07 December 2011

Trivial(ization) Pursuit

Hello dear readers. It's been a while since I posted anything new. Things have been a little hectic and I have been on hiatus while I waited for things to settle down and for inspiration to strike me. With the holidays upon us, I can't guarantee that I'll post very often but I'll make an effort and I hope to post more regularly again in January.

I do have something that I want to address today: trivializing the feelings and experiences of others. This is inspired by an entirely different matter but I realized that it applies to dealing with PPD and mental health in general. So, let's have story time.

The August after I graduated from High School, I went to Garden Valley, TX to spend a year at an internship called the Honor Academy, run by Teen Mania Ministries. Since then, there have been a number of Alumni who have come forwards with stories of various abuses and incidents during their time at the HA, and how their lives have been affected since then. An online community called Recovering Alumni has sprung up and the stories range from "Wow, that's mildly unsettling" to "Holy maccaroni and cheeses! How is that even LEGAL!". MSNBC even did a one hour documentary called Mind Over Mania, addressing the fact that internationally recognized cult experts Dough and Wendy Duncan have stated " there is no question that this group represents one of the most cruelly abusive cults that we have encountered. The psychological and spiritual abuses and mind games of Teen Mania are horrifying.".I won't get into the whole mess very much, because that's not the point of this post, but if you want to read more about it you can check out the blog Recovering Alumni.

Here's where the whole issue ties in to my blog. Naturally, any time you have something like this happen, it's pretty predictable that there will spring up at least two camps: those who are for and those who are against the ministry in question. In this case, the Alumni who still support Teen Mania/the Honor Academy often say things like "Well it's just a small number of you who were hurt, look at how many have been positively impacted". Oh, okay, so because the number of those who remain happy with Teen Mania is greater than the number of those who have spoken up about their bad experiences, the bad experiences don't matter? Yeah, that hurts A lot.

You might be asking "Ok, that sucks and all, but how does that tie in with PPD/mental health?". Well, I'll tell you. I don't know how many times I've seen or heard someone say something along the lines of "Oh come on, you're just exaggerating", or "Well can't you just stop worrying about it?" or "I'm tired of hearing about your depression, can't you talk about how cute your baby is instead?". I've talked before about how much it hurts to be told to "Just get over it" or "Well, you need to pray harder, just have a little more faith", but I wanted to approach it from a slightly different angle this time.

Any time you (general) tell someone a phrase like that, you are trivializing their feelings and experiences. You are essentially saying "What happened to you, what you're going through, doesn't matter as much as *blah*." and that hurts a LOT. I believe that this contributes a lot to the stigma that surrounds PPD and mental health problems in general. If you're already feeling fragile and volatile, the last thing you want is to express that only to feel like you're being laughed at.

It can be so incredibly damaging to be told that your feelings are not as important as something else that's going on or someone else's experiences. I want to encourage everyone that if you know someone who tells yous omething they have going on, think very carefully about what you say. Phrase it in a way that lets them know that you love and support them. You don't have to understand what someone is going through or agree with them to express that you love and support them. If you are someone who is dealing with PPD or something of the sort and someone tells you this, don't let it get you down. I know, it's a lot easier said than done, but try to remind yourself that even though it seems like they don't understand, your feelings and emotions still matter. YOU matter.

Nobody should ever feel like their experiences don't count. Many of my friends from Teen Mania still support the Honor Academy, and I still love them. Nobody is asking them to denounce their good experiences, all that we ask is that they recognize that our bad experiences matter just as much as theirs did. In the same vein, if I am dealing with PPD and express as much, I'm not asking the person I talk to to understand why I feel the way I do or to say "Oh yeah, you should definitely feel sad". All any of us really want is to feel like we're being heard and to feel like we matter and count.

Trivia is fine for bar games. It has no place as a way of treating someone's feelings.