Since I began speaking openly about depression and anxiety, one of the greatest rewards has been the feedback from friends—and strangers—who’ve thanked me for helping them know they’re not alone with their struggles. When I hear that I’ve given them the words, vocabulary and confidence to talk about their own personal struggles, even those they’ve never shared before, I feel a sense of purpose I never knew existed.
Whenever I make a new connection, whether in-person or online, and feel their unbridled gratitude, it motivates me to keep going, to push forward in the fight against stigma and to keep people talking about mental illness. Over time, I’ve become more open about specific issues that I have trouble with. Self-esteem, thinking errors and social anxiety are three of many obstacles that I’ve faced head-on. Apparently these are common difficulties that many of us are forced to fight.
While I truly love talking and corresponding with my compatriots, every once in a while, a topic will surface and I’ll have no idea how to respond. The best I can do is listen and acknowledge the conflict my friend is facing and offer emotional support – then I have to say the words that I believe to be the best solution to their problems – “save it for therapy” – or for those who’ve heard it from me before – “SIFT it”.
I coined the phrase SIFT when I realized that a) I’m not formally educated in mental health b) some situations are so above my “pay-scale” that I’m at a loss for words and c) I’d hate to give the wrong advice to someone who is in desperate need for professional help, i.e. therapy!
When I tell my friends to SIFT it, a wave of guilt rushes through me, because I want so badly to help them and relieve them of their pain. Here they are in distress, coming to me for help or advice, and I’m unable to wave a wand and have their troubles disappear. Then rationalization kicks in, and I realize that if the same person came to me with a physical problem that I knew nothing about, I’d tell them to call their medical doctor, and just like that, any trace of guilt I had vanishes in a snap. For instance, if a friend called and asked for advice about chronic toenail fungus, I’d be at a loss for words except for the suggestion to call a dermatologist.
What’s most important is the authentic tête-à-tête of honest and often painful exchange of thoughts and feelings. As anyone who has had these kinds of deep conversations can attest, they alone can serve as a form of therapy. I know I always feel better after talking to a friend who’s just there to listen to my stuff. I don’t always hang up the phone with a to-do list, yet the emotional weight I’d been carrying is not as heavy as it was before. I think it’s pretty cool that now I’ve got confidants on the other end of the line telling me to SIFT it, and they’re right. There are some situations that call for professional guidance and solutions, and I know when SIFTing is my only option for getting through the exceptionally rough times. Still, I enjoy gabbing with my friends just to get their feedback and hopefully some giggles about life’s absurdities that stem from the topic of discussion.
There are no plans in my future for getting a degree in mental health. I like how things are now. With every exchange, I become a better listener and learn new insights and coping skills. The main thing is to keep the conversation going, and if/when I tell you to go SIFT it, take it as a compliment – it means I want you to get better, ASAP.
Adrienne Gurman has over 20 years of experience in advertising, marketing and magazine publishing. She is currently the Vice President of 1212-Studio, a product design company in NYC. A native New Yorker, Adrienne lives with her husband and their vivacious chocolate lab, Anya. Adrienne began volunteering for Bring Change 2 Mind not long after the organization was founded, and has since been a leading advocate for fighting the stigma that surrounds mental illness. She has lived with Major Depression since the age of 12. Adrienne writes a weekly blog for esperanza magazine and continues to be a growing voice in the anti-stigma community.