When you have a loved one who is in recovery from addiction, it’s important to know how to identify that a drug or alcohol relapse is impending. There are some telltale signs that a person in recovery is moving toward a relapse, even before they actually use or drink again. When you are able to identify those signs, you may be able to help your loved one avoid relapsing and get his or her feet firmly planted back in recovery.
While it’s often said that relapse is a part of recovery, it doesn’t have to be when you know the signs to look for in your loved one. The following are some of the common signs that a relapse is looming:
#1 – No Longer Going to Meetings
Many people in recovery attend meetings of support groups like Alcoholics Anonymous or other fellowships. These types of programs offer people in recovery support and information that they need to progress in their recovery. Many people continue to attend support groups and programs long after getting clean and sober – some for the rest of their lives – in order to maintain their sobriety. When a person who is in recovery, who regularly attends meetings of recovery groups, stops participating in those programs, it may be a sign that something is going on. They may be on their way to a relapse because they don’t want to be reminded of what they stand to lose by using again, or they may have already used again, and they don’t want anyone to find out.
#2 – Glamorizing or Romanticizing Using Memories
When people have their feet firmly planted in recovery, they begin to view past memories of using differently. They typically advance from euphoric recall (only remembering the good feelings of using their drug of choice) to being able to see that their use was destructive and detrimental to themselves and the people that they love. They no longer think of drugs or alcohol as a positive thing. So, when a recovering addict begins to glamorize or romanticize drinking or using again, it may be a sign of relapse. It means that the person is no longer considering the dangers of using again, but instead thinking about it in a positive light.
#3 – Old Behaviors Return
In addiction treatment, people learn to recognize behaviors that they need to avoid to remain sober. They learn coping skills that help them keep thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in check so that they are able to deal with life without using drugs or alcohol. When someone who has been in recovery begins to act like they did when they were actively using, it could be an indicator of relapse. That isn’t to say that old behaviors won’t pop up from time to time even when a person is not considering using again, but if they persist in those behaviors without self-reflection and an attempt to change, relapse is likely.
#4 – Saying That “Just One Won’t Hurt”
People in recovery recognize that having just one drink or using drugs once isn’t safe for them. So, it’s very telling when someone in recovery adopts the attitude that using a small amount of a substance isn’t a big deal. It shows that the person is beginning to rationalize and minimize the risks that are associated with using – which is a huge sign of relapse.
#5 – Looking Up Old Friends
Just as people in recovery feel most comfortable being around other people in recovery, people who abuse substances like to be around other people who do the same. That’s one of the main reasons that addiction treatment teaches that people in recovery need to change their playgrounds and playmates to maintain sobriety. If your recovering loved one begins seeking out the people who he or she used to drink or do drugs with, that is a major sign that relapse is near.
#6 – Defensiveness and Denial
Being defensive about or denying that there is a problem is nearly universal for all addicts. They spend a lot of time and energy minimizing the impact of their addiction on their lives, or flat out denying that there is a problem to concerned family and friends. Eventually, the defensiveness bleeds over into all aspects of an addict’s life, and they will get angry and deny even the most mundane things. When a person in recovery begins using their old strategy of defensiveness, it may be because they are moving toward relapse.
#7 – Isolating from Supportive Friends and Family
Isolation is another characteristic that most, if not all, substance abusers exhibit. They withdraw from friends and family because they don’t want them to discover that they are using and it’s much easier to keep that secret if they keep them at a distance. In early recovery, most addicts reach out to those very people for support and work to rebuild those relationships. When relapse is imminent it’s typical for the person in recovery to begin shutting their supporters out once again.
What if the Signs of Relapse are Present?
If you recognize one or more of the signs in your loved one, it’s important to talk to him or her about what is going on. If they have a sponsor or other friends in recovery, you may want to enlist their help in discussing it with them. If relapse hasn’t happened, you may be able to help your loved one avoid it altogether. If he or she has already relapsed, what they have learned in recovery so far isn’t lost, but further treatment may be needed to address underlying issues.
