We stare at each other. The conversation has screeched to a halt. Somewhere between the question, “How is your dad doing?” and me recounting the endless antics of his bipolar, we both got very uncomfortable.
I think society has conditioned us to ask about the bad things, because it somehow seems rude to NOT ask about the aunt with cancer.
However, do you seriously want to know? Every gruesome little detail?
Does the person dealing with the problem actually want to talk about it? Or do they feel comfortable enough to lie between their teeth, “Actually she’s doing great. No tumors found yet.”
Speaking from personal experience, I would actually greatly prefer if people DIDN’T ask me about my dad. Because inevitably, it leads to crickets and asking for the check too early.
The question is more tolerable if the person has had personal experience with bipolar or other types of mental illness. I don’t mind unloading on them as much. They can also add on to the conversation more than saying, “I’m sorry, that sucks.”
But other than the social awkwardness that ensues from approaching this “taboo topic”, ruminating on the event just makes me feel bad. I leave the hangout feeling drained and upset, because I have just relived every bad thing that has happened in the past few months.
So take this as a public service announcement on how to communicate with your friends who are going through a tough time. Take the time you are spending with them to distract them from their problems. Go out somewhere and have some fun (you don’t need to spend money if you can’t afford it). Go take a walk at the park or beach. Talk about good things that have happened lately, tell a joke, and avoid the “taboo topics” unless they bring it up.