Feb 12, 2010

The Fridge Magnet

I wandered sleepily into the kitchen this morning to grab a banana out of the fridge. After I closed the fridge door, my eyes focused and I noticed, for the first time, just under the temperature display, a small turquoise rectangular fridge magnet. It read...

"Depression - You're Not Alone"

...and gave the phone number and website for Beyond Blue.

I stood there for a moment, somewhat stunned. Then I wandered back into the bedroom to ask the Wah if he'd put that fridge magnet up.

"No - I thought you did," was his reply.

"No," I said, somewhat thoughtfully. "I didn't".

I want to be honest, but I also don't want to be boring, or worse, self-indulgent. So let's just say that for the past few months I've been battling some self-esteem issues. It's hard to explain why I think what I do; save to say that others can and have found it frustrating or irrational.

Several people have advised me to take steps to combat this; whether I have or not, and what those steps might be, are really just my own business now.

If neither The Wah nor I put up that Beyond Blue fridge magnet, it means somebody I know has placed it there during a recent party or gathering. As I say, I only just noticed it (which says a lot about the cluttered state of my fridge door, not to mention my observational skills), so it could have been placed there weeks ago.

Now I find advice hard to receive, but even harder to give. So I understand that some people dealing with my recent poor moods may have wanted to help, but not want to end up in a confrontational state. So I can understand why someone who might want me to get help would opt for the stealth fridge magnet plan. Having said that, I feel somewhat uncomfortable about this particular approach. I feel it's somewhat... insensitive. The person was probably trying to walk "softly-softly", but what ended up happening was a surprise jab straight between my eyes.

Do I know who the fridge magnet person is? No. I have a suspicion, but it is purely supposition.

Do I want to know who that person is? I'm not sure.

Do I want any more advice? I don't know.

But it's made me think about the whole nature of advice-giving. You may remember on a previous occasion, I wrote about a woman who handed me the name and number of a dermatologist and said "He can help with your skin", back when I was an acne-ridden check-out chick. Even then, I recognised her good intentions, but the manner of her delivery still broke my heart.

How do you give advice? Direct action? Subtle hints? I saw Hamlet at La Boite the other night, and was reminded of the Dane's remark "I must be cruel only to be kind". When you've tried all other options, does advice have to be blunt?


  1. It depends on whether the person has asked for advice, or the advice giver just feels they need to say something.

    The thing with advice is, it's just that - advice. The person on the receiving end does not have to agree with, or following through on, said advice. So I wonder, if all other options have failed, perhaps that indicates that the person to whom the advice is being directed is choosing not to follow it? Some people can be very insistent with their advice, and can take a person's choice not to follow it as a personal affront. If they feel the need to be very blunt about it, does that perhaps say more about the person giving the advice, than the person receiving it?

    As a mother I have been on the receiving end of a lot of so-called "advice". Sometimes the person giving it gets very insistent, like my decision not to follow their advice is personally offensive to them, and is somehow a comment on my obviously poor mothering skills (because of course if I was a good mother, I would have done what they said). So I prefer the softly softly approach. Unless, of course, someone asks me for advice - in that case, they can expect me to be blunt (especially if they are someone I care about).

  2. I divide advice into two categories. 1. Advice given out of a genuine desire to help and 2. advice that is more about the person giving it than the person receiving it.

    Once a friend I was share-housing with crept politely into my bedroom, and even though she must have know I wouldn't like it, told me that she thought the guy I was seeing didn't make me happy and I should break up with him.

    I didn't listen to her, but she was absolutely right, and I have always thought since then that she is someone I should really value because she was so worried about my wellbeing that she risked incurring my wrath and damaging our friendship by telling me what I later realised everyone else was saying behind my back. So I put that advice in the first category.

    The second category of advice comes from people who feel like they are not being recognised as an expert on a particular subject, and giving advice on the subject is a way of showing people that they have experience and knowledge to give (and getting attention for themselves). Not necessarily malicious, but not really coming from a place of altruism either.

    Since the person who put the magnet on your fridge did it anonymously (without wanting to get credit for "helping you") I would be inclined to put it in the first category.

  3. I have many girlfriends who have self confidence issues, and come to me with relationship issues Ironic considering I've had 1 girlfriend in the past and that lasted for 5 months.

    But I give it to them flat out. There's the hand you've been dealt. You can put two cards into their crib and play your cards hoping for the best, or you can fold.

    Then again, I get asked for advice. Rarely do I go out of my way to give someone advice when they didn't ask for it.

  4. I tend to only give advice to tall, intelligent, athletic men of Generation X. Coz that's who my advice is relevant to. Generally, they are doing alright by themselves and don't need much in the way of advice.

    Anyone else, I wait until they ask, because the less they are like me, the more abstract extrapolation is involved in my advice.

    I also found over time that unless change is sought by the person, you are wasting your time.

  5. I get into trouble because I crave advice. I really engage with information about myself. The last thing I'd ever want is for people to discuss my activities behind my back without giving me the opportunity to take their advice on board.

    Because of this I tend to get myself in trouble by offering advice to others in the same way that I would like to receive it. I'm having to learn that sometimes earnest advice can sound like an attack.

    This fridge magnet thing though, seems cowardly and incredibly misguided and douchey.

  6. I don't give advice any more. I have opinions (who doesnn't just everyone else seem boneshaker crazy when they don't coincide with mine I find).

    I find little point in advice given since either the advice is something that the person doesn't agree with and hence wil resent it or if it is what they wanted to hear and would have done it any way.

    I will say what I think, but no longer recommend to some one to do something, nor expect anyone to change their opinion about what they are going to do based on what I say.

    Thinks are much less stressful for me if I do that.