When we are dealing with depression, exercise can feel like the last thing we want to do. While we understand there are benefits of exercise such as helps to reduce the risk for lifestyle-related diseases, counteracts the daily effects of stress, and shapes our bodies by building muscle, we often forget that it also helps alleviate depression. Needing to get motivated to exercise again, I’ve spent time thinking about how exercise helps alleviate my depression.
3 Ways Exercise Helps Alleviate Depression
Exercise releases endorphins.
Oh, how I love this word. Combining the shortened forms of endogenous (endo-) and morphine (-orphin), the word endorphin means “a morphine-like substance originating from within the body.” 1.
These brain chemicals, released during exercise, produce feelings of well-being, happiness, and euphoria. During my treadmill time, I often come up with exciting ideas, great plans, and thought-provoking insights. Immediately after I lift weights, I am often filled with a rush of happiness. At the end of my yoga classes, I’m overcome with a feeling of bliss. Like most people, I welcome these exercise-induced endorphin effects (try saying that three times fast!) And as a 40-year-old who has struggled with depression for over 25 years, I crave those happy moments. Moments when my mind is focused, and I’m filled with energy, and I’m free. The release of these feel-good chemicals is the main way that exercise helps with my depression.
Exercise gives structure to our days.
When I am severely depressed, I often feel like staying in bed any chance I get. While staying in bed feels comforting, it actually gives way to too much time to think. My unstructured thoughts will often spiral downward and hours later, I will often end up feeling worse. However, when I’m engaged in an exercise routine, and make working out a commitment, I’m out of the bed attending my classes. I’m doing something productive for myself which lifts my mood.
Exercise distracts us from our depressed thoughts.
Distraction has proven to be a great tool for me to cope with my depression. Using exercise to distract me from my depressive thoughts gives me one of the best returns on my investment. During the workout, my thoughts are focused on the task at hand and after the workout, I’m already planning which class I’ll take next. And when I plan for a long-term exercise goal, such as running a race, I find that a lot of my mental energy will go into planning my workouts which leaves less time to dwell on my depressive thoughts.
After putting thought into how exercise helps alleviate my depression, I’m inspired to get back into exercising consistently yet again. I hope you, too, will remember that an instant pick me up is only movements away.
When I was first diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1999, the atypical antipsychotic medication I took for it made me feel numb. It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type, and tried a mood stabilizer that my doctor allowed the antipsychotic dosage to be decreased. Finally, I felt like myself again.
Feeling Numb from Schizoaffective Depression
When I say the medication made me feel numb, I mean inwardly—the sensation felt a lot like depression. At first, the reaction very well could have been partially depression. I had just left my dream school, the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), because it had turned into more like a nightmare as my first psychotic episode took hold. Two problematic roommates and spiraling paranoia soon turned my world delusional.
I had wanted to go to RISD since I was a sophomore in high school. I made it there and flourished my freshman year. It all fell apart the next year and that did make me depressed, even though I was speedily accepted at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) with a merit scholarship. SAIC turned out to be the real dream school, though I didn’t know that at the beginning of the first spell of medication and that unsettling numbness.
When Schizophrenia Medication Robs You of Your Spark
I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2002 and, by then, I realized SAIC was the place for me. It became clear the numbness wasn’t depression at all. I simply felt I had no spark. This manifested in all sorts of ways—even in the way I dressed. Before the symptoms of schizophrenia triggered, I had a very quirky, funky style of my own. Darkly goth dresses and vintage hippie outfits filled the closet. But jeans and tops were all I could manage with my illness. Of course, part of the change in the way I dressed resulted from the weight gain caused by the antipsychotic medication.
Finally, at the beginning of getting my MFA at Columbia College Chicago, enough was enough. I got a second opinion from an esteemed psychopharmacologist who asked me if my psychosis was accompanied by mood swings. I said yes—in fact, I’d been having extreme mood swings since I was 11. She finally figured out my diagnosis, bless her. I had schizoaffective disorder, bipolar type. A mood stabilizer helped a lot and my dosage of the antipsychotic was decreased— no more numbness.
