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Don't Ask, Don't Tell. Wednesday May 28, 2014

How honest should we be when people ask "How are you?"?

So, let's be honest with ourselves first: how many of those people actually want or are expecting an honest answer? When someone is introduced to you, shakes hands and says "How do you do" it's not a question; the correct answer is "How do you do." (Yes – it's one of the many very silly things about British etiquette). Similarly, the glibly asked "how are you?" often requires the standard reply "Very well, thank you" regardless of our actual state of health.

So, who do we tell when we're not well at all?

There's a reason for the title of this post. Most of us over the age of forty will remember a time when the majority of gay people kept their sexuality a secret from the majority of their work colleagues and even from family and anyone who was not a close friend. There are those who wish things were still that way. Fortunately, the rest of the world has moved on.

We know from the replies to this blog that there are more than a few people out there who feel that way about their mental health. If they were to "come out" about being bipolar or having clinical depression they fear that their jobs would be unsafe, their chances of promotion compromised and their social standing undermined.

I'm not going to say they're wrong. We've still got a long, long way to go before mental health issues are accepted with the same insouciance as conditions like (say) asthma.
So, back to the question; who do we tell?

This "down" for me has been the most serious for eight years or so. What's been brilliant is having the Moodscope score to let my buddies (including my husband) know what's going on. Moodscope does my honesty there for me. Because I'm so physically compromised at the moment and really do look ill, anyone who is more than casually acquainted with me knows something is wrong. I do have to be truthful about not being well, but I don't always say "I have depression"; sometimes I'm "just very tired."

Maybe it's just luck, but when I have told, there has been vastly more acceptance and understanding than I was expecting.

But, while I'm happy to say I'm bipolar when things are fine and I am well, I'd much rather not tell when I'm down. I don't want most of my clients to know and I don't want most of my extended family to know. When you're down you're far more vulnerable and instinctively you seek to protect yourself and I'd rather not burden them with the knowledge.

So, in the end, the question is who do you trust with yourself? Who can you be vulnerable with? I really hope that at least a few names come to mind for you.

A Moodscope Member.

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Elizabeth Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 7:34am

Good luck to you Mary.

I kind of feel the other way round. My down in the last few months was also the worst I have had since the first one five years ago. I had the urge to tell everyone about my problems including depression - when down and my state of mind becomes visible at school, I dont mind everybody knows... People tend to be rather astouned and confused then judgemental. Yet when becomming better, I wish with some of them I had not said anything.

Anonymous Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 7:51am

Yes, well done for writing such a brilliant piece and good luck, Mary. The last 5 months have been hard for me too in lots of ways, and I know exactly what you mean by who you can trust with the truth. Some of my acquaintances would rather not know I think, so one version for them. True friends and close family are there for me, and watch me closely. It is such a juggling act, but I am getting better at it. I have my voice/ words back, thankfully. Before, I could not express anything beyond the merest transactional words, and that is always one of the signs as I communicated for a living! I agree with you, mental health issues are still a taboo subject to many. Never to those who have had experience of the illness though!

Diana Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 8:50am

I cant help feeling that the film ' THE BEAUTIFUL MIND ' has been one of the
FIRST - on 'our side ' Forever be blessed the people who made that ' Screen -
play '. Please try and see it !

Rupert Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 9:30am

I think there is a more obvious explanation to all this in that when a lot of people ask you how you are they arent really interested and so if you actually tell them the truth (i) they dont know how to deal with it and (ii) it creates issues for them which they either cant be bothered to deal with or dont want to deal with or both! Sorry to be a cynic but in some ways that is why it is simpler to just give the usual glib response.

jules Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 10:11am

Hi Mary, this is a lovely blog and struck a chord with me. Before I had a breakdown I never really told anybody how I was as I was too ashamed and always putting on a brave face. Then my world came crashing down and every single person that knew me found out, in a very public way, just how ill I was. I actually gave an interview in a national newspaper about mental health and homelessness (which is how bad it got) arranged by mind. The down side to all this is the shame I felt, which I still confront every day. But in truth, I now am open and honest to pretty much everyone. I try to judge whether or not who is asking needs to know but most of the time im really open now. People who freak out and disappear are welcome to do so as has happened to a lot of people. But I am honest, and as uncomfortable as it is sometimes for me to be honest, it is the only way for me to get rid of the shame. Because what happened to me was not my fault and what I live with (a poorly brain) is nothing for me to feel bad about. I now have many more people in my life who get me, friendships and relationships that are balanced. And mostly is started by new people saying how are you and me telling the truth. It surprised me how many people opened up to me too. I know what the person above is commenting about it just being transactional to say fine thanks and i agree if you arent in the right mood. But if you reply honestly and the person reacts badly, so what? Because there is an equal chance they will react positively and a really good friendship may begin. The odds are not all stacked negatively. You have to crack a few eggs to make an omelette. Or you have to be prepared to be vulnerable to overcome shame and live with honesty. Its not easy, but I wish I had tried before I became unwell as I might not have completely crashed if I had just answered honestly to that one little question. I dont expect the other person to help me or fix me or put me back together and often they tell me something about themselves or something inspiring or cheery. So I say be honest, break a few eggs and become an omelette eater! :)

Anonymous Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 10:17am

I find when people ask "how are you? " I do a kind of tester reply !! "Ermm im ok ish , how are you doing???" Then I have an onslaught on how the other person is, what's been happening with them, how they feel. After what feels like a very long time, they might say oh! You ok ??? But by then I feel exhausted by listening to their story, plus I know they are struggling cos of what theyve just told me, so I keep quiet.
I'm a "listener" and that's supposed to be a good quality , but it somehow forces me to become silent and alone with my depression and its associated difficulties.
I'm not sure if I've explained this very well !!!
Ps I agree "a beautiful mind" is brill film !!

