What if we could learn to ask: Having a bad head day?
Two summers ago, I took an inelegant tumble through the bathroom door, down a step and onto the wood floor. The thud-yowl combination was enough to induce even my more iPhone-dependent daughter to leave her lair and come thundering up the stairs. I spent a jolly ten weeks plastered from fingers to forearm. It was hot, itchy, and a pain in the…wrist.
Each morning kicked off with a contortionist’s exercise while I wrestled with a plastic bag and surgical tape to protect said plaster in the shower. Next up, coffee. With the jar jammed firmly between my knees, I could unscrew the lid with one hand. I learned to chop a carrot held by my elbow and open a plastic bag with my teeth. In many ways, learning to manage became a sport because I had the luxury of knowing that help was readily available when required.
But this ailment was short-term and obvious. It’s hard to miss ten inches of black plaster. And even after the plaster was removed and physiotherapy began, many a kindly soul would continue to ask how’s your wrist?
Now. Those of you who know me well will know that I’ve also suffered from and survived a depression. There are millions like me. And you. Some of you. With more, no doubt, to follow.
The whys and wherefores are irrelevant in this blog. Besides, everyone has a different tale to tell with no two backstories the same. My point, here and now, is what the rest of us can say about it.
I know from experience, both as a former sufferer and as a friend of sufferers, that a little acknowledgement goes a long way. I also know that phraseology is a minefield.
Are you ok? is guaranteed to annoy because there is no good answer and places a certain pressure on the sufferer to come up with one. A pressure many will rightfully, and perhaps even subconsciously, resent. No, I’m not ok could lead to a useful conversation, but is more likely to give rise to an awkward silence as this response is difficult to express without sounding churlish or self-pitying. I’m fine is untruthful and usually a conversation stopper, which is all well and dandy if both parts are keen to dispense with the reality and move on. But also leaves the sufferer thinking you have no idea, have you? And sadly, yet mercifully, they don’t. But they did try, and both sides come away feeling unsettled.
How are you feeling? is almost as awkward. I didn’t know how I was feeling. Except lousy. And often I didn’t even know why I felt lousy. How do you explain that you’re at the bottom of a black hole and you couldn’t care less if someone came along and filled it in? And that that thought in itself leaves you so guilt-ridden, because who am I — with a wonderful family, in a fantastic country, with loyal friends and the best job on earth — to feel this way? Get a grip and buck up. My words, not theirs.
I was lucky. I was referred to a brilliant doctor who diagnosed a chemical imbalance and administered a tiny white pal to put me back together. And I was glad to be back.
The road forward is never a straight line. It throws kinks, curves and the occasional traffic jam. This is true for everyone. We all have days that excel in being awesome or awful. And if we have the concept of bad hair days, what if we could also introduce bad head days?
Just imagine if we could say to a melancholy friend, Having a bad head day? or How’s your head? as comfortably as How’s your wrist?
They’d know that they could truthfully answer Yes, it’s hurting today.
And we could simply give them a hug to show we’re there if they want to talk.
All messages received and understood.
Might start a hashtag. #BadHeadDay