This morning I took on one of those “never get around to” chores: taking out all the plastic lids and containers to match them up, recycle the extras. Official count: three containers without lids, 28 lids without containers. I cannot figure out HOW this happens. When I posted the above picture to Instagram, I made sure to add “The goal is to slowly replace all the plastic” because I suspected that someone would either criticize my use of plastic or give me advice how to replace it, and I didn’t want a critique or advice.
This has happened before. Once I posted a picture of a snack, and a person I barely knew commented to tell me there wasn’t enough protein in it. Another time I posted about Ringo being sick and even though he’d already been to the vet and was getting better, I got a comment and a direct message about things to watch out for, ideas about what might be wrong with him. I’ve even gotten advice when the original post I made specifically said I didn’t want advice.
I get it. If I’m not careful, I catch myself doing the same thing. People mean well, are just trying to help, and yet if I haven’t specifically asked for advice, the offer can actually cause harm. For example, the paperwork from my last doctor’s appointment had a whole “Tips for Healthy Living” section which essentially was a list of dieting tips. Then today, I got an email from my health insurance company announcing “Build healthy habits for real life with this FREE program from WW (Weight Watchers® Reimagined).” I am someone who has/had not one but three eating disorders, who will never be “recovered,” so this kind of “advice” and “help” is at best irresponsible and at worst super dangerous.
And often times the “advice” isn’t even good. In an article I read today about taking a mental health day, in a part where the author was talking about how to relax, they included a list of “what not to do” that wasn’t just what not to do but “what NOT to do.” It was super judgmental, including a few things I do regularly to relax. It was making the assumption that while everyone should “spend time doing an activity that you find relaxing,” some things were inherently “bad,” such as binge-watching TV or “overeating unhealthy foods.”
The other place this happens is with experts and specialists. Everyone has a pill or a plan or a program to endorse. For example, I got my teeth cleaned today. At one point, the dentist seemed to recommend that brushing twice a day, as well as flossing with regular floss AND with a waterpik was a reasonable thing to expect from the average person. A nutritionist would most likely recommend cooking homemade and “healthy” food for every meal, a dog trainer would suggest your dogs have multiple “enrichment” activities a day along with a long walk and nutrient rich food, and a physical fitness trainer might prescribe a diet or supplement or particular exercise regime. When you add it all up, all the life hacks and ways that you can optimize your well-being and maximize your success, just putting together the list is exhausting. It’s unrealistic and out of reach for most people.
What I mean to say is we can trust ourselves, even though all the external messaging seems to say we can’t. Only we can know how we feel and what we need, what will work. Often times that means a lot of trial and error, effort we need to make space for, be patient with. Sometimes support is helpful and when that’s the case, we can ask for it, seek it out. In the end, we know best, if only we honor our hunger, our longing, our need. And as compassionate beings, we need to offer others that same respect, and give them the space they need, until or unless they directly ask us for help.