Do my friends not believe me?

Update (8.24.2011): In the particular situation I was thinking of when I wrote this, I think my friends knew less of how mistreated I've been than I realized, which puts things in a better, less hurtful, perspective. Still, there are other situations that come up where this is not the case, so the post still stands as a thing that happens.

When mental health care comes up in conversation with my friends, or anyone really, I can't help but pounce on it. They hurt me so much and they continue to hurt so many  people. It is outraging and heart-breaking. I'm bitter, but I'm not only bitter because my anger is entirely legitimate; I was mistreated and abused. When it comes up in conversation, sometimes I get teased for being bitter and so quick to pounce, which is fair even though it stings. But sometimes my friends seem to try to excuse the mental health care professionals. That hurts a lot. Sometimes they come up with some of the same excuses for the professionals that I have thought of to explain their atrocious treatment of patients, but they seem to let these excuses prevail and actually absolve the professionals of guilt instead of using it as a reason a well-intentioned person might slip into abusing patients.

I get that professionals have to be guarded because a lot of patients are manipulative, but that isn't a good reason for them to assume I am manipulative. I get that in a hospital-setting not everything can be arranged to perfectly suit each patient, but that isn't a good reason to blame me for not trying hard enough when affirmations don't work for me. I get that not all patients notice the logical inconsistency and factual inaccuracy of the platitudes and "life lessons", but that doesn't make it okay to lie to me or any other patient. I get that mental health care is a field prone to compassion fatigue, but that doesn't excuse taking it out on me. I'm really not asking a lot of the professionals: please treat me with respect, please don't lie to me, please engage with me, please don't abuse me. I am asking much less of them than they explicitly tell me they will do for me.

I don't understand why my friends fight me on this. Do they not believe me when I say I was treated poorly? Are they trying to dissuade me from acting like a conspiracy theorist? Do they think it isn't that bad? I don't know; I just know it hurts. It feels like they are telling me that it was okay for these people to treat me like this. It scares me because, more than anyone else, it should be my closest friends who I am able to persuade that mental health care needs to change. I might ask them why they fight me on this, but I'm also afraid that, by bringing this up again, I will just cement their position that I am wrong or misperceived things or whatever they think.


  1. Unfortunately, I know few of your current friends and in any case would be largely incapable of speaking for them if I did meet them personally.

    You are clearly experiencing ongoing trauma from your mental health experiences. You are being hurt today by your memories of horrible treatment in the past.

    To a large extent, friends are unable to help you with this. While friends can help make life bearable, and perhaps lift your burden just enough that you can process some of your persistent injuries, it's quite unlikely that there's anything that can be said to direct your highly analytical mind in a better or more accurate direction.

    That said, there is an intense urge to help when a friend is being hurt. I want to give you a hug and make it better and even beat up some nasty, mean doctors. Without careful thought, what comes out is "helpful" things you may not have thought of that may help stop your memories from hurting you.

    In short, part of the pain mental health professionals are causing you now is that friends instinctively try to help by minimizing the source of your pain. As it is clearly unhelpful, I shall strive to avoid such comments in the future.

  2. It occurs to me that I have answered your question by explaining my actions as a friend when an attempted explanation of something that hurt you is what you were frustrated about in the first place.

    Please forgive my irresistible urges to "help."

  3. Oh crumbs. So this is another way in which people are trying to smooth things over, make things better right now with a few words, to which I respond by being even more hurt because it doesn't work for me and even makes me feel worse? Shoot. Like when people say, "everything will be better," which I hate because it is a promise no one can keep.

    An attempted explanation of what hurt me is something that hurt me, yes, but only when that explanation is somehow disingenuous or dishonest or untrue. Sincerity is always good by me. If, when I responded negatively to "everything will get better," people explained that they were just trying to give me a way to feel better in that very moment, it would fix their having lied to me and their having made a promise they can't keep. If the professionals responded with that kind of sincerity, it could have made every situation in which they hurt me a thousand times better. It is when the explanation perpetuates the falsehood or insincerity that it hurts a second time.

    I'm not sure I adequately explained the difference between sincere explanations of motivations and the insincere, dishonest, disingenuous, rude sort. Ask if I didn't.

  4. I think it might be more complicated because this isn't always dishonest even if it's done for the same reason as one might say, "everything will get better." I'm sure I've made similar comments to you and others (who are almost uniformly less analytical and rational) so if you'll allow me to hypothetically put myself in the mind of someone who is currently making these new hurtful comments:

    In a conversation with you, I might honestly hypothesize that you had not considered rational reasons why mental health professionals might deceive you, and not having more than outline-level details, it wouldn't be lying if I told you I thought the mental health professionals were just doing their best.

    More likely, in a passing mention of mental health, I don't even consider the long and sordid history of Jessa's Mental Health and simply instinctively try to minimize something that I recognize is currently hurting my good friend.

    Back in real Kenny land, I really do think the reflexiveness of this is key. It is extremely common for us to use platitudes as social grease to move along a conversation and to make useful connections between otherwise very different people. I'd hypothesize that both the obviously inaccurate, "everything will be better" and the more subtle attempts to minimize something injuring a friend are symptomatic of the widespread use of small talk to solidify connections.

    If most people are used to saying things they don't mean (e.g. "How are you?" "I'm fine.") and most people are equally used to feeling good when they hear things other people obviously don't mean, it might become instinctive to say untrue things when trying to improve somebody else's mood.

    I believe your friends need to learn that when somebody is hurting, simply sharing a small part of life is the best way to help. Trying to fix something -- ESPECIALLY when mental health professionals are already involved -- will just make things much worse. I've experienced quite similar attempts to make things better in the past.

    Again, perhaps ironically, I am very aware that I am doing the very thing I mention as problematic -- I am analyzing and explaining rather than simply sharing part of life with you. I very much enjoy sharing analyses of social behavior with you and I think you enjoy it too, but if my primary goal were to try to help, my advise would suggest that I should be sympathetic rather than analytical and understanding rather than exploratory.

    A blog seems a better medium for interesting discussions rather than more traditional expression of friendship so this is what you get, although I'm certainly willing to adjust my behavior at your request!