We Need Care, Not a Book
Just like unsolicited advice is hurtful, not helpful, so is unsolicited book-giving. But before I dig into why, a personal story:
I was diagnosed with severe clinical depression at age 20. It was a bomb that went off on the heels of an exhausting Junior Year at college.
It wasn’t supposed to be this way. I had jumped into college with the same passion and drivenness that I had lived my whole life. I joined committees, participated in every event, did student work, volunteered, took on an internship, got myself elected to student counsel, and took on extra credits so I could graduate early.
Then things began to change.
My sleep became erratic, my appetite changed dramatically. I became lethargic and unfocused. I kept getting physically sick–ear infection, sinus infection, strep throat–and while the symptoms went away each time with meds, the exhaustion of feeling sick never did. It compounded.
I came home that year a shell of a person. And I was still declining.
When my doctor gave the diagnosis of clinical depression, I was shocked, angry, and in complete denial. Depression, as far as I had ever known, was for sad, weak-minded people. I didn’t know a soul with depression.
Then, the turning point.
While I spent my days in bed, feeling like a freak and a failure, a family friend discretely gave my mother a CD to give to me. It contained a recording of a woman named Joanne Goodwin speaking at a conference.
And it saved my life.
Joanne Goodwin is a Christian and a passionate person with a witty sense of humor. She is also Bipolar. At this point, this woman on a CD was the only person I knew in the whole world who was mentally ill. She was the only person in my world who understood me.
I put that CD into my discman and listened to it with headphones on repeat 24 hours a day for weeks. I fell asleep listening to her voice.
As the combination of medication, sleep, and my friend Joanne–the voice on the CD who understood me–took effect, my life began to change. I began to get out of bed more. And my life slowly but surely grew brighter.
I owe so much to the woman who gave me that CD.
So, as you can clearly see, this story illustrates perfectly why giving a hurting person a book is a bad idea.
Ok, maybe a second story is needed.
Parenting definitely has a learning curve. Add Autism to the mix, and that curve becomes a vertical rock face (climbing rope sold separately.)
The early years took a toll. My son never slept, so neither did I. My heart was constantly broken as I saw my child in so much emotional distress and sensory overload. I was angry with myself for not being able to take his pain way like a good Mommy should. My depression came back in full-force.
Enter the books.
Not everyone knew about my son’s diagnosis, but everyone could see that I wasn’t cut out for motherhood–or at least–that’s what their actions told me when I started getting unsolicited recommendations and loans of parenting books.
Here are some reasons to just say no to unsolicited book-giving:
- It’s Unkind. It basically tells the person, “You have a problem. Go fix yourself.” In addition to being, well… rude, it’s also pretty demoralizing and discouraging. It does not feel good.
- They Rarely Seem to Hit the Mark. Guess what all those parenting books I was recommended didn’t address? Autism. Chances are, there is a lot more to the story than you know about. Maybe you should ask. Maybe you should listen. Maybe you should spend some time in the trenches with someone who is hurting before deciding what their problem is and how to fix it.
- Loaned Books are an Obligation. They have to be kept track of, kept in good condition, read in a timely manner, and returned. To say nothing of the awkward conversation upon returning.
Them: “Wasn’t it great?” Me: “Uhh… sure. Just. Great.”
- They Aren’t a Good Medium for Hurting People. Did you know that a major symptom of both grief and mental illnesses like depression is an inability to focus? It’s true. It is so hard to get through a book in those states of mind. I couldn’t even watch a whole movie during my worst stages of depression. Read a book? And retain any of it? Forget it.
- Some People Aren’t Readers. Some people have dyslexia or another learning disorder. Some people speak multiple languages, and may not be proficient in reading the language that your book is in. Don’t shame them by giving them an impossible task.
So, I can never ever give anyone a book? Not even an amazing book that helped me?
No. Like advice, I do believe that books and other media (music, audio books, podcasts, movies, etc…) have their place, and can be wonderful.
That place is in a relationship.
I know in my enthusiasm for things that have helped me, I have “spammed” people in the past. (Sorry!) In the natural context of a conversation in a good relationship is always best.
A book should come from a place of genuine love and rapport with someone. After you have walked beside them through whatever problem or pain they are facing, media can come with a message of “This helped me. I hope it helps you too.” It will be much better received after you have proved yourself to be caring, trustworthy, and helpful.
Here are some suggestions for giving media to a hurting person:
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