Patronizing people and the fix-it-yourself approach to mental illness.

DEAR ABBY: I endured an arduous decade-long marriage with a subsequent nasty divorce and custody battle. This was followed by years of contentious child rearing with my ex. With my children now grown, I am free to spend my money the way I want and have absolute freedom. I live alone, and quite frankly, I love my life. I am 100% sure that I want to remain unmarried.

When people ask me about getting remarried, I tell them “never again,” and I mean it. Yet, inevitably, people say, “You never know, you might get married again someday.” Abby, I DO know. It’s been more than 20 years.

I used to get annoyed, but now I just blow it off. Do you have any retort that doesn’t sound rude? I have thought about saying, “I guess you know me better than I know myself,” but it sounds snarky. — BEFUDDLED IN FLORIDA

DEAR BEFUDDLED: If blowing off the questions no longer works for you, try this: Smile at the person and say, “That would involve two willing people, and I’m not receptive. But thank you for the kind thought.” And then change the subject. (c) DEAR ABBY

I can totally relate to this. My favorite aunt and uncle are my paternal ones. I’m quite close to my paternal aunt, Aunt Judy. After all that grief went down with my mom falling down the stairs under mysterious circumstances (read: my sister probably gave her a shove, but no one really knows for sure), my aunt reached out to me and asked if I’ve worked things out with my sister. I said I hadn’t, and she said something like, “That’s too bad. I had high hopes for your sisterly relationship to be repaired,” which to me feels like it’s minimizing the fact that my sister is not a good person.

And then when I was growing up, I was never allowed to pick out paint colors or blankets. I was always told, “You want stars and moons?! Oh, honey, you’ll outgrow all that cosmic nonsense in a few years, and we’ll have to redo it all.”

Um. I’m 43, and I’m still waiting for myself to outgrow it. Just sayin’. Yes, my tastes nowadays veer closer to rainbowy everything, but I still like stars and moons. Who doesn’t?! The cosmos are awesome.

This inability of adults to accept my design choices became an issue in senior year when I was in the mental hospital. Granny Smith was giving me a loveseat, and she was going to get it reupholstered for me. She couldn’t wait one week for me to be sprung before choosing its upholstery. Knowing full well that I would’ve picked stars and moons, unicorns, rainbows, or so forth, she made the decision for me.

Wine growers. I always hated that loveseat. Wine growers! AAUGH.

I’m sure Granny Smith meant well, but… I really would’ve liked a cosmic design.

And I hated being patronized as a child. If I said I hated my sister, I’d get that knowing look and hear, “You’ll feel differently when you’re older.”

Wrong again. Well, I try not to actively hate her, but she’s not worth having a relationship with. Let’s put it that way.

So I think that’s actually what’s going on with the letter writer. Dear Abby’s column was titled Happy Divorcee Resents Pressure to Remarry, but I don’t think this is about pressure. It’s about being patronizing. Whoever’s telling the writer, “You never know, you might get married again someday,” may as well pinch the letter writer’s cheek and then pat her on the head. It’s not only patronizing, but it’s also like, I’m smarter than you. You think you’ll never want to get married again, but I’m so much smarter, and I know you better than you know yourself.


Oh, huh, that’s also exactly how the letter writer described it. (I didn’t restate it on purpose.)

I don’t passionately dislike Dear Abby’s advice, but I think this is less about needing a comeback and more about dealing with patronizing people. Why not just be assertive about it?

“You never know, you might get married again someday.”

“Um, yes, I do know. I’m not going through that again. You know, I feel like you’re not taking me seriously.” 

The letter writer doesn’t want to be rude, but I don’t think that’s rude. Ideally, the other person would backpedal and be like, “Okay, okay, I hear ya. You don’t want to get married again,” and then they could move on.

I used to get annoyed, but now I just blow it off. Do you have any retort that doesn’t sound rude?

Well, see, that’s just it. There’s nothing wrong with getting annoyed, because… wait for it… it’s annoying. I think it’s okay to express annoyance with people. Why not? If you can do it without unduly insulting the other person’s mother, then you’re not being rude.

DEAR ABBY: I have been having some emotional turmoil. I’m feeling depressed and hopeless. I know I need to tell my parents, but I’m too scared. I’m afraid they will brush it off or blame me. It’s really affecting my life. Please give me some advice on how to break the news. — GIRL WITH A PROBLEM IN NORTH CAROLINA

DEAR GIRL: Many people are experiencing feelings similar to the ones you are. The worst thing you can do is keep them to yourself. Be brave. Tell your parents about your depression and turmoil. If they are disbelieving, confide in a teacher or the parent of a close friend so they can advise your parents on getting you professional help if it is necessary. My thoughts are with you, and I hope you feel better soon.