  7. I tend not to give advice unless asked, and then with many qualifications, depending on the person, and how well I know them. (Except for Mum type advice e.g. sporting injuries and how to deal with them....btw: how IS the foot now Nat?).

    I've found that many people who want advice really only need someone to talk to. If I listen properly (active listening) the advisee usually manages to talk themselves into a resolution themselves. Sometimes I'll agree with their resolution, sometimes not, I know that I probably drive people mad by asking for advice and then doing whatever the hell I want anyway. Sometimes, again depending on my relationship with the person concerned, I will let them know that they're full of it and why, but you have to know that it usually won't make a blind bit of difference.

    Bottom line, if you want advice, find someone you trust, whether that's someone close to you or a perfect stranger, and pour your heart out. You're a bright girl, you will work it out. If you want to give advice, wait to be asked, (unless someone is in a dangerous situation), then just listen. Listen properly, actively, clarify, comment and question. 9 times out of 10 they'll work it out.

    That's my advice fwiw...lol!

  8. Thanks for commenting on this post, guys.

    I really do appreciate it - I realise it's probably very awkward (or maybe just boring!).

    I'm starting to doubt myself - I keep wondering if maybe I did put the magnet up randomly myself - or whether someone just found it in a stack of mail or something and put it there... I don't know.

    I'll try to think of another blog topic tonight; one that might be more entertaining for people. :)

  9. The difficult thing about seeing someone you've spent time with and inevitably grew have concerns for if they appear in trouble is what do you actually do if they appear in trouble?.

    Obviously you've been struggling lately but the problem is from someone's POV is what if you didn't try to help?. People actually do die as a result of depression and some you wouldn't have picked it. You always hear, "We just thought they were just down a bit" etc etc.

    From our position as sort of sideline friends the most I can feel comfortable about saying if you appear down is that from my POV as someone who has witnessed first hand your talents either on stage, on the radio, in a blog, or via your interaction with others is how talented you REALLY are, but from your immediate friends who are closest THE. SINGLE. greatest fear is losing you by you shutting down as a result of them attempting to help purely from a duty of care and love for you POV.

    I've lost friends to suicide and there's no worse feeling than you would've done ANYTHING in your power to help them if only you knew what they needed. What if just reaching out and placing a magnet on the fridge saved your life, what if just saying you're the most talented person I've had the pleasure of interacting with helped, it seems to me the alternative is doing nothing and appearing to ignore it which really isn't acceptable from amongst your closest friends who spend time at your house and in your REAL life.

    You don't know what you want in assistance, and your closest friends don't know how to help. No one can read your mind, and I think to keep it all in perspective that even if someone does something that hurts you they are merely doing it because they are concerned for you and care about you and feel the have to do SOMETHING.

    Depression sucks shit mate, trust me I know. I've been there and I struggle like fuck not to revisit it on occasions, my old man is bipolar, and I've lost friends to it. I'm so over funerals. lol

    As long as you guarantee to keep the comms open with The Wah then your friends won't feel obliged out of love to TRY and help.

  10. You keep bananas in your fridge?
    How bizarre.
    We keep cane toads in ours. Well, today we do. Wanna swap?

    Seriously...there's this thing in psychology called 'reframing'. Its part of cognitive behavioural therapy.
    i.e. If someone does something, we ascribe motivation to it and it tends to influence how we feel about it.
    Ascribing motivation can be positive or negative, depending on your mindset.

    The classic one they refer to is you're walking down the street, see a friend who you wave to and they wander blithely past and don't respond.
    Do you
    A) go home and fume and fret and wonder what you've done that they would snub you
    B) Assume that they are preoccupied and wonder if you should call them and see if 5 minutes prior to this they got sacked/heard that Great Aunt Gladys married a jelly wrestler and came out of the closet
    C) Write them out of your will and resolve never to speak to them again

    Ultimately things like this come down to assumptions, interpreting, judging, reacting... and you have control over how your mind processes all of these things. Bottom line is, if you are depressed or anxious, your mind does tend to go down Negative Alley. Which invariably has some ugly twists and turns.

    i.e. If you're feeling good about life you think 'Fridge magnet? Wonder where that came from?' and from there... you have a choice.

    There's a really great book that goes into greater depth called 'Change Your Thinking' by Sarah Edelmen. ABC books, but borders etc should have it.

    I think its a great book for anyone who has a tendency towards mood swings, anxiety, depression, or low self esteem. Have I just described the entire human populace? I meant to. All of these feelings are part of being human but the life manual we're issued with at birth (where'd that go, BTW?) doesn't tell you this.
    Anyway, I've found it useful and have given it to friends and family, who also thought found it useful.

    I find it useful to put the shoe on the other foot.
    If you saw someone you loved experiencing what you're going through, what would you do?

    Saw that rockumentary on Grunge the other night, with Michael Stipe saying how he'd tried to help Kurt Cobain and he obviously couldn't.
    But the fact that he was as coherent and settled as he was tells me that he's OK with his end of that ugly stick, because he tried.

  11. I mostly agree with what Mayhem said.

    When it comes to giving advice, I've learnt that people will simply not listen if they don't want to hear it. Everybody's experiences are different, after all, so what works for one person may not necessarily work for someone else. I give advice when people ask, though I try to avoid saying "You should do this", and instead say "Well, if this happened to me I would do this".

    And I personally really hate when people give me advice when I don't ask for it. Most of the time it can seem really insensitive and judgmental, which just makes things worse. I'm going through similar feelings to you at the moment too, so I get a bit annoyed when people's magical solution to my problems is "Just think positive!" I'm no fool - if it was that simple I'd be better already, wouldn't I?

    Sometimes all I want to do is to be able to vent and for someone to listen. It's also good to just talk through it so I can understand how I'm feeling and find a solution for myself.