I was back to my old self. I didn’t just sit there like a motionless log when I went out with my friends. I laughed again. I was again overflowing with stories and anecdotes. I wanted to do things other than sleep all the time.
Neuroscientists are increasingly understanding, and becoming able to explain, the relationship between concussions and anxiety (and other mental-health related consequences like depression and PTSD). What they are discovering is that concussions can cause new anxiety, and they can worsen existing anxiety.
A concussion results from impact to the head and is considered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). They’re only “mild” in that they’re not immediately life-threatening. However, concussions are serious and can have long-term consequences to our mental health—including anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety After a Concussion
Whether you’ve experienced anxiety for some time before your head injury or anxiety is new to you after sustaining the injury, the symptoms can be similar. Anxiety symptoms post-TBI can include, but aren’t limited to:
A vague, unsettled feeling that doesn’t subside or subsides only to return
Restlessness, feeling keyed-up or on edge
A feeling like you’re going to jump out of your skin
An inability to be still
Headache or a burning sensation (a symptom of brain injury and/or complications, headache should be evaluated by a doctor)
Excessive worry about other symptoms of brain injury
Fear of re-injury and of returning to what caused your concussion
Generalized anxiety, including “what-ifs” about your future with a brain injury
Proven Connection between Concussion and Anxiety
Until recently, many professionals didn’t officially acknowledge a connection between anxiety and concussions because there was no definitive proof that they could see in the brain that brain injury could cause anxiety. Anxiety was sometimes attributed to “just worrying too much” and dismissed. To be sure, many felt that it was logical that a connection existed, but without proof, they couldn’t act on it.
I think that most people who experienced anxiety after a brain injury, myself included, would be able to verify that the relationship between concussions and anxiety does exist. Finally, research is catching up with what TBI survivors have known all along: concussion damages the brain in a way that cause anxiety.
The brain can be damaged in different ways (Brouhard, R.), all of which involve shearing, tearing, or twisting of tissue, and at the neurological level, axons and dendrites. When there is damage in parts of the brain that are implicated in anxiety, existing anxiety might worsen, and new anxiety might develop.
In 2015, researchers were able to see brain damage that caused anxiety by using a type of MRI called diffusion tensor imaging to compare the brains of concussion patients who experienced anxiety with concussion sufferers who did not (everybody’s concussion effects are unique).
Not surprisingly, the imaging showed damage in brains of the people who experienced anxiety. There’s an area in the brain called the vermis, and the functioning of the white matter in this area was impaired (Cara, E.).
Those of us who’ve experienced both have probably always known that there’s a relationship between concussion and anxiety. Finally, neuroscientists are seeing it for themselves and learning why. This could lead to new and better treatments for concussion-related anxiety.
It can be a very hard topic to bring up. Even after years of practice, I struggle with exactly when to tell someone that I struggle with mental illness. Here are some lessons I have learned, and some tactics that have worked for me.
When Not To Bring It Up
Sometimes, the lessons we learn are based not on doing things the right way, but on making terrible mistakes. Here are some of the lessons I have learned of when not to bring up the conversation of my mental illness.
I should never have the conversation when I am manic or depressed. This never goes well. Either I end up rambling on and on, talking about how everything is great and giving someone a false sense of my own stability, or I feel hopeless and begin the conversation with, “I am sure you will never speak to me again,” or something similar. I have learned to make certain that I am in a fairly stable place when having this conversation.
I have learned not to bring up mental illness too late in a relationship. Nobody likes feeling lied to or misled. Waiting too long to have the conversation can lead a potential partner or friend to feel just that. Trust has to be given to a point, and waiting months or longer can lead to resentment.