Ugh, I know how she feels. There seems to be an innate tendency to blame people for their emotional problems. Not in a judgey way, but in a “you can fix it on your own” sort of way. Like, I’d complain to my dad when I was younger about my sleep-schedule issue, and he’d say, “Just go to bed earlier.” Um. And lie there wide awake for hours and hours? So not helpful.

He wasn’t being dismissive. Not exactly. I think he truly believed that there was no medical treatment that would help, so he was diverting to his “Oh, you can fix it. Just try harder,” mentality.

At this point in my life, now, I believe that certain things (including my sleep-schedule issue) need to be medicated, or they’re going to call all the shots in my life, which I don’t want. The main drug that helps me, Provigil, is an alertness aid which lowers my need for sleep from 11-13 hours down to 9-11 hours a night. God bless Provigil.

Wikipedia’s telling me it’s been available in the US since 1998. I could’ve used it then, for sure. I was in college and had a great summer job at the print shop, working however many hours I wanted to show up from 8:00 until 5:00. I often staggered out of bed at 2:30, disappointed that I’d be unable to spend much time at the print shop. I even had friends there, Jim and Brad, whom I loved hanging out with. None of it was enough to get me out of bed after being awake all night.

And “cheating” (by staying up all night and then the whole next day so that I’d fall asleep at bedtime) only solved the problem for a few days, and then it came back with a bloody vengeance.

But anyway, the problem was that none of the doctors I ever saw realized how much Provigil would help. I didn’t start taking it until 2013. And that was after two years–that’s right, two whole years–of internet research. I discovered Provigil and asked Dr. Phlegm for some, and he got this look on his face like he wished he’d thought of it. (I told him I was sick of not being able to do stuff with my life because I was asleep all day and up all night, and I clarified that I wasn’t depressed. I just couldn’t sleep regularly.) I was researching fatigue, and I stumbled upon how Provigil is used to treat fatigue in people who have multiple sclerosis. (It wouldn’t surprise me if I had a mild case of MS.) And then a light went off, and I’d hit pay dirt, and I finally had a solution.

The other part of the problem is that I need sedatives to fall asleep at night, but they’ve been around a lot longer than prescription alertness aids. No real issue there. I went off Ambien over a year ago, and now Seroquel gets the job done. If Seroquel doesn’t work, I take the hops liquid tincture supplement. Powerful stuff. It’s like passing out from drinking beer, but without drinking the beer. Just the hops!

I’m glad that Dear Abby gave some backup plans in case her parents blow off her concerns. Instead of being all laid-back and passive about stuff, I’ve come to see that you have to be persistent in problem solving. Solutions are out there! The attitude of just accepting a problem or trying to tolerate it isn’t a good one unless there really and truly aren’t any other options.

It can also be easy for people to brush off their own problems. I’ve intuited that a lot of people who wrestle with depression and anxiety and other mental illnesses often think, I’m fine right now. So what if I was struggling for hours yesterday? It’s no huge deal. I used to minimize my own mental illness symptoms like that, and you’ve got to fight that attitude. While it might seem virtuous to not overreact, the fact is that if you’re struggling a lot of the time, then you need help. Don’t be a hero. Repeat: do not be a hero. Get the help.

I wish I could think of better advice for this teenager, but I’ve got nothing. It’s hard being a teenager and being at the whims of your parents’ attitudes about things. Maybe she should show her parents Dear Abby’s advice?

4 thoughts on “Patronizing people and the fix-it-yourself approach to mental illness.

  1. For the first letter, I think stupid comments warrant a stupid response. “You never know, you might get married again someday.” – “And pigs might fly, but I’m not holding my breath.”

    Maybe it’s just me, but “I have been having some emotional turmoil” seems like an odd way for a teenager to phrase it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ooh, I like your response about the flying pigs!! Yes, and I think such a response would be totally warranted!

      Huh, I dunno. I’d wager that if I were to search my diaries (which I kept as a teenager), we’d find some similar phrasing. Okay, hold on, I’ll go take a random look… Fabulous! I found this gem right off… “Where is the perfect, idealized world? In my mind where it can’t bloom.” HA HA HA HA! Oh my.

      Liked by 1 person

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