Several people have been concerned and reached out to me lately, as I'm dealing with a lot of stress. I never really know how to answer when people ask "how can I help?" so I decided to tackle the issue by writing reference material, of course. I wrote a little bit on this before: what I need to live, to cope, and to thrive: notes for self-care and usermanual reference.
1) Don't offer advice or try to problem-solve with me unless I explicitly ask for it.
I'm almost always stressed by one of two things: my bodily needs, and the needs of people I love. These stresses have been a constant companion for many years and I have chased every cure. You cannot fix these problems (unless you have a shitton of money to offer me). Accept the stress as a fact of my life, and don't stress me out more by making me prove to you that I've tried all possible fixes.
2) Don't ask "how are you" or "how are you feeling." Instead ask "any changes in [the source of stress]?"
I feel like I must respond in detail to these questions, which involves reflecting on the overall tone of my life. If the overall tone is stress, that is a depressing and stressful thing to do. Asking only about changes allows me to dismiss the stress immediately if there have been no changes, and if there have been changes, I can process only a piece of the stress rather than the whole thing.
3) Don't be very sympathetic or mushy. Be matter-of-fact. Don't ask how I'm feeling.
You being really emotional or sympathetic makes me move more into the emotion of being stressed. My main coping skill is by shutting that down, and when you sympathize it opens it up. I feel relief when I mention being stressed and the person responds with "oh yeah, sorry *changes subject*"
4) Don't give vague affirmations.
When someone gives me a vague affirmation like "it will get better," that has no positive effect on me and sometimes it stresses me out, because I try to believe them and I cannot.
The Do's (easy):
1) If you sincerely feel them, give specific, descriptive compliments.
Unrelated to the source of stress is actually best. Specific like "I love the patterns in your eyes, they look like tree roots" (probably my favorite compliment I have ever gotten). Also, I'd like compliments that aren't related to social justice work because I often feel like that is the only thing people notice about me. Sharing links to my work, commenting and liking/reacting on facebook feels like a specific compliment, also. It doesn't get less special if you do it a lot, either.
2) If you interact with any of my art -- writing, fractals, photos, etc -- tell me about how you process it, in detail.
Examples: "this post made me reflect on [specific aspect of my life]" or "I have a similar experience to what you wrote about in this post [explains experience]" or "this photo makes me feel warm in a summery way" or "this fractal looks like an angry ogre or a creepy cave."
3) Remind me of successes I've had, if you know and remember them.
I have a truly dreadful memory, so even if it happened last week I've likely forgotten it. A success can be anything, large or small, where I tried to make a thing happen and it did. "Remember when you figured out how to save the code for your fractals even though the program won't do it?" (this makes me realize I need to write down my small successes)
4) In person, if I'm describing possible reasons for a source of stress to be the way it is and you think of other reasons, tell me them.
This is ONLY in-person, because when I write I don't list all the ones I can think of.
5) In person, if I describe a situation, respond by talking about your own experience.
So if I say "I'm feeling hopeless about [thing] because of [situation]" reply with "the closest thing I have experienced to [situation] is... [tell the story]" or "my experience with [thing] is..."
6) Show curiosity about the things I love and the things that nourish me.
Read my journal entries (and in some way mark that you have done so). Ask for details about things I share. Ask about specific projects (don't ask "what are you working on" because I can't remember, but ask "how is [specific project] going?")
The Do's (difficult):
7) Offer to feed me, if you can.
This relieves stress from worrying about money, and it means that I eat without having to spend energy on planning or preparing food, which are usually high-stress for me because I hate that I have to think about money every time I eat. It is extra helpful if it is food I like, but as long as there is no meat, highly-processed bread (such as wonder bread), artificial sugar, or soy sauce, I will eat it.
8) Take a responsibility or share one, if you can.
Going with me to social things or scary appointments, making phone calls, keeping me company while I tidy, doing dishes, doing laundry, helping me with bills, or keeping me company while I do paperwork stuff.
9) Pick me up or come to my house.
I am nourished by being in my house and by being with my people, but usually I have to choose. Social is far more nourishing to me when I don't also have to drive lots and be in spaces that are not comfortable to me (and most people's spaces are not comfortable to me).
10) Help me do things that nourish me by doing them with me.
Going to social events where I will meet new people who might care about social justice, walking in nature, going to natural places where I haven't been before, doing mixed media art, taking photos, writing, doing ritual, going to concerts, listening to my music with me, breaking taboos in public, prolonged eye contact, smoking hookah, drinking coffee, cuddling, sharing stories of growth and self-care, responding enthusiastically when I am enthusiastic, etc.
11) Relieving some of my memory stress by offering me memory markers.
Take photos of us and what we are doing when we are together, and afterward send them to me. Write down a summary of what we did and what we talked about afterward, and send it to me. Remind me to add the nice thing you just did to my love memory bank.