Julie x

Mary Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 10:31am

Hello Elizabeth, Glad to hear you're now a bit better. Thank you for sharing your experiences. When people are judgemental it's always about them, and never about you. Next time (if there is a next time - we can always hope and work towards there not being a next time) you will know a little more about who you can trust and who you need to block out a little. All the best, Mary

Mary Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 10:36am

Hi Rupert, you're not a cynic but a realist. Glib responses are often the WD40 of our social interactions. It's just great when those social connections become deep enough and strong enough for the response not to be glib. This week I have "confessed" to two people I didn't know well - because they asked point blank. Turned out one worked in psychiatry (and understood completely) and the other has a close relative who also suffers from depression (and understood completely). Both very uplifting and empowering conversations. But then - they did ask; I didn't volunteer.

Mary Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 10:38am

Bless you Jules! That's a really great recommendation. Fortunately, I really like omelettes! :) (and smilies!)

Anonymous Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 11:00am

i am very wary of telling anyone how im really feeling i still struggle with trust issues and worrying the people that still care enough about me i unburden myself on forums that helps some times or i just ring up a helpline to talk to someone

but in recent times i am finding that just talking to myself is helping alot sounds silly to some oh and since discovering hay house radio too some of the shows on there are spot on i am part of the hay house community and feel support from quite afew online friends and groups they are full of people who know what im going through

and obviously this amazing place too i love coming on here reading the blogs and doing the tests i dont do it every day though as i dont always come on the computer as i find it takes up way too much time

thank you for sharing this Mary :)

sending love and hugs to you all


jules Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 11:16am

:) :) :) :) :)

Anonymous Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 12:20pm

I've just been to my GP and filled out a form to state how I'm feeling at the moment. Anxiety is rife at the moment, and I can't say this to the woman I work with at the moment where I sign cheques and wait for her to stop gushing over the New Person Of The Week. My mum has been poorly and she needs me more.

Julia Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 2:19pm

I think when we are feeling better we can look at our depression objectively and can tell people about it in a factual interesting way. But when we are overcome with it the fatigue and everything that comes with it, the depression is us and we are unable to express how it affects us in such an articulate and detached way. So I find it so much easier to talk about it when I am feeling OK; as I am not really talking about me or how I feel at that moment. I can laugh it off for example if I feel that is the right thing to do when talking to someone or I can make it sound fascinating if I feel like it. But I rarely tell people when I am feeling really awful as the words come out all wrong and generally offputting. Of course Moodscope helps enormously and I do have one friend who really does understand as she poor thing is almost a mirror image of me.(this friendship works well for the most part but if we are not careful we can bring each other down with a spiral of woes so we do have to rein our angst in from time to time for the sake of each other) When I worked I never told my colleagues as they were such a horrible bunch, it would be all over the office in minutes and I would be labelled (wrongly) for ever more. So I do feel for you Mary in your work situation and one of the very negative things when working is how you feel you look. Difficult to hide yet so important sadly in today's work place.

Anonymous Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 2:24pm

I will be praying for you

Silvia A Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 5:46pm

Thumbs up!!!

Vanessa Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 7:31pm

Its really tough, Mary, to talk about how we feel, I get that. Thank you, it helps to hear that I'm not alone in struggling with it. You do sound like you have been through the mill recently, my thoughts and prayers are with you. x

Richard Wed, May 28th 2014 @ 9:09pm

Your blog has struck a chord with me. Over a drunken Sunday, I told a casual acquaintance that I "had bipolar tendencies". To test the water. I am glad I did this. He looked surprised, but more importantly, I felt okay after opening up a little. I agree that we do have a long way to go until mental issues can be discussed in a reasonable manner.
I hope that you are better soon. You really are a shining light.
Warmest regards,

heather Thu, May 29th 2014 @ 10:15am

I love your attitude Jules, and Cassy - what a great idea hay house radio seems, perhaps you could let us know how to get it ? But firstly, Mary, I really feel for you that you are suffering such a "downer" and I hope and pray it will be easing soon. For myself, I belong to a small self funded Group in Croydon for Depression Sufferers which was originally an offshoot of Depression Alliance. We have a weekly talking group where we do help people a lot who have suddenly been struck down with depression and have no idea what has hit them, and we can all discuss how depression affects us. We also have social get togethers, which are good when they happen but often people don't turn up because they are too depressed ! Even within our Group we often do our best to act cheerfully and as I am sure you know, Mary, acting can be a placebo. Personally, I find it easy to own up to Bipolar now as I think it sounds so much more attractive than Manic Depressive ! and so many famous people suffer from it in various degrees. However, I never divulged my mental health history when I worked. In my opinion people in general don't really want to hear much about your depression any more than they want to hear much about your arthritis, bad back, broken leg etc. etc. unless it is to compare notes, and I believe employers are just as wary of people with any serious medical condition. So, I guess, in general, I would say talk to other people who suffer - you could help them and they could help you. As we do here.

Kayti Kat Purdy Sat, May 31st 2014 @ 8:35pm

I once wrote a poem somewhat similar to this, about how people who see that things are not as they should be and do nothing. The way that it was similar is that, when I was writing it, I felt... Put out? Because someone had asked me how I was doing and I had answered honestly," Thank you for asking. I am not so great." It was to my mother, she didn't really know what to say. If anyone wants to read it, I would be happy to post it.

Mary Sun, Jun 1st 2014 @ 11:59pm

Hello Kayti Kat Purdy, I would love to read your poem. Please send it to Caroline at the moodscope support team and she will pass it onto me.

Kayti Khaos Purdy Mon, Jun 2nd 2014 @ 12:48am

How do I do that?

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