It’s dark. It’s miserable. It’s lonely. Be the person they need you to be.
I’m a chronic optimist. It might sound a little odd, then, that I’m about to try and put down in pixels some of the painful realities of living with severe depression, but in my more lucid, upbeat moments it does grant me a little clarity. The clouds part, all too briefly, and a beam of brightest sunlight pats me rewardingly on the back.
“You might be wading knee-deep in sewage” it chirps, brightly “but somewhere there is a stream running through a meadow, wildlife lapping happily at the clear water. Flowers burst into life, bees hopping lightly from bloom to bloom…”
“But for now, sewage” i’d mutter glumly.
Today isn’t a sunshine day, but at the same time the sewage has receded a little and I have a little time to reflect. In the wake of the tragedy of Caroline Flack, a ripple of understanding has begun to spread through social media. Hidden behind hashtags, in part powered through a need to appear “woke” it may be, but there are the beginnings of a conversation happening. Friends turning to friends to simply say “I’m here”.
This will in no way help alleviate the soul-crushing pain her family, friends and loved ones are no doubt feeling. But my inner optimist wonders aloud: how many lives have been saved in the past fortnight off the back of conversations that have started since?
It’s said in many self help books and online resources that the bravest thing you can do as someone with a mental illness is to ask for help. For me, the bravest thing you can do is accept help. The sharing of love and the open gifts of compassion are sometimes the hardest to receive. You don’t feel you deserve them. You’ll just let them down again and again. You can’t be there to pay them back. They’re only saying it. They don’t mean it.
To the friends who reach out anyway, however many times I push you away. Thank you. Truly.
So, great friends of the internet, in my convoluted way this is me introducing you to what to expect should you reach out to a friend who suffers from a mental illness. These are fairly anecdotal, and certainly do not represent much more than my own findings and feelings. Some may apply, others may not, so take with a bucket of salt and apply your own logic to the situation.
I second guess everything.
And boy, is it tiring. I’m second guessing your motives for reaching out to me – do you really care? Are you doing it because it’s the current Twitter trend? I’m second guessing my own logic for questioning your friendship in the first place. Stick with me. There’s always going to be a slither of doubt in the back of my mind. It doesn’t mean I don’t trust you, or not want your help of friendship. It does mean, that when it finally sinks in, I’ll value you even more because you managed to put up with my crap.
I don’t feel worthy of your attention
Similar to the above, on a bad day I will feel like a burden to you. I’ll be so busy telling myself that you’re my friend through obligation that I will not see how hurtful this can be. In my experience, I will cycle through this several times a week.
Sometimes, I really DO just need to be alone
Whilst the modern consensus is that people have more fun together, doing things and stuff, sometimes I need to be on my own and looking after myself. Please don’t be too alarmed if I cancel something at the last minute just to be alone, and don’t feel the need to try and keep someone in your presence too often. I know first hand how tempting it can be to try and be a permanent distraction, but there has to be an element of trust – like any friendship.
I sleep A LOT.
Or not at all. Don’t be alarmed. Odd analogy time. I was talking to a friend recently about how much more tiring it is for a dog to be mentally engaged when out on a walk, sniffing and exploring, than on a familiar route or chasing a ball around a park. Because all of their senses are heightened with the unknown and unfamiliar, they burn through energy much faster. I can relate to this, because not being able to trust a single thought or emotion throughout a day SUCKS and completely depletes me. You may find that I need a nap after a day of work (and you should encourage this because naps are ace and you won’t change my mind on this) simply because I’ve worn myself out. This may just be me (and likely is, because there’s a decent chance I’m bipolar) but I’m either 100% on or 100% off, and running at full-blast non stop is exhausting.
Do, however, try and encourage me to not be in bed all the time. This is Depression 101 – why bother getting out of bed? At my worst, I am very guilty of this. Spend time with me, make me get up, enforce plans by all means, but it comes with experience – you need to know how to read me.
Anxiety is not fun.
Well, yeah, nobody said it would be. Much of the time it’s completely irrational. For me, it’s supermarkets that trigger panic and anxiety. Not all the time, but often smaller ones like Lidl where the isles get crowded quickly. Often it’s something as simple as somebody walking against the crowd. It’s not good for me to be dunked into the situation. Don’t make me. I’ve been dealing with these emotions my whole life and have likely found coping mechanisms – often avoidance. Don’t force me to go against this, sometimes you just have to trust me.
This is the most important advice I can give you. As someone who has shunned and lost the vast majority of my friendships because I wasn’t able to tell people about my mental health, I can promise you that if someone has opened up to you it is because they trust and love you. They will try to second guess you, cancel plans, hide under duvets, not answer your calls or texts but it is worth it. Stick with it.