Have you ever undergone a difficult life change and were not able to openly talk about it? Research says it is not easy for people going through a difficult life change (one that has a stigma associated with it) Let’s face it, keeping yourself sane and strong when you are undergoing a difficult diagnosis or life situation is tough enough! To add to that, the “Stigma” that the society attaches to certain things. Let’s talk about why we shy off from talking about certain topics.
So let’s start with what is “social stigma”? Well, Social stigma is when society thinks that something is bad. Avoiding people or topics or worse, ignoring or pushing them under the carpet is the most common way society deals with it. So what ARE these topics I am talking about? I am sure most of you have witnessed one, or more in your lifetime. If not you someone you know closely has gone through it.
Social stigma is when society thinks that something is bad
The issues that come under social stigma range from Death and Suicide to LGBT to Mental Health issues to Infertility to sexual molestation or rape! To learn more about each of these, all you need is a Laptop/smartphone and our very own Google(you get it ;))! Another way is by keeping our hearts and minds open to conversations with people. You will be surprised at the kind of things people go through if they choose to open up.
Yet, when you or one of your loved ones take the daring step to open up about any of the above; hell breaks loose. Some people just stare blankly, not knowing what to say, even months and years later. Few try and embarrass the person by insensitively dealing with the topic. Eg. Asking/talking about things that make it even more hurtful for the person going through tough times. The rest just avoid the topic, as if avoiding it will make it disappear from the face of the earth.
It is understandable that if people haven’t gone through something, they do not know what to say or do about it that will help. So what is the next best thing? Avoid the topic/person and situation until they get back to normal! WRONG!!
First thing first, it is important that all of us have basic human sensitivity towards each other. Life isn’t a race and no one comes out alive, so all those who feel otherwise need a major wake up call. Each one around us, and I mean each and everyone on the planet has something they are struggling with. For some, the things are such that they can easily talk about with others (like issues about their bosses/in-laws or lack of money or career issues or interpersonal issues with some members of the family or health and illness issues like Cancer, Obesity or Diabetes etc). For others, they are internally struggling with things that society doesn’t talk openly because there is a stigma associated with them. It is important to at least empathise if you can’t understand what the others are going through.
Let me give you a few examples of how people react to uncomfortable topics:
Someone lost their loved one to Suicide or death:
Someone lost their loved one to suicide and faces the worst times emotionally and mentally. But as expected, suicide is a hush-hush word. People will rather die but remove that topic. In fact, they will avoid every opportunity to avoid talking about that person who took his/her life. In such a scenario, imagine what the parents or sibling who is alive go through? They can’t even talk about their own loved one in front of others. In turn, they build up all the grief, sadness inside of them and leads to them living an emotionless life, thereon( (read this to understand how). Is that how we should treat this topic? Have we been guilty of doing the same to someone?
Similarly, I have noticed (after certain unforgettable and awful real-life experiences) that many a time people do not really know how to deal with someone who is grieving a death of a loved one. It comes as a surprise, considering life and death is something that everyone and every family goes through. As mentioned before, some people just choose to avoid the topic or the person grieving or the person who passed away. They probably think that if we avoid/ don’t talk about it, it will be forgotten. In fact, the truth is, the person continues grieving from the inside and probably gets into depression because no one is open to listening. Imagine if you had to lose someone dear to you? What kind of emotional support you’d require from people around you.
Someone has just been diagnosed with depression:
Someone just confided in their family member that they have been diagnosed with Depression. It took them months to gather the strength to speak out about it. All they are looking for is support and someone to say, we will be there for you, while you go through tough times. What does the family member do? They say, oh just come out of it and stop looking for others to help you, do it on your own. And after that, there wasn’t even one message or call from the family member to check on the person suffering. So people are opening up, but no one really bothers to check on them or provide them with the support they need the most at this delicate time. Instead, people avoid the topic (and the person) altogether. Is that how you would like to be treated if, God forbid you go through depression any day?
