Carolyn Hax: What to say to people offering useless advice about depression

Caretaker Wife: You’re dealing with a life-threatening illness for which a refusal to take part…

Carolyn Hax: What to say to people offering useless advice about depression

Caretaker Wife: You’re dealing with a life-threatening illness for which a refusal to take part in getting well is actually one of the symptoms — so caregiving is a labor through frustration, dread, helplessness, exhaustion and fear of saying something wrong or not saying something right. You have more than enough to feel and more than enough to work on right now — please don’t add “change my feelings toward those people” to your chore list.

Since you are both in the care of professionals, you are ready and equipped to do this hard work, and that’s the most important thing.

So it’s okay for your goal in managing anything beyond this core responsibility to be the following: Make it easier. Whatever it is. Easy as possible.

And the easiest way to respond to people who find all the wrong words at all the wrong times is to have responses prepared in advance. Shrink the problem to one that a dozen words can dispatch. Such as: “I know you mean well, but suggestions aren’t helpful right now.” Or, softer: “Advice is tough, but I’ll gladly accept support.” Or, minimalist: “Interesting, thank you. [Change subject.]”

Invest a few minutes — at a quiet moment, when you feel up to it — in finding the words that reflect what you want to say in the tone you want to say it, and that invite as little pushback as possible. (But don’t worry what others will think. You’re simplifying here.)

Edit it down till it’s easy to say.

Rehearse it till it’s hard to forget.

Use it as long as you want to.

I hope the sun breaks through soon.

Hi, Carolyn: I’m dating someone, and she’s not comfortable eating at restaurants because of covid-19. When I suggested doing a picnic, she said she hates bugs, and we’re not at a stage where I can invite her to my place or vice versa. What can we do to eat together without exposing ourselves to the virus?

Relationships: Is it wrong that I want to advise you to quit trying with someone so lacking in spontaneity, poetry, beans?

Something else, as long as I’m piling on. I think there’s a level of hell (an upper one, I’m sure, just relentless humidity and occasional charring) dedicated to people who shoot down a companion’s social idea without offering one of their own in its place. “I’m pizza’ed out. Burritos okay?” It’s the paint-by-numbers of social good sportsmanship.

So in this case, I wonder why she didn’t just say: “Picnics make me itch” — okay, she might have a point — “but maybe we can order coffee and go for a walk?”

There might be something to that, actually: Order or pack food you can eat on the move, and just walk around (at bug speed + 1), safely getting to know each other. Assuming, of course, there’s more about her you still want to know.

And assuming she’s interested. Sometimes people don’t offer the burrito or strolling-latte option because they don’t want to do those, either, or really anything else for that matter. Turning down specific invitations one after the other for having this flaw or the other can quickly take the shape of a soft “no,” a way to dodge the awkwardness of a harder one. I have no advice for that except that you’ll find out soon enough, if that’s what she’s doing, and be better off making other plans.

Dear Carolyn: I’m backing out of being a bridesmaid. Small wedding but inside with all the trimmings and a group I know isn’t being safe. They’ve been traveling, having parties, etc. How much info do I give about why? Don’t want to sound judgmental.

Backing Out: Just say you don’t feel safe. Say how sad you’ll be to miss it. Give them a chance not to be jackholes about it. If they are, then cite the Maine wedding that now has its own body count (wapo.st/360JFVx).