“Hello. How are you?”
Could you ask a more innocent, well-intentioned question? It’s almost automatic; typical of how we greet each other. Oddly enough, those who ask don’t always want to actually know how you’re doing, and those who answer don’t answer truthfully much of the time. Yet, again and again, for lack of a better, well-thought out form of greeting its used time and time again.
It’s true you know. Just pay attention and listen when you’re greeted by someone for one or two days as an experiment. Today being Monday, most of your co-workers will today say, “Hi, so how was your weekend?” Tomorrow and for the rest of the week, they’ll say, “Hi, how are you?”
A couple of days ago I sat down with someone suffering – and suffering is the right word by the way – with depression and poor mental health. He’s been out of work for over a year now, and his life-long depression is getting much worse. He told me that one of the things that bothers him more and more is the constant question of how he’s doing; especially from people he knows don’t want to really know.
Are you guilty of this? I know I am and I imagine you are too. I’m not naïve enough to actually believe that 95% of the people around me are fine or good; even though they say so. Sure many of us are good and doing well. However, it must be painful as this fellow says, to be living with depression and constantly asked how you are. He then told me how much his life was being affected. His favourite time of day is when he goes to bed – at 11:00p.m. usually. After lying awake for 2 hours, he sleeps until 11:00a.m., gets up and eats, then sits in front of the television almost the entire day, not going out unless he has to.
Now he’s cut back on family gatherings because so many of those extended family members are going to naturally ask him, “How are you?” and while he could tell them the truth, he knows they really don’t want to know, nor could they help him if they wanted to. Well, aside from stopping the asking of how he’s doing in the first place! So it’s a cycle of feeling ashamed of doing nothing day after day, seeing Life go by without improvement.
This depression has affected his memory too. He’s positive that he can’t be trusted to remember things he’s told, and so for now, work is out of the question. Not to mention the depression has left him little patience in some situations he might meet with the public. All this passive living is affecting his physical as well as mental health too. A lack of exercise has led to weight gain, lower self-esteem, poor stamina.
Yet, to meet with him you’d see a happy fellow, quick to laugh, friendly and knowledgeable about topics of the day. Kind of an Eleanor Rigby type, “wearing a face that she keeps in a jar by the door. Ah look at all the lonely people!”
Now how many people I wonder will you – and I – come into contact today who are similarly suffering from depression? Let’s make that Depression with a capital, “D”. When living with this mental illness, it can affect energy, focus, judgement, motivation, self-perception and it’s not just a quick visit to the doctor to get a quick fix. We’re talking long-term implications.
Sometimes there are medications to help change the chemical make-up of the brain and attempts to stimulate connections through electro-therapy. I’m certainly no expert in treatments although I’ve friends and co-workers as well as many clients and people who use my support and advice in the course of my job. While it’s helpful to listen without judgement, providing reassurance that talking about one’s mental health is okay with me and not a topic I find uncomfortable, it’s frustrating knowing that waiting lists for treatment are long, treatments aren’t always effective, and other than listening, what can I do?
While it’s not necessary to experience what another person is experiencing to be empathetic, sometimes I feel being an empathic listener just falls short really. I suppose though this one’s not about me – or you for that matter. This one is about the person with Depression. If listening with empathy helps them feel understood and helped, maybe that’s something.
Think how difficult it must be on a daily basis for someone living with Depression; post-traumatic or ongoing, anxiety, psychotic or personality disorders, etc. It must be and is for many, debilitating. So maybe when we see some person who appears to be lazy or worse yet able to do fun things but not work, maybe extending some compassion and erring on the side of considering they may have a mental health issue would be preferable to believing them to be sponging off others generosity or tax dollars when their perfectly capable of contributing.
I suppose we might choose to hold our tongue and check our thoughts; for truly, we have no idea to what degree someone might be suffering with and already feeling ashamed of themselves for not being more productive.
So today, instead of, “Hi. How are you doing?” maybe we might say, “Hi. What are you up to today?” or if you do ask how someone is doing, look them in the eye and pause long enough to hear and care what they answer.