If you know about depression, you would know that it isn’t in any one’s control. It just comes out of the blue and no one really has a control over it. One does not need to have the classic depression symptoms for them to be diagnosed with depression. They could look just like a normal person you may meet from day to day life who goes about doing regular tasks of their life. Many women also undergo Postpartum Depression, which again is very common in today’s society, but women are made to feel guilty if they suffer from it.
Someone is struggling with many many years of Infertility:
Someone just opened up to their close one about how they are struggling with infertility for years. They have tried every treatment, method, tip, trick, yoga, massage, juice, acupuncture, vitamins or herbal medicine possible but no baby. What response do they get? “You just need to relax, it will happen” or “why don’t you take a holiday, that’s how my friend’s aunt’s daughter got pregnant” or “You should have planned a baby earlier/got married earlier” or “you are not eating right” or “why don’t you just adopt”.
According to WHO, 1 in 4 couple’s worldwide suffer from Primary or secondary Infertility.
I have noticed that a lot of people have a solution mentality. They may or may not have ACTUALLY gone through something, but they feel they have all the rights to provide a solution for the opposite person. Most times it can be harmless solutions, based on some half-baked knowledge they have. For all you know, the friend has already tried each and everything possible thing there was or may just have been genetically born with an issue that usually causes issues in conceiving naturally. All she requires is your listening ear and emotional support in something that no one(yes not even the specialist doctors) can promise a positive outcome out of.
Read a bit on Infertility, IVF Procedure or the costs and implications of Adoption before you shoot out any advice or recommendation. Here is an interesting take on why a woman trying to be a mother needs your love and support NOW more than later. And don’t forget to wish them on Mothers day, they probably need your wishes because that is all they have.
Someone suffered a Miscarriage/series of Miscarriages:
Did you know that Miscarriage is so common yet such a taboo topic for society? More than half of the time you won’t even know if someone has/had suffered a Miscarriage and how she remembers her little one(s), even though they are in heaven now. One can easily get attached to a baby and imagine themselves as a mum, whether the baby was a day old/ a few weeks old in the tummy or 6 months into the pregnancy? In fact, it is even more tough for the mother when she is grieving a baby that was never born. Because most often then not, not many people know of their pregnancy (as it is too early); meaning she has to go through the loss all alone. The baby was possibly a very big part of the mum’s life, it may have been the first time she experienced motherhood or the last. But because of the fact that society considers Miscarriage a big taboo, the mother has to grieve silently.
I would advise never to avoid the topic of Miscarriage from anyone who has gone through it, rather ask them how they are feeling and how you can help. Staying silent about it probably makes her feel worse.
For every person reading this who feels this is disgusting or too much information, there will be a woman somewhere, undergoing excruciating pain, as the new life she held inside of her—bleeds away in front of her eyes. And for anyone who thinks these things shouldn’t be talked about on a public platform, there is a woman carrying the guilt, shame, and confusion of losing a baby and might want to relay the story, blow-by-blow, so she isn’t just reliving it in her head, alone.
She may have lost the baby naturally or have had to play a role in killing it owing to some medical complications that she or the little would have to go through. Both very sensitive and emotionally traumatic situations for her and her husband. Read more on Miscarriage here (considering every 1 in 4 women experience a miscarriage in their lifetimes, you may need it for yourself or someone you know very well)
Why I have decided to openly talk about uncomfortable topics?
Talking openly about any of these topics might make a couple of people uncomfortable but more often than not it will help people know that I am always going to be there, if and when they have to experience any of the above. It doesn’t always have to be a big conversation downer, but just my honest and frank experiences. My friends and family know that I’m someone they can talk to if they lose a baby or are suffering from depression or lost their loved one to death. Through my willingness to start these conversations, uncomfortable topics are no longer a taboo, making sure people do not suffer in silence.
Imagine what it would be like if that circle widened. If other people started their own circles of sharing and understanding as well. If everyone knew that they didn’t have to feel ashamed or guilty. Imagine if those circles converged, and we started building a society where a people can not only openly talk about everything but also be able to beautifully help others who are suffering in silence.
Please write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments section below on how you have dealt with talking about uncomfortable topics or people talking on the same. I would love to know what you feel about it.