I've been struggling of late. For a couple reasons.
First, we're coming up on the eighth anniversary of a dear friend of mine committing suicide. Every fall it hits me anew. I loved Calvin. I hope I never forget late nights playing pool in the student center or smoking cigarettes outside of Sykes. His often oddly-colored hair styled rather alarmingly like that of a flock of seagulls. But gosh his smile. His smile could -- and did -- light up the room and world. I can see him so clearly in my mind. I want to ease the pain I never knew existed. Not at the level that would eventually take Calvin. There's also the pain from losing another friend from suicide a couple years later. My highly empathetic nature doesn't want any of my friends to experience what I experienced following those friends' deaths.
The second reason it's been a struggle of late is because there are people I work with who don't know topical boundaries or how to read cues saying to steer away.
I work with a person who recently was waxing poetic about Orange is the New Black, particularly the books the show is based on. I'll be honest. I've never watched the show, I've never read the books. I never will, either. I don't do shows or books about drugs. I've witnessed firsthand, far too often, the effect addiction can have on the lives of loved ones. I don't want to seek it out for entertainment's sake.
The aforementioned coworker is currently working her way through the books. She asked me if I had ever read the books or watched the show.
My response, "No. I don't do things having to do with drugs."
Her, "Oh, I don't do drugs, but this is so interesting."
Me, "It's not just that I don't do drugs. It's that I don't watch shows or movies about it, I don't read books about it. I just don't do it. It's affected the lives of too many of my loved ones."
That was me saying, unambiguously, that I don't want to talk about it. She continued to talk anyway.
I am not intending this anecdote about my coworker to come across as a rant (although obviously I'm still rather heat up about the whole situation so, yes, this is a little rant-y). This is more a public service announcement. A reminder that, especially in a casual and/or work environment, you don't know where folks' paths have taken them. You don't know where a triggering conversation will drive folks so you should just avoid all potentially triggering topics.
There are myriad things that could fall under the triggering umbrella -- and no, there's no way for you to know every possible thing that could be a trigger. And you shouldn't treat everything like it could be a trigger, and you shouldn't not talk about addiction or mental health issues with your friends and family for the same reason that The Huffington Post started the Stronger Together blogging space. We absolutely should talk about these things with each other. We shouldn't ever feel we're alone. We shouldn't ever feel ashamed about the battles we're experiencing. But if you're not experiencing the same battles you need to have respect for those who are -- especially since you don't know who is or who isn't.
We all need to be a little more conscious of the language we use -- where we're using it and why. We need to take cues from those around us. Particularly around people you don't know particularly well. When you don't know the other person's story, when you don't know what demons they may be fighting, you should take cues from them so you don't trigger anything that upsets whatever balance they may have.
You wouldn't (at least I hope you wouldn't) start talking about sexual violence all willy nilly in public (if you would, then we have a whole other situation that needs to be addressed). You don't know where other people's paths have led them. Please have consideration for the road less (yet too often) traveled.
It's great that there are things inspiring a deeper conversation regarding mental health issues, substance abuse, and sexual violence. These are topics that for too long have been black listed so folks struggling with any of them feel painfully alone. By asking that folks not talk about it with people they don't know I'm not hoping that we continue to stigmatize substance abuse, mental health issues, or any other sort of abuse people undergo, but that we respect boundaries.
I allow that when you're jazzed (or upset) about something, conversations will happen in spaces and at volumes too public and too loud. But when someone tells you a topic is off limits please honor their boundaries. And for the love of what all people consider holy, stop talking about it.
Have a story about depression that you'd like to share? Email firstname.lastname@example.org, or give us a call at (860) 348-3376, and you can record your story in your own words. Please be sure to include your name and phone number.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.