Remember those old westerns where there was a family living on a homestead, and the oldest son desperately wanted to get off the farm, but his parents wouldn’t let him go? He would always go storming out of the house, and the mother would always begin to pursue him, but the father would grab her and say something along the lines of “Just let him go. Give him some space.”
Personally, I am not a big fan of “space.” I’ve always believed that if you give a person in a bad state of mind more room to move, the more likely they are to do something rash or stupid. I usually prefer to stay and slug things out, even if it is a terribly uncomfortable and unfruitful process. There are obviously times when some space would be a good idea, but I am rather stubborn about this. I would probably grab that kid on the way out the door and not let him leave the house.
Sometimes when a person is depressed or sad or disturbed about something, the people around them want to give them space. “Just give him a little room to get over it.” I think one reason this occurs is because depression can look an awful lot like anger to the outside observer. You have someone who is not really talking to anyone, not making eye contact, and making virtually no effort whatsoever to be sociable. Mad people need space to cool down, right?
Many times, though, the person you thought was angry is really very, very depressed, which can make communicating with anyone a considerable chore. Symptoms that accompany depression can be extreme feelings of shame, anxiety, guilt, and, yes, even anger. Many people who suffer from it tend to isolate themselves, which creates an odd paradox within themselves: They don’t want anyone to bother them, but at the same time they feel dreadfully, painfully alone.
This is why I don’t believe granting space is always the best course of action. I know in my personal experiences of attempting to isolate myself, I have been screaming inside for someone, anyone to make an effort to reach out to me. I don’t have the strength to come get you; I want you to come get me. Granted, I don’t always like what people have to say to me in those moments they come after me, but I do appreciate on some level the fact that they at least tried to do something. Too often, though, I see people walking on eggshells around me, afraid to find out what’s really going on inside.
If you are more in the “space” camp, I totally respect your point of view. Sometimes hotheads need to get away from everyone before they can cool off and think rationally. Too many times, though, I have seen people fall though the cracks of “space,” and by the time anyone notices they’re gone, it is too late to help them. Think about it. What is one of the most common statements following a suicide? “I had no idea…” I don’t say this out of condemnation, but rather out of concern. Not everyone needs to be left alone.
So the next time you notice someone drifting way or being more quiet than usual, ask them a question or two. You may not get an honest answer, but you may let them know that someone cares about them. They may still want to leave the farm, but at least you tried to keep them around for one more crop first.