During and after each of my three hospital stays, people said things to me I wished they hadn’t. I know they meant well, and they cared, but it didn’t help me at all in my recovery. Some statements seemed to bring me down again or bring up my anxiety even more.
Here’s what they said, and why it’s harmful. My hope is to help people better approach their loved ones.
I don’t know how many people didn’t know what to say to me, so they just didn’t say anything at all. This was scary because I felt like I couldn’t ask for their help and support. It would have taken so much energy for me to reach out to them. It’s so hard to get the motivation to go to my contact list on my phone, find the person and dial the number. It may seem easy, but it isn’t when you’re struggling like I was. I would rather have my friends and family reach out to me and make that effort for me. It shows that they will listen and they care. It shows that I am not a burden to them.
“I’m glad you are better now”
When I left the hospital each time, people would say to me, “I’m glad you are out and feeling better now.” This sucked to hear because I was still not okay. I had just been released from the hospital and back in the world. It did not feel normal. It did not feel familiar anymore. My bed was too soft. My place felt like a stranger’s home. My friends felt even more distant because they weren’t really aware of what I was going through. I couldn’t seem to relax. I was waking up periodically through the night with my eyes feeling heavy every morning. I was having constant anxiety knowing the people I love had seen me at rock bottom. It made me feel exposed and vulnerable. I kept experiencing reminders of the pain I went through.
Many assumed I was cured because I had been released from the hospital. But in reality, the hospitalization was just the beginning of my healing. I had a lot more work to do including: frequent doctor visits, psychiatric appointments, therapy and finding new ways of regaining my mental health. Instead they could have said: “How can I help you?” or “Can I make a meal for you?” Or something along the lines of, “I want to be there for you, more than just a phone call, can I come over today and chat? I want you to know that you are not a burden to me, and I love you.”
“This wouldn’t have happened had you just…”
I know that my loved ones care deeply about me, and I understand that my hospitalization scared them. I understand that their fear led them to question why I was hospitalized. But while I was going through this, it just felt wrong. I was going through fear, anger, sadness, frustrations, loneliness and despair, too.
Too often in our society, we blame victims for their own suffering. We believe their suffering could have been prevented if they had just made other choices. But by the time this questioning and blame begins, it’s already too late. What happened, happened. It’s done. So don’t make a person feel like they deserved to go through this traumatic experience.
It is important to know that there are many factors that can steer someone’s mental health in one direction or another — not just the individual choices we make — and sometimes we just have to accept rather than question.
“What was it like?”
Please don’t ask this question or similar questions like, “What got you hospitalized in the first place?” or “Did you hurt yourself?” or “Did you try to commit suicide?” For me, it was a traumatic experience. And I was not ready to talk about it. We all have our own timeframe of when, how and where we feel comfortable sharing our personal stories. Sometimes, I don’t want to share my experience because I don’t want to relive the moment again. I need to process this on my own time, and I want those around me to understand that.
“When are you going back to doing the things you did before?”
Truthfully, it takes time to recover from a psychiatric hospitalization just like any other health problem. When I’m ready, I will let you know. It’s my decision. I was still struggling with finding my way back into life again. I needed those in my life to show patience and understanding rather than push me into doing something I wasn’t ready for. If a person feels pressured or stressed, it can increase the chances of going back to the hospital. It happened to me! I was hospitalized three times, and they were close together. It’s better to support them in getting better and validate their feelings first.
“Don’t think so much about what happened in the past”
How can someone just move on and ignore what happened and hope it will disappear? I’ve thought about it constantly. Trying to move on is not that simple. The experience of my hospitalizations caused stress that I never had before. If I had post-traumatic stress disorder before the first hospitalization, then it would have been even worse after it.
The stress and tension my body went through was not just emotional. It was physical, too. Everything was taken away from me. I was being told where to go and what to do, being handed pills to take. I couldn’t sleep. I struggled to eat. It was painful. How can I explain all of this just for someone to tell me, “I understand, you need to move forward, that is the only way.” It just reinforces the idea that I have to carry this burden alone.
I still get flashbacks: when I see sirens, when I hear a story about someone going through suicide in the news, when I retell my story, among other times. I am still recovering, and I don’t know how long it will take me. Rather than these harmful comments, I want people to ask me how I’m doing, validate my feelings and my struggle, ask if I need help and tell me they’re here if I want to talk about anything. I need the same patience, support and compassion a person with physical illness would receive.
Christine Parsons lives in Highlands Ranch, Colorado with her husband of 10 years and two small children. Christine has severe depression disorder, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder and has been hospitalized seven times since July 2018.
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