The desire to solve problems is human nature. We love a challenge – what other animal thinks that sudoku is an enjoyable way to spend a Saturday afternoon?! But this inbuilt need is often the cause of tension between the ‘Anxious’ and ‘Non-Anxious’ camps.
When people with anxiety, and other mental health issues, feel a bit brave and decide to open up about their feelings, weird thought processes or obsessive behaviours, they are often met with “Why don’t you just….?” or “Have you not tried….” Instantly the conversation goes from a tentative chat to a problem-solving exercise – with the Anxious person as the big fat problem.
But people are not problems to be solved. Make a person with problems a problem, and you’ve got a real head-scratcher!
The thing is, when we reach out, we’re not asking you to give us an answer, to provide a resolution. And if medical science, psychological learnings and therapeutic practices can’t ‘fix us’, I’m pretty sure you can’t do it whilst picking out roast ham at the deli counter in Sainsbury’s, Sandra.
Mental health is complex and nowhere near understood, medically or otherwise. Some people do yoga or spinning, some read or paint, some go to therapy or take medication – but it’s safe to say that most people have tried a number of different things to help manage, alter or improve their ‘condition.’ It’s extremely difficult and is an ongoing process – but thanks for suggesting I just go for an invigorating jog, I’m all sorted!
It’s important to say here that friends, family, colleagues or acquaintances are usually always responding with love, and genuinely trying to help. But despite best intentions, the Anxious will tend to react with disappointment, frustration or silence, and the Non-Anxious then feel their own frustration, a sense that the person they’re speaking to is just negative, defeatist and ‘doesn’t want help.’
And so the conversation ends. The Anxious don’t raise it again, and the Non-Anxious pull back, maybe just a little, but it’s noticed. All of a sudden you find yourself uninvited from the next trip to the pub.
What the Anxious want is for the Non-Anxious to dial down the problem solving side of the brain, and dial up the side that cries when Alan Rickman gives the necklace to that heinous office tart in Love, Actually. Instead of treating your anxious friend like an episode of The Kypton Factor… LISTEN. Give hugs. Send texts. Don’t be cross if people don’t answer a phone call. Bring wine. Send invitations. Don’t be offended if invitations are turned down, or meet-ups are cancelled. Be kind. Have empathy. Know that you don’t have to understand. Just be there.
And whatever you do, don’t try and fix us.