Advice on Advice

Trigger warning: this piece discusses themes of depression. 

It was another typical visit with my almost 90-year-old grandfather. I drove two and a half hours into the country to his condo filled with reclining chairs and knitted blankets where we ate ice cream, watched true crime shows with the volume at 100, and talked about the weather. After telling me the same five stories he tells me every time I see him, he imparted some of his sage wisdom upon me in his deep southern drawl:

Always better to beg for forgiveness than to ask permission.

If you see a bear in the woods, just go up to them and wave a big stick, they’ll run and you’ll be fine.

Marshmallows and fudge ripple ice cream are the only two components of a balanced diet.

Dogs won’t bite you if you put your hand in their mouth first, before they put their mouth on your hand.

Water is to take a bath in, you should never drink it.

And many more.

Objectively, all terrible advice that I would never follow if I wanted to live to be 90. But, somehow, my grandfather has lived a long, relatively happy life following his bizarre (and often unsafe) set of rules. So, he sees no problem advising other people to do the same.

While most of us wouldn’t recommend waving a stick at a bear or putting your hand in a dog’s mouth, we’re all prone to suggest things that have worked for us to others, regardless of their true validity. Pieces of life advice aren't inherently bad, even those not grounded in science, logic or reason. It’s okay to listen to advice and suggestions from others, but not every piece of life advice will work for or apply to you. And, that’s not a ‘you’ problem. Advice is merely a suggestion, not an algorithm for success.

This is especially relevant when it comes to advice on mental health and recovery due to not only the nature of advice but also the nature of mental health challenges. For example, depression looks different in everyone who fights against it. Depression can have different environmental causes, biochemical causes, neurostructural causes, comorbid psychological or physiological causes, or no identifiable cause at all. Even from its genesis, improving depression might look different for each individual. As it progresses, it might change. Well-meaning friends might suggest improving depressive symptoms by getting outside more, exploring new hobbies, better sleep schedules, or vitamins and supplements. All of these might work for you, some of these might work, or none of them will work. Even for you individually, what helps your depression one day might not help another. That doesn’t mean you give up, just that it's time to try something else.

So, my advice on advice: explore, listen, and research, but not all advice is good advice. And some advice, like that from my grandfather, isn’t advice at all, serving its sole purpose as a funny anecdote for your next dinner party. Even great advice might really be great advice for someone else, just not for you. If advice doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work, and that’s okay. But, there are so many incredible resources and things to try out there. Keep exploring, keep trying, keep going.


Voices of Hope wants you to know that you do not have to do this alone. Click here to ‘find help’ - it’s not weak to speak!

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