Ask Amy: Mentally ill family member struggles in silence
Dear Amy: I have struggled with my mental health my entire life.
I’ve been in and out of several psychiatric hospitals over the past few years.
I’ve always been private with my emotions, having been raised in a family that doesn’t talk about feelings. Therefore, my first hospital admission came as a surprise to my parents, though they did visit me often while I was there.
To this day, we still don’t talk about my struggles, nor have my parents asked me directly about why I was there.
I was recently at a (small, distanced) family gathering with my parents and an aunt. Somehow, the conversation turned to my grandfather’s service in WWII.
In what was framed as a funny anecdote, my parents and aunt repeatedly talked about my grandfather’s time guarding the “loony bin.”
I was very taken aback by this phrase and the laughter that accompanied it. I was too surprised to react in the moment.
Several weeks later, I’m still supremely hurt by this conversation.
The derogatory comments toward the people in the hospital felt like a dagger to my heart.
I don’t know where to go from here. I haven’t had any contact with any of them since that day. — I’m No “Loony”
Dear No “Loony”: When people make a deeply insensitive remark — or a slur — the appropriate response is to react honestly to it, either in the moment or later on, once you’ve caught your breath.
Retreating into an angry silence may be the norm in your family, but it is not useful. Changing this one thing about how you respond to things that hurt you might be good for you, and would definitely be useful to them.
Their terminology and attitude toward people with mental illness is both unfortunate and obsolete. Your family members were repeating slurs and stories from 70 years ago, using language that was commonly used at that time.
If you are able, reach out and tell them something along these lines: “I had never heard those stories from Grandpa’s service in WWII before. Honestly, though, calling a hospital a ‘loony bin’ is a terrible thing to say. I was shocked when I heard people using that term. People who have mental illness are not ‘loony’, and they don’t spend time in a ‘bin,’ any more than people who have cancer do. I feel it is important to let you know that.”
My suggested script does not refer to your own experience in hospitals, which I sense hews to your family’s style.
Being more open about your own illness could be a gamechanger for you. I hope you will talk to your therapist about ways to connect more deeply with your family. Your advocacy is a positive step in that direction.
Dear Amy: I’ve been going to a restaurant with some friends and really like one of the waiters.
He seems to be interested in me, but that could just be good salesmanship.
His body language indicates that he is interested.
I’m a gay male and don’t want to make him uncomfortable. I don’t want to make the situation awkward, should he not be gay or not interested.
How do I approach this, or do I have to let it die? — Hungry
Dear Hungry: Researching your question, I’ve visited several online forums for servers, and most waitstaff say that no matter what, do not ask them out during a shift. They are very busy, and this puts them in an awkward position with you and other customers. And it turns out that some waitstaff get asked out a lot.
Understand that for a server, your handsome face might be one more in a blur of faces he sees each day. If he is good at his job, each table he serves will notice that he’s attentive and interested.
If he is interested in you, he will let you know in all the usual ways: eye contact, lingering, extraneous conversation.
The most benign (and, I think, sophisticated) way to handle this would be to simply leave your business card with the check. (I know what you’re thinking: Time to order business cards!)
Dear Amy: “Concerned” asked you if he was an alcoholic.
Two scotch and waters and two glasses of wine at night do NOT an alcoholic make. — Social Drinker
Dear Drinker: I did not declare “Concerned” to be an alcoholic but offered him several metrics by which to gauge his own drinking, and to cut down, if necessary.