For lack of a better identifier, I will lump any big upset or transition into a SPD – a super bad day. This may be a new diagnosis, a recent break up, pain or illness, a car accident etc. Our trained inclination is to say 2 or 3 standard phrases. “Are you ok? Let me know if there is something I can do for you. I had the same thing happen a while back”. Please – as kindly as that is intended, don’t ever say those things.
In milder cases, the person doesn’t need you to DO anything. They need your reassurance!! Phrases such as, “I’m thinking of you. I love you. I care about you. I will be here with you through this. Do you want to tell me what happened?”, goes a million miles towards truly supporting the person. By definition, the person is not “ok”.
For more intense situations, especially if the person is sobbing heavily and/or hard to understand – ask specific questions such as, “Are you in danger? Are you in a lot of pain? Are you bleeding? Do you just need someone to listen right now?”. They will let you know. If they seem confused or don’t know what they need – see the next paragraph.
Let’s talk about SHOCK, FEAR AND PAIN. People become disoriented and often cannot make decisions. They may need some guidance. “Do you need me to drive you to the ER? Is your car out of the road?”. Concrete questions are good.
Know that everyone handles shock, fear and pain differently. Some people become stoic. Some joke. Some are very confused. Some lash out. Their response is NOT ABOUT YOU!!!! It is about them and their descent into an altered state that is scary and confusing.
Do not take it personally if the person rejects your help. When they are more settled, offer concrete things. “I’m happy to sit with you. I can bring you some groceries. I can wait with you for the tow truck”. MOST often, people need reassurance and company.
Lastly, as tempting as it is to find common ground – and I’ve been guilty of this even knowing better by having been on the other side – do NOT bring up your situation. The person with the SPD can barely keep it together themselves. It really doesn’t help, in the crisis moment, to hear you went through the same thing. Maybe down the road they might want to hear about your accident, miscarriage, chemo etc. Now is NOT the time.
And above all – even if you stumble all over yourself and say every wrong thing in the book – presence by a genuinely caring person beats isolation ANY day of the week. So many people have disappeared during my worst times because they didn’t know what to say or they didn’t want to remind me, for example, that my brother was gone. Just “I care” solves all that. No clever words needed. And trust me – no one forgets that they’ve lost a loved one, or that they have cancer, or that they are suddenly single. It is ALL consuming at times.
Remember the Golden Rule and you can’t go wrong.