Healthy fod for babies
When I was 13 years old, my younger brother got hit by a car.
It happened a street away from our home as he was walking back from school with his friends.
Confused as to why my brother hadn’t arrived home on time, I’d gone out looking for him and found him lying face down on the pavement. A crowd of concerned people approached him, and a woman who lived in a neighbouring house placed a duvet over him as he lay on the ground.
I feel I should put you out of your misery right now and let you know that he was (and still is) OK. He fractured a bone in his ankle and was pretty shaken up, but he lived to tell the tale. It was all very weird. I asked my brother what he was doing on the ground but he didn’t answer. Eventually, one of the concerned people told me what happened.
An ambulance showed up to take my brother to hospital, but I couldn’t get hold of my parents to tell them what had happened. (Bear in mind this was the early 2000s and my parents were relatively new to the world of mobile phones. I didn’t even have one.) I ran home to try and call my parents’ mobiles from our landline one last time, but they both rang and rang. In a panic, I decided to leave a note. I jotted down a few words in haste, which read as follows: “Jamie got hit by a car. We’ve gone to hospital.”
When my poor mum arrived home to an empty house, she read the note and screamed in horror. She said she felt wobbly at the knees and had to sit down. To this day, I am haunted by what I wrote. I have since apologised (several times!) for it.
But that clumsy moment was a valuable lesson for me: delivery is key. Especially when delivering upsetting news. At some point in all our lives, we will likely have to tell someone something that will upset them. A viral tweet recently suggested asking a friend if they’re in the “right headspace to receive information that could possibly hurt you.” Honestly, just reading it made my heart race. As someone with anxiety, even receiving this text on a good mental health day would make me spiral into a panicked state. Judging by the strong reaction on Twitter, I’m not alone in feeling that way.
We seldom discuss how to go about breaking news to someone we love. I spoke to people about the worst ways in which friends, family, and partners have shared upsetting news with them…
When Rachel England was recovering from serious throat surgery, she couldn’t eat, swallow, or even talk. Her boyfriend of two years offered to look after her. “It’s like 36 hours after the operation and I’m propped up in bed, dribbling blood and gunk, smacked up on painkillers, tears silently streaming down my face, when — let’s call him John — sits next to me on the bed, tenderly takes my hand and looks into my eyes,” England told me. “I expect him to say something like ‘Hey, you got this!’ or even just ‘I’m here for you,’ but instead he says, ‘So, I’ve decided to go back to university and the course I want to do is at [city several hours’ drive away]. What are your thoughts?’ And then he handed me an iPad with a text-to-talk app on the screen.”
At one point, England thought she might have hallucinated the whole thing, but when she realised it was actually happening, she laughed in disbelief, which “hurt like holy hell.”
“Thankfully I was so dosed up on various meds that the full weight of his unbelievable selfishness and inconsideration didn’t really hit me until a few days later,” she added. “Suffice to say we didn’t last very much longer.”
“My nan sent out a group text to the whole family when the dog died saying ‘max = dead.'”
Beth, who prefers to be identified by her first name only, said her grandmother sent out a group text to inform her relatives that her dog had been put down by the vet. “My nan sent out a group text to the whole family when the dog died saying ‘max = dead,'” Beth told me. “My uncle went round to my nan’s and was like, ‘Question: what is wrong with you?’
“She was like, ‘I just thought that would be the quickest way to let everyone know.'”
Timing is also important when it comes to revealing news which might take a while to sink in. One person who chose to remain anonymous told me she was in an open relationship when her partner informed her that his long-term, long-distance partner was moving to their town. “He broke this news whilst we were in the woods, two hours’ walk from home,” she said. “There was silence for 20 minutes in which we walked a bit further apart so that I could begin to process it. I still don’t know why he would do it somewhere where there was no escape route.”
When Rebecca Barnes was at university, her mum text her to inform her that a family member had died. “What she didn’t know was that it was exam season and I was in the middle of the library, desperately trying to finish an essay due the next day,” said Barnes. “I was surrounded by stressed out students and had to hold my feelings in until I found a quiet corner in which I could cry.” Barnes then returned to her desk and tried to finish her essay. “I felt shit since I was being emotional in the library and getting judgmental looks from people who spotted me, but also wasn’t really able to grieve my family member who I felt deserved better,” she added.
Jess, who prefers to go by her first name only, was told over the phone by her mum that her granddad had been diagnosed with MS. Her mum didn’t give her many details at first, however. “Two months later, in a restaurant in front of my boyfriend and his family, my mum was telling the table how sad it was when they told him the news. She said: ‘When they told him he only had a few months to live, he broke down,'” said Jess. “At no point had she mentioned it was months, yet alone just a few months. I burst into tears in the restaurant and had to leave.
“Everyone had assumed my mum had told me, and because nobody wanted to talk about it, it was just assumed I knew. Even my boyfriend knew, but again had just assumed I was aware that the doctors had said months and not years,” she said.
We’ve covered how not to deliver bad news, but how do we go about this task in a way that won’t cause further distress? I asked two psychologists for advice on how best to inform someone of bad news. Dr Elena Touroni — a Consultant Psychologist and co-founder of The Chelsea Psychology Clinic — recommended putting yourself in the other person’s position before breaking the news to them, in order to “get an idea of how they might feel so you can prepare for their reaction.”
“Some people want space to process bad news, while others want the comfort of having others around them,” said Touroni. “Check-in with them so you know how to best support them in the aftermath.”
“Breaking bad news should never be done over text or email.”
Touroni also warned against giving someone any kind of warning before they receive bad news. “Naturally, it’s going to escalate anxiety because it creates anticipation — and sometimes the anticipation is worse than the news itself,” said Touroni. “Putting someone through a period of waiting is only going to worry them more.”
Joanna Konstantopoulou, a psychologist and founder of the Health Psychology Clinic, advised breaking the news in a private place, not a public one. “This ensures that the person has a quiet surrounding to process the news and allows them to react emotionally without being stared at or judged by others,” she explained.
“Breaking bad news should never be done over text or email as this can often be seen as impersonal and insensitive,” she added. “It’s best to break bad news in person, so you know what frame of mind the person is in and whether it’s the appropriate time.”
Delivering devastating news to someone you love and care about is the most difficult task in human relationships. But, putting thought and care into the delivery of that news is crucial in not adding to their distress.
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