I have made the mistake of having this conversation over text message. It is way too easy to misunderstand someone over text, especially in the conveyance of tone. Pick up the phone, or even better, have the conversation in person.
How to Bring it Up
Oftentimes, health is a topic that comes up naturally. It can be in the form of food allergies, medications, illness, or anything else. If so, it makes an easy bridge. Remember to be understanding when it comes to his/her condition(s) if you expect the same in return.
If it doesn’t come up naturally, I will find a way to insert my mental illness into a conversation. I might, when talking about my day, mention that I read an interesting blog post on HealthyPlace, and use that as a way to jumpstart the conversation.
What to Say
There is, unfortunately, no one-size-fits-all method of bringing up mental illness that will work well for every potential relationship. I try to come out and say it matter-of-factly. “I have bipolar 2 disorder.” I never say that I am bipolar; my illness doesn’t define me. Rather, I have bipolar, or I struggle with bipolar. Most of the time, this will lead into a conversation about what bipolar 2 is and how I manage it. This is a good thing. It allows me to frame the conversation in terms of the progress I have made, rather than someone simply relying on the terrible stereotypes of bipolar that are out there.
I make certain to be honest and open. I will speak candidly about medications, and answer any questions I am asked. Most commonly, I am asked whether I am currently stable. “For the most part,” I will say, “but each day can bring a new challenge. I have learned to handle those challenges better than ever before, but there will still be times I don’t do as well as I would like.” I am frequently asked about suicide, and I will be open about my attempt two years ago, and about my desire during a major depression to go down that path. “However,” I will end, “this is not a normal situation, and I am always working to make sure that I don’t end up in that place again.”
At the end of the day, the biggest lesson I have learned is not to be ashamed of my condition. Everyone has something, and my disease is really no different from someone who has diabetes or lupus. All of these require care, will have good days and bad, but can be managed effectively with a variety of treatments. It is that realization that has allowed me to be as open as I am in a new relationship.
While it can still be a very difficult conversation to have, being prepared for the discussion and having it at the right time have led to better results for me. Some people will still run away, but that is their loss.
Building self-esteem is often something that requires effort. People may wonder, therefore, what they will actually gain by digesting all of this information and advice on building self-esteem and changing their habits of thought and behavior. Of course, we should promote healthy self-esteem not just because it changes how you see yourself but also because it can drastically improve your life in so many ways. Let’s focus on relationships as an example.
Low Self-Esteem in Relationships
Having low self-esteem doesn’t mean you can’t be in a relationship or that no one else can love you. Many of us struggle with low-esteem to varying degrees, from subtle self-criticism to persistent and intense self-hatred. Yet while low self-esteem won’t necessarily exclude us from romantic love, it can certainly act as a barrier to a healthy, flourishing relationship.
This can become a negative cycle. Low self-esteem affects the relationship, which in turn can lower self-esteem. For example, I have sometimes thought that I am not ‘man enough’ in a relationship since I judge my qualities as falling short of the masculine ideal in some way. When I would criticise myself in this way, it would diminish my confidence and make me feel that I’m inadequate.
Again, not feeling confident in oneself might not necessarily lead to the breakdown of a relationship but it can certainly happen. When low self-esteem is left unaddressed and continues for so long, it can certainly lead to strain in the relationship, especially if the partner has to bear the brunt of projection and anger, as well as if low self-esteem affects sex in the relationship.
A loving partner can help work through these issues with you but it can’t be expected that every loving partner will want to stay if the relationship becomes unhealthy. Insecurities, jealousy, and anxiety can all stem from low self-esteem and they are roadblocks to a truly satisfying relationship. Heidi Riggio, a social psychologist teaching at California State University in Los Angeles, says:
You may be afraid that your partner will leave you, or you panic over other things that others wouldn’t think twice about. This can lead to panic attacks or extreme jealousy.
Low self-esteem can lead to a distorted perception of your partner and your relationship. Steven Graham, associate professor of psychology at the New College of Florida in Sarasota, underscores:
If my views of you are changing very quickly, thinking very positively about you one minute and negatively the next, that could make the other person feel insecure.
