I’ve always believed that words have power. The right
words, in the right situation, can do so much. As can the
wrong words at the wrong time. They’re all we’ve got to
get across to others what’s going on inside our heads,
and it’s up to us to use them right.
The word I’d like to talk about today is “shouldn’t”.
It seems like a pretty innocuous word, doesn’t it? People
use it all the time, and they rarely think much of it.
But it’s a word that has more strength behind it than you
Think about it. When someone offhandedly says that you
“shouldn’t do that” what exactly are they saying? What do
they think they’re saying? And what do others take from
it? Of course, these vary from person to person, but I’ve
often found that the person using the word seldom
attaches as much meaning to it as the person hearing it.
When I hear the term “shouldn’t” it seems to me to have
the whole weight of society behind it. It’s not just a
“don’t” which could be that one person’s opinion or
instruction. Instead, it suggests that there’s a whole
system of rules that you’d be breaking if you do this
thing. Perhaps that’s even why the person using the term
doesn’t think as much of it… perhaps by invoking this
nebulous web of rules they’re not as personally involved
in the statement. They’re not telling you not to do it.
They’re just saying you shouldn’t.
Why am I musing about the meaning of words in a blog
about depression? Unsurprisingly, it’s because this
problem with communication came up in my own life fairly
recently. Someone commented (completely without malice)
that people who suffer from social anxiety shouldn’t live
with others. I tried not to take this personally, but it
was a little difficult for me. I suffer from social
anxiety. Did this mean I had no right to live with
others? The response was a shocked “I never said they had
no right to! I just…”
But what did he “just”? What exactly *is* meant when
people say that <X> person “should” or “shouldn’t” do
You see, people are often unaware of their words, and of
how their words are percieved. People often think that
what they mean is obvious, but it’s so easy to drift on
with no idea of just how much the words you say affect
the people around you.
My friend meant that it must be dificult living with
others while also anxious around people. He meant that he
imagined it might be easier for such people to live
alone, and avoid that stress. He didn’t mean to make a
command, or a sweeping statement, but that’s how it came
across. I don’t know about others, but to me the term
“shouldn’t” comes down like the word of God. It’s not
just that someone doesn’t want you to do it, or that it’s
detrimental to you or others, or even that it’s against
the law. It’s just that it’s NOT DONE. You shouldn’t do
it. It’s obvious.
And that hurts when the thing you’re being told you
shouldn’t do is something that everyone else takes for
granted. It hurts to be told that you shouldn’t go to the
supermarket because people who have problems with contact
shouldn’t go to crowded places. It hurts to be told that
you shouldn’t live with others because your depression
will be hard for them to deal with. It hurts to be told
that people shouldn’t have to “pander to you” because
you’re different. It suggests that you’re not like them,
and you should minismise the effect you have on other
(normal) people and hide your differences for fear of
making their lives difficult. And that’s an overreaction
to a simple term, but it’s what I hear, and it’s what I
feel, every time someone tells me that I *shouldn’t* do
something, just because I suffer from depression.
And I suppose, to them, it’s just like telling someone
with brittle bones that they shouldn’t go rock-climbing.
But you know what? If they want to take that risk… let
them. And let me take the risk of going to a festival or
travelling by train, and if I tell you that it’d help me
a lot if you do something to help me through a risk like
that, then help me… or don’t help me… but please,
please, don’t tell me I shouldn’t be doing it. Because
I’m not going to live my life trying not to impact
others. I’m going to live my life doing the most that I
can do, and being the best that I can be, and I hope that
for every person who has to go a little out of their way
to “pander” to my mental illness, there’ll be at least
one who’ll benefit from knowing me as who I am.