– Grace Anderson
Do you get those times when you are struggling and feeling completely hopeless? Getting better seems like it’s getting further and further away? Do you just want someone to tell you that everything is going to be okay? That they have experienced what you are going through and have survived it?
I am very lucky to have been supported during my experiences with mental health difficulties; there has always been someone to pick me up when I can’t find the strength to keep going. Having those around you means you don’t only want to recover for yourself, but for those amazing people who love and care about you.
However, I am aware that not everyone is lucky enough to have the support of friends and family. On the other hand, regardless of your support network, 9 out of 10 people with mental health difficulties have experienced stigma and discrimination (Time To Change). Not everyone will understand what you’re going through and some people might even be hurtful.
Despite this don’t let those people get to you – they might not understand what you’re going through and the only way they can deal with this is by blocking you out, removing themselves from being friends and even being rude and nasty. Not everyone can be as understanding as you are, and this is no reflection on you. In life some people will understand your complexities whereas others won’t. It doesn’t necessarily make them a bad person; it may just be a lack of understanding of what you’re going through.
Nevertheless, don’t let these people make you turn your illness into a secret either. Why? Because this won’t help in the long run. Burying your head in the sand might work for a while, but facing your mental health problems face on and learning to live is the best way to cope. In life, there are some people who will just never understand you, no matter how much you tell them, and there are others who understand everything without you even speaking a word. You just have to find that person or people, who understand you with all your complexities, quirks, problems and personality.
However, despite this support and understanding, helping someone with a mental illness can be hard; it can be draining and your needs may become challenging for them. This doesn’t mean that they like you any less. Sometimes they may just have to take a step back when it gets overwhelming. Not only do you struggle, they will feel your struggles and like you find it hard to cope. My solution to this would be to find someone who feels your pain and suffers from the same mental health difficulties that you yourself suffer from. Why? They can understand that chaos in your mind, as they have also experienced it. You may argue that finding this person would be a hard task, but it’s not. Mental illness isn’t something that just happens to the minority – it affects 1 in 4 people. It’s easier thank you think to find someone.
I have personal experience of this. My best friend, who also suffers from mental health difficulties, gave me the strength when I didn’t think I could go on. She told me that yes, there would be bad days, but things do get better and there is light at the end of the tunnel. Unlike the other people who have supported me – friends, family and doctors – she actually had the experience to give me the confidence to believe her that this in fact was true, and I could get out of this dark place. Comedian, writer and mental health campaigner Ruby Wax advises those suffering to “go and locate a ‘f****d up buddy’; someone you can call day or night, when you can’t take it anymore”. Finding someone who shares your pain is invaluable.
Seriously, nothing can compare with the encouragement you get from someone who has already walked in your shoes. As well as being encouraging, it gives you that safety net that you often need at your worst. Any friend, family member or doctor can tell you what helps, but unless you can see for yourself that it works, it can be hard to trust their opinions. Personal experience brings wisdom that is one of a kind, and if this can be shared with others it can be extremely powerful.
You can endlessly discuss things that may be deemed taboo with other people, your bad experiences, drugs you’ve taken, therapies you’ve received: the list is endless. Sharing yourself with someone who understands and has had similar experiences will mean you will never get bored of listening to each other’s never ending stories.
Also, not only do you have the support from that person, they also have the support from you. It’s a two way process in which you can speak and listen, give and take, be the encourager and be encouraged. Take it in turns to pick each other up when you’re struggling or celebrate when things are going well. It means you will both have someone to hold your hand when it’s needed and guide you in the right direction.
Simply talking can change your life and help you get on the road to recovery. The feeling of isolation and being alone could go away if you just utter those few words “I have a mental illness”. Everyone is different and complicated in their own way: embrace this, share your life experiences with others and you too could make a difference to someone’s life.
Ultimately, remember that you are not alone, there is someone out there who is just like you, with the same struggles, similar experiences and who understands what you are going through.
This is dedicated to my best friend who knows me a little more than I know myself and fellow student minds blogger Becky McCerery.