Please and Thank you
Earlier this year, one of ON OUR MOON’s writers, Maggie Trela, wrote a beautiful piece about her life-long journey with eczema. She shared her story about trying to heal her skin, and how the never-ending quest fueled her anxiety. She was eventually prescribed Xanax to help her with the constant worry and self-destruction that arose from her skin ailments. She had tried everything before anxiety meds, and nothing helped. When I shared a short caption about her piece on OOM’s Instagram, I was surprised by the response from our community. Her piece was about her skin, but really it was about her learning to remove stigma from needing mental health help — specifically in the form of anxiety medication. The majority of the responses however, were mostly advice-giving about healing her eczema.
“Try CBD oil! Try baby cream!” And then finally, “Try celery juice!”
When I asked Maggie how she felt about these comments, she shrugged and laughed. “I’ve tried all of that and then some. My entire life. And I’ve drank more celery juice than all of L.A. combined.”
People don’t like when other people are hurting, and instead of learning how to sit in the discomfort together, we have a tendency to put a bandaid on the hurt in the form of advice-giving.
It struck a nerve. I started thinking about advice-giving, particularly unsolicited advice-giving. I thought about all of the “advice” I had heard throughout the 18 months I had been trying to get pregnant. “My friend swears by these prenatal pills, try them! Acupuncture really helps! You should get your tubes cleaned out!”
And then finally, the most dreaded comment of all, “As soon as you stop thinking about it, you’ll get pregnant!”
It seems like no matter the topic, whether online or offline, you can find unsolicited advice just about anywhere. Most of the time, it causes mere sighs and eye rolls, but sometimes it has sharp, painful, and long-lasting effects.
People don’t like when other people are hurting, and instead of learning how to sit in the discomfort together, we have a tendency to put a bandaid on the hurt in the form of advice-giving. On the receiving end, it can feel like people are telling you that your sharing, your vulnerability, is wrong. That somehow you can’t sort out the answers for yourself. It’s a failure to consider your own unique experience, and try to over-identify with your situation. It’s dismissive of your individual and unique emotional situations, and no matter how similar yours are, unsolicited advice-giving drives monumental alienation and disconnection.
And though I know people’s intentions were mostly coming from a place of love, it only pushed me into isolation — leaving me to deal with very complicated feelings all on my own.
All of the “advice” I received throughout my fertility journey only made me feel like I wasn’t allowed to express what I was going through. And though I know people’s intentions were mostly coming from a place of love, it only pushed me into isolation — leaving me to deal with very complicated feelings all on my own.
It was hard enough admitting I wasn’t okay; it was the hardest part of my journey. I wasn’t looking for someone to offer me quick fix. I was looking for someone to tell me my feelings mattered. Rarely can a response actually change the situation, but more importantly, rarely are people looking for an actual solution.
Brené Brown, a vulnerability and shame researcher, explains that sympathy drives disconnection, while empathy fuels connection. She describes empathy as a sacred space where you can feel with someone, without the need to give advice or interject your own experience.
What I realize now, is that during my moments of extreme anxiety and despair, I was desperately craving compassionate listening. When I felt like my world was crumbling, I was longing for someone to hold my hand, tell me that how I felt mattered, and that everything would be okay. That I would be okay. Compassionate listening would have been more therapeutic and helpful than any unsolicited advice I received.
To quote Maggie in her previously mentioned piece, she wrote, “to share my struggles is healing me.” And so, I’m learning to listen. Because that’s what we need most when we share. Not advice. But an ear. A shoulder. And maybe even a (virtual) hug.
And if all else fails, I’m learning to respond like Brene Brown advises, “I don’t even know what to say right now, I’m just so glad you told me.”
photography by Britney Gill for ON OUR MOON