced a strange phenomenon.

I keep having conversations with well-meaning people, both friends and strangers, that leave me feeling quite confused and frustrated.

The general structure of the conversation goes like this:

[Friend or stranger coos over my baby]
Friend/Stranger: How old are they now?
Me: About X weeks/months
Friend/Stranger: How are you feeling?
Me: Ok…quite tired…
Friend/Stranger: [interrupting] Well you look great, not tired at all!

So what is wrong with this exchange?

Well, I’m not really the type to talk about my feelings readily – certainly not with strangers – but I will be a bit more open with very selective friends. However, as these conversations keep happening, it has struck me how much harder it is to be honest about how I’m feeling after such a comment. The compliment is almost dismissive of concerns that may have been expressed before it; presenting as ‘happy and well’ is all that matters, not how you actually feel.

I don’t know about you, but over the years I have really perfected my facade of emotional stability. I am lucky enough to have remained quite functional even in some pretty dark times, but presenting as something you are not to be more socially acceptable is generally not a good thing.

Today I met up with a friend from work for the first time since my little one was born and we had a very similar conversation to the example above.

While it was nice enough to see them, I felt that their compliment totally undermined any potential discussion of my mental health. They were aware that I have been struggling lately (in fact, this was the reason for them meeting up with me) but when they told me that I looked well, I felt like I couldn’t really contradict them. I felt that to do so would be akin to rejecting their well-intentioned compliment and may cause offence. I mean, how should I respond to that? – “Well thanks, but actually I feel like crap and hate myself like 90% of the time”??

I don’t think that would go down too well.

So, the effect of the compliment is essentially for me to not speak up about my mental health issues. Which is bad, right?

Don’t get me wrong, this is very much one of those ‘first world problem’ scenarios, but our society is currently experiencing a perceived mental health crisis, so maybe it’s worth considering?

Is it just me? Or am I actually making a valid point here?