“You will never be given you more than you can handle.” A phrase spoken with nothing but good intentions, meant to soothe the frazzled, stressed and overwhelmed. I know you mean well, O speaker of pointless platitudes, but I have to just come out and say it: I hate that saying.
When my son was diagnosed as autistic, I had one friend who congratulated me. Not sarcastically, she actually meant for it to be comforting. She spoke of the “magical” world I would be privy to and how lucky I was to have such a special little boy in my life.
“And don’t worry,” she stated. “God will never give you more than you can handle.”
I wanted to punch her in the face.
“Magical?” My son was nearing 3 and didn’t speak. He would hit himself, bite himself and bang his head against the floors and walls. He would emit this high-pitched, ear-shattering, screaming wail for what seemed like hours on end. This wasn’t magical, this was terrifying.
Through intensive home-based therapies, the improvement I see in my son is nothing short of astounding. From silence to speaking in three-word phrases in less than a year. My son now calls me “Mommy” and my heart nearly bursts every time I hear him say it.
With the amazing support of family, friends and a network of therapists and Early Autism Interventionists — as a family, we’re getting through this. It’s getting easier.
But without the help, was it more than I could have handled? Absolutely.
There were nights I sobbed myself to sleep, paralyzed with fear at the thought of my son’s future. Not petty little concerns like will he have to be in special ed classes in school or will he have to use sign language. I mean real fears like would he ever be able to live independently and care for himself or would he need to eventually be placed in some sort of home? Who would be there for him after my husband and I were gone? Would he ever be able to attend school at all, find someone to share his life with or even just be able to function in the world?
And this was with an incredible support system in place. But there are those who face similar or worse situations without one.
I still don’t know the answers to all those questions that used to keep me up at night, but those fears have somewhat been abated by the progress I’ve seen my son make. And I know, had it not been for that support, I wouldn’t have been able to cope. It was almost too much to bear even with all the help our family received and had it not been for my husband, I would have lost it long ago.
That said, my husband and I are lucky. Ultimately, we were dealing with a non-life threatening condition for our child. In our case, it turned out we could handle it — are handling it — but saying that’s the case for everyone is ridiculously naive and short-sighted.
Unfortunately, the sad truth is that people are given more than they can handle everyday.
When someone caves to the pressure, sinks into a depression or tragically takes their own life, it is not a sign of weakness. They were simply too strong for too long, without the help they needed to stay afloat. When you say “you will never be given more than you can handle,” you are essentially saying “buck up — you got this.”
But not everyone does. To the person who knows in their heart they can’t handle it, what you are saying is a slap in the face when what they really need is help, support and encouragement.
So think twice before you try to “comfort” a friend, family member or co-worker in such a way. Sometimes, no matter what you meant, poorly chosen words can do more harm than good.
After all, we all know where the road leads that’s paved with good intentions.