Healthy Self-Esteem in a Relationship
Having healthy self-esteem in a relationship tells a completely different story. When you disengage from negative self-talk and build and maintain a realistic view of yourself, this will translate into a more balanced and less black-and-white perception of your relationship. Negative self-talk is the endless loop of critical, judgemental chatter that plays in our heads. But we can reverse negative self-talk. When we tell ourselves we’re unlovable, unattractive or not good enough, it’s crucial to – first of all – realize that this way of thinking is a distortion and then – secondly – to talk to yourself in a positive way.
When you feel more secure in yourself, this will allow both you and your partner to feel more secure about the relationship. In a similar vein, healthy self-esteem goes hand in hand with self-confidence, and feeling confident about yourself as a partner and the relationship, in general, will translate into a stronger, more stable and more satisfying relationship.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stigma is alive and well. If you have PTSD, you’ve probably heard someone tell you to “just get over” your trauma. Maybe it was a well-meaning friend or family member, like my father who was frightened by my suicidal ideations. Or maybe it was a less well-meaning stranger, like the rude New Yorker who recently commented on my blog telling me to “grow up and take responsibility for [my] life.” Whether the statement comes from a place of love or stigma, it doesn’t make sense in the context of PTSD. Here’s why.
The Trauma That Caused PTSD Doesn’t Stay in the Past: It Exists In The Present
When people “get over” upsetting events, it’s usually due to the passage of time. Take a breakup, for example. When a relationship ends, there is typically a period of grieving which may involve crying, talking to friends, getting a makeover, or having a rebound. These common post-breakup activities represent rituals that we use to process the event in the context of a cohesive temporal passage. But trauma is not the same as a breakup (PTSD Causes: Causes of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder).
While doing research on PTSD, I had the opportunity to speak with Bessel van der Kolk, a renowned trauma specialist who authored The Body Keeps The Score. One of the first statements he made during our call was that trauma is “not a story about the past. It’s about how the past continues to live in your body . . . you’re in a constant state of heartbreak and gutwrench.” I don’t think there’s a better way to describe PTSD.
For those of us who have undergone or witnessed a severe, life-threatening or sexual trauma, that experience becomes trapped in our minds and our bodies. Even when we are unable to clearly remember the details of the event during the everyday, we can suddenly become transported to that moment as though it is taking place once again. Trauma doesn’t feel like something that happened a long time ago. It feels like it’s just happened, or is still happening. How does a person get over something that is still going on?
Childhood Trauma Can Stunt Emotional Growth
For people who experienced trauma during childhood, there may be an added component of neurological damage that affects memory and emotional regulation.1 Even before this relatively recent biological discovery, psychology has long recognized the phenomenon of arrested emotional development, which is associated both with early trauma and early drug use. Essentially, someone who experiences a disruptive event during a time-period when she is still maturing can become emotionally arrested at that age.
If someone is emotionally stuck at an earlier developmental stage than his physical age, he is likely to exhibit behaviors that others might find odd or immature. It doesn’t mean that everything he says or does will sound like a 10 year old. This is not an intellectual deficit. It does, however, mean that someone who experienced trauma at age 10 might respond to disappointment by raging or “throwing a tantrum” due to emotional stunting. This can also manifest in less obvious ways, like an under-developed perspective on the world, often labeled as “black and white thinking.”
For people who experienced childhood and early adolescent trauma, moving past the event includes the added difficulty of correcting emotional stunting that likely results from neurological changes. That is no easy feat. It’s certainly not reasonable to expect that person to magically get better if you tell him to “just get over it.”
The Trauma That Causes PTSD Is Extreme
Finally, you need to remember that if someone has PTSD, she has experienced an event so extreme it disrupts her cohesive life experience.2 Traumatic events are so affecting because they fall radically beyond the expected human experience. They cause people to make illogical connections, such as between success and danger. If you have never experienced an event that makes you question the very nature of reality, then you simply cannot understand what it’s like to be traumatized. Which is wonderful–but don’t expect that a person who is traumatized will share your perspective of time, reality, and social conventions.
