I’ve been trying to work out the basis of a post about societies attitude to broken things and the link with attitudes to mental health but I can’t seem to get it explained right. The gist is about peoples obsessions with offering solutions to problems. Got a minor (physical) health issue and happen to mention it? Cue lots of unsolicited advice on what Aunt Vera did, what you should eat, what homeopathic pill to take etc etc… Which can be frustrating as, well, lets face it the person you’re talking to is unlikely to be medically qualified and may well have different opinions to you on the effecicacy of homeopathic remedies. Manage to tell sommeone that your brain is not working properly and you’re feeling stressed about? Cue lots of advice on what you could do to fix stuff. Should you be feeling like curling into a ball and hiding from the world as you just aren’t feeling up to doing anything right now, a list of things to do is not always helpful. You probably know most of them anyway, the problem is not knowing what you should be doing, it’s getting your brain and its partner in crime your body to play ball. In fact being told all the things that you should be doing and can’t will probably make you feel worse.
At this point I should point out that I am not a completely selfish self obsessed curmedgeon. I do realise that the person offering the advice is trying to help. I don’t mean to put them down.
It’s just that there are times when what is needed is some no strings attatched listening. And I’ve noticed that this is something people find challenging to do and I think there may be a cultural element to it. We live in a society that can do so much. You can sit on your sofa reading the blog I wrote on my sofa and yet we’ve never met. Skyscrapers are built, planes are flown, heart transplants happen, we can do so much. I think sometimes we forget that we can’t do everything.
This last winter in the UK it rained. A lot. And parts of Somerset spent a long time underwater. Which had dire impact on the people living there. They have my sympathy but considering the amount of rain that fell the flooding is not that surprising if you know that much of Somerset is drained marsh land and lies below sea level. But it has to be someones fault. Because we should be able to fix stuff and if something goes wrong it must be someones fault. Lets gloss over the fact that nature has made the very geography of the land, humans have conquered nature.
But I digress. (Did I mention that I’m struggling to articulate this concept?)
We aren’t used to seeing broken things, things gone wrong. We throw them away, get new ones. Or get someone in to fix them. And when people are ill we are lucky enough to have a whole host of medicines and treatments to help them.
But sometimes, things aren’t fixable. Maybe they’re just really rubbish for a bit. Or maybe they’re going to be really rubbish for ever and we have to adapt to that. And that is what I think people aren’t used to. It makes them feel helpless. Why, when I live in a world that can do so much, are you broken? Surely if I talk for long enough I’ll think of the right pill you can take that will make you all well again. If I don’t have a solution for you, what does that make me?
So, it’s hard to remember not to leap in with a solution when someone has a problem. It’s hard just to listen and empathise with how bad someone feels. To stare at brokenness an not look away. (Of course, I’m not saying that offering solutions is not ever appropriate, just sometimes it might not be, or it might not be the best thing to do straight away.)
Hmm, this all seems to have got a bit heavy and I’m still not sure I’ve put it right, but hey, it’s only a blog post and if you read this far I hope you got the gist.