“You seem a little off”

If I hear those words “you seem a little off” one more time, I would suggest that everyone run and hide because I am going to blow up and it’s not going to be pretty.

If you’re one of the people who says that, I understand that you’re trying to be nice but please, please take a moment to think before you speak because you truly have no idea what doors you’re opening and what emotional scabs you’re picking at.

If I happen to be having a good day (or hour) and you tell me I seem a little off, I instantly feel deflated. Here I was thinking I was finally doing a little better; I had a little relief from the heaviness, a little light in my day. With that one statement, you invalidate those positive feelings and send me back onto the slippery slope into darkness.

How about considering the possibility that you’re ‘a little off’ with your assessment of other people’s moods? And are we really now going to have a debate about who’s right about how I’m feeling? (Apparently the answer is yes, because believe it or not, most people will actually insist that I’m off even after I’ve told them I’m fine.)

So let’s make a new rule. Just like you shouldn’t walk up to a woman who’s carrying a little extra weight and ask her if she’s pregnant, don’t walk up to a woman and tell her she seems a little off. Deal? If you don’t abide by this rule, I reserve the right to kick you in the shin.

Or, perhaps you’re right and I really am feeling off that day. Congratulations, you astute mood-spotter, you’re right. I’m sitting here with a pit in my stomach, fighting back tears, masking it with laughs and smiles. And then you come by my desk and loudly say ‘you seem a little off’ as you’re on your way out to lunch, or passing by to get a coffee, or as an aside while you’re chatting with colleagues. What do you want me to say? This is neither the time nor place to open that can of worms. I don’t have a simple answer for you about sleep deprivation or a sore throat.

Yes, I’m a little off. I’m exhausted from basic functioning, from mind-numbing chit-chat, and from suffocating insincerity. And now, thanks to you, I have to try to muster up the energy to jump through the hoops you want me to jump through in order to convince you that I’m fine.

So, what do I think you should do when you think someone is a little off? If you genuinely are worried about them and want to know if they’re ok, please reach out when you have both the time and the privacy to talk, and be prepared to open your heart and actually listen to how they’re feeling. Because maybe you’re reaching out at a moment when things are on the verge of falling apart, and if you’re not ready for the fallout then it’s best to just smile warmly and move along with your day lest you end up doing more harm than good. And it may just save you from getting kicked in the shin.

To je smůla

Pronounced: toh yeh smooola

That’s Czech for “that’s bad luck” or “that’s too bad”.

I was raised by outwardly pleasant but inwardly negative, childish parents who mostly ignored me and my feelings unless somehow it would benefit them to pay attention to me. I heard the phrase To je smůla a lot growing up. I often still hear my inner little girl thinking it to herself as she watches me stumble and fumble my way through situations other people seem to glide through effortlessly; other people who were raised by genuinely loving and supportive parents.

I know, I’m a grown up and I’m responsible for my actions now. I can’t keep blaming my parents, holding them responsible for my choices today. Shitty childhood? To je smůla. Suck it up, sister.

But here’s the thing. Yes, I am responsible for my choices and actions today, but everything in psychology, psychiatry, and psychotherapy tells us undeniably that our actions today are influenced and guided by our unique perceptions of the world which were created in childhood, shaped by – guess who – our parents. We come into this world with no notions about anything. Our understanding of the world and our own place in it is molded by our parents. It’s a simple fact. And we carry that through the rest of our lives.

As an adult, it’s my responsibility to fix what they broke. I take complete responsibility for that and am doing my very best to tackle it piece by piece because, quite simply, I want to be happy. I don’t want to wake up every day feeling hopeless, finding relief from the sadness only by imagining the different ways I could bring my life to an end because the mountain of problems my parents have gifted to me through their own dysfunctions feels entirely inconquerable.

And this ridiculous society we’re living in tells me to go buy ‘stuff’, get a better job, car, outfit, haircut. Better meds. No meds. More exercise. More wine. But whatever you do, DON’T tell people you’re depressed. Because nobody really wants to hear it, and let’s face it: our society doesn’t care. Proper therapy costs a fortune and is out of reach for most of us. Free therapy is stop-your-crying therapy that doesn’t get to the root issues so doesn’t actually effect any sustainable change. And employers just want you to keep your mouth shut and keep performing – exceeding expectations, increasing production, surpassing sales targets. At the end of the day, our society doesn’t really care about people, and it sure doesn’t care if you’re happy or if you’re ‘ok’. Just don’t cause trouble and keep paying your taxes.

So what happens to me, and people like me? I am described repeatedly by people as happy, positive, strong, confident, funny, smart. I’m considered middle class, successful, personable, a good friend. To tell my story, I need to create an anonymous blog because I’m just not brave enough to ‘come out’ to the world. I just don’t actually believe people care, and I don’t believe they can help. And to think I’m just one of about 11 million Canadians who aren’t getting the help we need for our mental health issues. To je smůla.

Statistics about mental health in Canada: http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/about_camh/newsroom/for_reporters/Pages/addictionmentalhealthstatistics.aspx