As a job seeker with a mental illness, it can seem daunting and slightly worrying when it comes to writing a resume. So many thoughts can fly through your mind such as, “Will they mind that I have a mental illness?”, “Does it affect my chances of getting the position?”, or “Will they think of me as less-abled when it comes to the task at hand?”
These are perfectly valid thoughts when you have a mental illness, but you need not worry. Today, I’m going to talk you through everything you need to know about writing the perfect, interview-securing resume even if you have a mental illness.
Don’t Mention Your Mental Illness in Your Resume
The first thing you need to know is that you’re protected from discrimination because you have a mental illness (disability). There are many acts in place to stop this happening, such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
This act forbids companies with over 15 employees from discriminating individuals who have mental or physical conditions, asking about your medical condition or taking pre-screening medical tests. With this in mind, there’s no reason for you to mention the mental illness in your resume.
“. . . the only way an employer will find out is when you come in for an interview, or you’re organizing an interview and you ask what the best entrance into the building is for a wheelchair or any other requirements that may need to be made . . .” — Charlotte Holder, a resume writer for Essay Roo.
Focus on the Positives on Your Resume, Not Your Mental Illness
When it comes to writing your resume, the sole purpose of the document is to highlight your skills, your achievements and what you can bring to the business you’re applying for, so you need to bear this in mind through every stage of writing.
Not only should you use this opportunity to showcase what you’ve achieved in the past, but you also need to focus on your strengths and what abilities you can use and how they are going to help and provide for the position you’re applying for.
A resume is supposed to be a positive document that can show what you can bring, so make sure that is what it is. Highlight and include your previous work experience and note how that experience can help you in this future role. Be proud of how you have excelled in the past and how you can excel in the future.
Gaps in Job History Due to Mental Illness
One of the most common problems faced when writing a resume is what to do about mental illness-related gaps. Due to your mental illness, perhaps through treatment or recovery times, there may be gaps that appear within your resume’s work history section.
Thanks to modern day computer systems, it can actually be easy for companies to scan these dates to find out what happened by researching your medical history. However, the best way to address this is just to be honest and to add any significant dates, perhaps three or more months, and simply write ‘Illness and Recovery.”
Not only does this identify the gap regarding mental illness in your resume, but it also mentions you’ve recovered and you’re ready to start working again.
After the abuse finally ends and you’ve walked away from the relationship, you may start to ponder, “How do I make a comeback after abuse?” Your self-image will likely be in shambles and the person you once were won’t be a person you’ll know again. That’s okay and it’s okay because the person you were before was never as strong as the person you will become. Abuse changes you, it alters the very fabric of your inner being. Rather than let those changes be negative, let them build you into a tougher, wiser, smarter person with self-respect, dignity, and a hopeful outlook on life. Continue reading to learn tips and tricks on how to make a comeback after abuse.
Tips and Tricks for the Ultimate Comeback
Do something to make yourself feel good on the outside. Your outside reflects your inside and sometimes if you make an effort to feel fabulous when you look in the mirror, your inside will adjust accordingly. If this means trying to eat healthier, doing YouTube workout videos, buying yourself a new outfit, bringing your most flattering ensembles to the front of the closet, or just getting a fresh haircut — do it!
Insert yourself into social environments. Do new things so you’ll meet new people. Expose yourself to things you never knew you’d enjoy, open yourself up to making new friends and nurture those friendships. If you simply google “events in my area,” you can find so many different fun and interesting things to do. Art walks and farmers markets are a great time or consider signing up for a yoga class or joining a book club, you may meet some fantastic new friends.
