On Distraction and Ableism

There’s an attitude– and it’s a subtle one– that mentally ill people are doing something wrong. Even among otherwise understanding professionals and loved ones, there’s an idea that if mentally ill people would just learn to think correctly, like everyone else, they wouldn’t be mentally ill anymore.

This idea has its basis in the benefits of skills training. Of course, practicing self-care skills, good habits, and programs like DBT can lead to more resilience. I’m not arguing that there’s nothing that mentally ill people can do to improve. The issue is that people who aren’t mentally ill think that the same things will work for everyone.

The example I’ve encountered recently is the matter of distraction. Neurotypical professionals recommend this highly as a temporary strategy for halting a spiral, not understanding that sometimes it’s impossible. For mentally ill people, our feelings don’t necessarily have anything to do with our external circumstances– for neurotypicals, they usually do. Therefore, a spiral can continue even if our external circumstances are removed from the original trigger. When you’re mentally ill, your feelings are deeper and last much longer.

I know this because I am now (more or less) properly medicated. Things work now that didn’t before, because my chemicals are on a more even keel. I was amazed to find that now, I don’t have crises that last for weeks because of a thought that I had. Instead, my feelings are reactions to my environment and nothing more. While sometimes a bad mood can last a few hours or something can make me deeply uncomfortable, it lifts within a day or two. This was not true, and not possible, before my brain was more straightened out.

My emetophobia was triggered twice in one day recently, and because of all the work I’ve done managing my brain and stabilizing my chemicals, distraction finally worked for the first time. I gently redirected my focus and felt much calmer. I was amazed at how easy it was. Of course, it wasn’t that I had never tried distraction before, or had been doing it ineffectively– the difference was that my brain chemicals were much more cooperative than they had been.

I find this is often the case with breathing techniques and meditation as well. Obviously they work for some mentally ill people, but if they don’t, it’s not because someone is doing something wrong or not trying. It’s just not the right technique, or it’s not effective enough. I want every other mentally ill person to know that if your brain isn’t working like you want it to, it isn’t your fault. It isn’t a personal failing. While there are actions you can take to heal yourself, it’s not a matter of willing yourself into health.

How To Use the Grey Rock Method in Your Bad Relationships

TW: Anti-NPD ableism.

All the resources for the this are astoundingly ableist, so I wanted to make a post about something I’ve found very helpful when dealing with shitty people: the Grey Rock Method.

The term, originally coined in anti-NPD circles, describes a method of dealing with shitty and/or abusive people. The Grey Rock Method, or Grey Rocking, is called that because you act like a wall of plain boring rock. The idea is to be so unreactive that the shitty person gets nothing out of interacting with you.

Of course, the best option for dealing with people who are incurably shitty and/or abusive is to cut them out of your life, but what if that’s not possible for legal or financial reasons? That’s when Grey Rocking comes in.

The original idea revolves around ideas of “narcissistic supply,” which is the vampiric emotional “diet” of a “narcissist,” since they supposedly feel like they need attention to survive. However, it can also be helpful outside of that ableist model, since victims/survivors can reduce the amount of “ammunition” they give shitty people/abusers by reacting to them less.

I discovered Grey Rocking myself by accident a few years ago, after I noticed that every single time I brought up an emotional subject, my parents found a way to make me feel like shit about it— so I stopped talking about ANY emotion, and stuck to “safe” topics and surface-level conversation. It worked! They have no ammunition to use against me, yet our relationship remains civil.

Here are the rules for Grey Rocking:

  • Be as boring as possible. If asked how your life is going, say something like “Nothing exciting is going on. I’ve just been working.” They may say, “How is work going?” “Fine, just busy like usual.”
  • Offer no extra information. Do not pique their interest. Remain polite, but if asked about work, stick to answering the question and don’t offer up conversation about your coworker’s jokes. Are you still wearing masks at work? “Yup.” If it feels like the conversation is lagging, you’re doing it right.
  • Steer clear of topics you have ANY emotions about, positive or negative. Do NOT talk about how stressed you are at work, or a shitty person will make a shitty comparison about how that’s NOTHING compared to their job. Do NOT talk about getting a raise and how proud you are of yourself, because they will tear you down.
  • Don’t interact more than you have to. For example, you might answer a text, but don’t text first. Don’t start a conversation. If there’s some silence, good.
  • Do not cave and do not respond to goading. They might try to get a rise out of you, in which case you need to try to remain as expressionless as possible and say something nonreactive. Do NOT break the rules once you decide to start doing the Grey Rock Method.
  • Hint: saying “mmm” as acknowledgement, but nothing more, will help you a lot.

My own personal addition: Try to interact only when there are witnesses or proof of what the shitty/abusive person said (as in text messages). Many abusers will act better for an audience. However, this is not a sure thing, so definitely continue to keep interaction to a minimum.

Final note: This can be REALLY EXHAUSTING and take a major toll on you. After dealing with your shitty/abusive person, take some time to recharge with people that you can be yourself with. Do not lose sight of your unique, individual spark— just hide it from those who don’t deserve to see it!