Taking no for an answer

How many times can a girl be pushed away with a sharp stick before she gets the message?

Most of us like to think we would not walk past a person in distress if there was something we could do to help. But what of the situation where your help is firmly rejected? It is not in me to walk away from someone in distress – particularly someone I care about – but I also respect personal choice. I am talking about adults who make their own choices, and if their choice is for me to leave them the hell alone, it seems right to respect that. But in the situation where I know they are not seeking help elsewhere, and the distress is extreme, I find myself in a quandary.

In my youth I simply barged in regardless – often to good effect, but occasionally with catastrophic results.  In many ways I admire my younger self’s naive simplicity. These days I am more aware of the complexities of human relationships. I also have more experience of the catastrophic possibilities. “Once bitten, twice shy” clearly doesn’t apply to me, but one would hope that “100 times bitten” would lead to a fraction more caution in extending the hand. Or at least a decent suit of armour.

In dealing with depression, well-meaning but ignorant amateurs blundering about could do real damage. But walking away from someone right out there on the edge could be just as bad, if not worse. What to do?

Sadly I have no answers, only a huge host of questions. BeyondBlue have a lot of suggestions for talking with someone suffering from depression, but they don’t say how to get them to talk in the first place. They talk about encouraging them to seek professional help, but are silent on the subject of how, exactly, one should go about that.

At what point are things so severe that it’s time to gather all the friends and family together and say “You need help”. Do I even have the right do to that to anyone? Do I, in fact, have a responsibility to do that?

That’s what I keep coming back to. This tension between not interfering in some else’s right to self-determination, and not walking away from a loved one in distress. Depression is an illness, and pushing everyone away can be a symptom of it. Conditions that alter the behaviour are so difficult to get your head around. “You’re pushing me away because you’re sick. You want me to walk away, yet if I do, you may get sicker.” Notwithstanding the fact that I am in no way qualified to diagnose depression. Perhaps it’s not depression, and they are fully in control of their own behaviour (inasmuch as any of us ever are!).

There is also an element of personal risk. It is traumatic to be savaged by people you care about, and pushing in too hard where you are not wanted (and have been warned off) can lead to that. I speak from experience. I would unhesitatingly expose myself to that if I knew it was the right thing to do, but it adds a note of caution in a situation where the right response is by no means clear.

What do you think? Is it only fools who rush in? Do we have a responsibility to force locked doors open? Or does the right to self determination have primacy?

5 thoughts on “Taking no for an answer

  1. thegeekwithin

    Sometimes it’s a waiting game – not actively barging in, but also not walking away. Just repetatively being there until the person who needs you realises they’re taking on too much water and asks for a lifeboat because they know you won’t sink.

  2. Emma

    I agree with thegeekwithin, just stand by ready to extend a hand to get them out of the pit, but they have to realise they are in the pit and need help in the first place; check in with them, have a cup of tea, spend half an hour chatting about stuff they want to talk about every now and again – I speak as a bumbling amateur but also as someone who has suffered depression in the past

  3. TMac

    Unfortunately people have to come to the realisation themselves and as other have said, you can only be there ready and waiting. But not at detriment to yourself, so make sure you debrief with friends and family so that the “savaging” from your friend doesnt derail you as well.

    I guess all you can do is respect their wishes and watch carefully from the sidelines. Ultimately it depends on your emotional fitness and determination to try and continue standing by their side.

  4. lindamciver

    Thanks for the advice, theGeekWithin (nice blog, btw – I’ll be back!), Emma and Taryn. It’s a good point, just making your presence known and waiting can be the best thing. Patience is not my strong suit, but it does seem like the best approach here.

    As for debriefing – that *is* one of my core competencies. :-)

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