You know that thing you’ve always been kind of good at and had a lingering interest in? Open that door for yourself. If it’s being a writer, start a blog. If it’s painting, go sign up for a painting class or buy a blank canvas and work your magic. If it’s pursuing a higher education, register for some classes. These things don’t have to be the what could have been, they could be the thing you’re doing right now.
Redecorate your living space. Even if money is tight and you can’t go out and get new things for your house, apartment, room, or where ever, rearrange your furniture. Put different pictures in your picture frames. Paint your walls a different color. And don’t forget you can find some of the best decor pieces at yard sales, antique shops, and my personal favorite eBay. You can find anything your heart desires on eBay for a fraction of the price.
Read some inspiring comeback stories, some inspirational material that will get your juices pumping. Buy a self-help book and devour it with a glass of wine or a cup of tea within arm’s reach. Watch a few Ted Talks or better yet, find a conference of interest nearby and go to it.
Don’t be scared to date. I know this can be a tricky one, especially after abuse, but I really recommend getting back out there. Try to date different types of men or women, go on a date with someone you wouldn’t normally consider your go-to guy or gal. Be open-minded to new and different types of people while being selective in the sense that you are holding your bar up higher for yourself this time around. Remember you deserve the best and won’t settle for less.
And finally, make the ultimate after abuse comeback by having some fun! Try to have fun in all of the different things you do. Find the humor in ridiculous situations and laugh out loud. Sing along to the radio really loudly and off-key, dance when you hear music, and most of all, treat yourself kindly.
There are many ways we endeavour to encourage people through tough periods of mental illness. Many of these ways are phrases or words meant with the best intentions, but they can also be potentially harmful — or at least I’ve seen the harmful effects they’ve had. Of the number of platitudes people say, one I get stuck on is “stay strong.”
I’ve actually written about the phrase stay strong before in regards to how it factors into the argument of willpower, but I also want to address it more in depth in regards to what stay strong and the way it’s said imply, and how that affects people. Stay strong is likely not the only expression that does this, but it’s one that readily pops into my mind.
Language Used to Encourage Someone Is Important
I’ve heard from others who, like me, have felt inadequate or felt like failures because of the words stay strong, so I think it’s still important to discuss. Instead of being uplifting, the words become crushing as we’re falling apart and wondering why strength eludes us.
Honestly, it comes down to the verb tense. “Stay strong,” grammatically, is the imperative verb form. It’s a tense used for telling people things they must do or things that are expected of them, and that can be problematic. That’s probably why even a year after writing the aforementioned blog I’m still hung up on this phrase.
To me, imperatives as encouragement leave no room for the breakdown or feeling the negatives and working through them. For stay strong specifically, it may even invalidate the experiences of mental illness because it’s implying strong is the only acceptable.
As I said in last year’s blog, people use stay strong as a means of encouragement to keep hanging on despite the struggle. It’s sometimes even used when at a loss for words for how to help people and to show people that we care. But even knowing this, it still bothers me.
How Platitudes Can Unwittingly Contribute to Mental Health Stigma and What We Can Do Instead
I feel like clichés such as these factor into stigma because stigma doesn’t give us room for the breakdowns either. Stigma says these things aren’t allowed with its imperatives of suck it up, get over it, and whatever other phrases are used to invalidate someone’s experience. What I mentioned above about feeling like a failure because I wasn’t strong can and did become internalized for me, transforming into a constant narrative of self-stigma, too. (Signs of Self-Stigma: Do You Stigmatize Yourself?)
In this case, stigma isn’t the intended result of saying stay strong by any means, but I think it’s important to recognize how it could factor in.
Again, sometimes these kinds of phrases are used when we’re at a loss for words. We want to be able to say all the right things and help people, but I think the best course for being unsure of what to say is honesty. If you’re at a loss for words, say so. Let the person know that you’re not quite sure what to say, but that you’re there. Ask what would be helpful. Maybe it is saying stay strong, but maybe it’s not. Ultimately, when in doubt, the best thing to do is ask. (How to Support Someone With Mental Illness)
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