… to someone fighting mental illness
Sooo although this blog will probably mainly be about my ADHD, I’m still going to try to post some stuff about anxiety and depression, since those things tend to overlap with ADHD (as they do with me and well, this is my blog). In fact, a lot of symptoms are the same– like difficulty concentrating or getting up in the morning- which is part of why it’s so difficult to diagnose!
I won’t try to romanticise mental illness- it totally sucks. BUT it did help me connect with the closest friend I have ever had who, despite having literally been to hell and back, is still the toughest, sassiest and most supportive person I know. Silver linings I guess 🙂 Ooh, I should do a blog post about that, there are definitely more… ahh focus!
While a small part of what we deal with may come under the same medical label (although much of it doesn’t) it’s still very different for both of us, and although we understand each other, we still have very different things going on in our lives and heads. Just like everyone does! That doesn’t mean we can’t still support each other and be there to make like just a little bit brighter for each other.
So without rambling anymore here are 10 tips for supporting a friend who has a lot going on in their head. This is based on our experience, but like I said everyone experiences this stuff differently so it may not be for you. I hope it helps though!
- Don’t be a jerk.
This sounds fairly obvious, but it needs to be said. Because to you, it might be something small– like nagging them about texting you back- but picture that on top of an already crushing weight of anxiety, pressure, low self esteem and about a million other things that you probably can’t begin to understand because you’re not inside their head (no one can, maybe not even them at times).
Chances are they may already be drowning in it, they don’t need you to make it deeper. Whatever’s going on, they probably have enough to deal with already without you adding more, even if it is an accident.
So go easy on them. If they don’t get back right away, know that it probably isn’t about you, and try not to be offended. They’ll get round to it when they’re ready. Which may be never. But that’s ok, because you love them anyway 🙂 (Of course you do, you’re looking up how to support them!). Sometimes the best messages are the ones that include ‘you don’t need to reply’. Let them know that you’re thinking of them, but that there’s no pressure to respond if they don’t feel up to it.
If you’re worried that your friend isn’t replying and want to know that they’re ok, try asking them to just send a single letter, emoji or codeword– we have a list that uses colours, with meanings like ‘I can’t message right now but I’m ok’,’I need you to call me’ and my personal favourite ‘PJs and anime night’. Find ones that work for you 🙂
2. Know their triggers
Seriously, it’s ok to ask them (as long as it’s done respectfully of course). It’s not ok to trigger them. It’s not fun for them, not fun for you- so yeah, asking them is better. Just be gentle about it. Still, accidents do happen, and they may not want to talk about it when you ask them, but at least you both know that you cared enough to ask. That alone might mean more to them than you think.
Sometimes you can just use common sense. For example if your friend has an eating disorder, you probably shouldn’t go buying them a double chocolate cake any time soon. However, triggers can be anything. They may not make sense to you, but you can still be supportive and respect that some things need to be avoided, however ‘odd’ it might seem to you. There’s still plenty of stuff you can talk about, right?
3. Stay in touch
This doesn’t mean you have to be joined at the hip; everyone needs their space. But for us, it’s unusual to go more than a few days without messaging, at least just to check up on how the other is doing. If organisation isn’t your strong suit, you could try things like setting a reminder on your phone to check in regularly, or setting a special text alert for their contact.
Personally, if I don’t message someone back the second I see their message and without getting distracted, they’re probably never going to hear from me again. Oops. So when I know that she might be having a difficult day, or is going somewhere that could be stressful, I make sure that my phone is on, close by and the alert is turned up as loud as it goes with a suitably annoying sound effect. Usually, it’s enough to get even my attention.
Think outside the box a bit. What’s nicer than getting a letter, right?
4. Be honest.
It’s definitely the best policy. Especially if they have an anxiety disorder or some form of paranoia which may make them feel like they are being plotted against, not taken seriously or talked about behind their back. In any case, life is usually more than a little confusing for someone with a mental illness (or ADHD, or both! Yay! ;P) and few things are more refreshing than a friend who is up-front with you, and who in return you can be yourself with without having to put on an act.
Don’t do it in a negative way though. Just be, well, honest. Don’t just yell at them and tell them that their new girl/boyfriend is ruining their life, or get mad at them for doing something that you don’t entirely approve of. And be respectful if they disagree. There’s no point arguing about them and upsetting them. The best you can do is be there for them and be constant, whatever they choose.
Be honest about the good things. This is important! If they look great, tell them. If you’re proud of them for dealing with something that you know was really though for them, tell them. If you love hanging out with them and generally just having them in your life- you guessed it- tell them!
What number am I on again? Ahh, Beethoven get your tail off the screen I can’t see! Sorry, cat trouble. Why does he only like hanging out with me when I’m busy? Nope, now you’ve just moved it onto the keyboard. Where did the return key go? Ok, that’s better. Stay over there, ok? Where was I? 4 or 5? This is longer than I was expecting it to be. I guess that’s what happens when I try to write as I think
5.Don’t be easily offended
Honesty is important, but that also means that you need to be able to take it too. They should be able to tell you that they need you to leave/ need some time alone, and know that you won’t be annoyed. Because at the end of the day, it’s about you, not them. If you’re making it about you, then you’re not really looking out for them, and you’re making things harder for them even if they don’t realise it.
The last thing they need is your insecurities as well as their own.
So take every day, moment, second with them as it comes. Sit in silence with them if that’s what they need. Cry with them. Laugh with them. Don’t push them around or try to make them feel something they don’t- just roll with it. That’s part of life anyway, it’s just a little more intense with a mental illness. But that doesn’t make it impossible, especially with good friends around you. And that’s where you come in.
Yesterday, my friend was feeling pretty drained, and when we were in her room she just lay down on the rug and we held hands for a while. She needed to rest; I was hyper and needed to wind down. It worked for both of us. Situations like these happen a lot for us, and they happen because we’ve made sure that each of knows that we can be ourselves around each other; whether it be emotionally exhausted or hyper as hell. Things can be stressful enough the rest of the time without them having to act around you, too, so make an environment that they can relax in without worrying about hurting your feelings.
6. (Right? Yeah, 6. Ok. Beethoven stop making that face you’re really distracting me. You look like you just heard some really deep cat gossip. Ok, focus. Sorry, my Ritalin’s worn off. But I feel like getting this down, so I’m just gonna sort of muddle my way through this until I can take some more in like half an hour. Ok, let’s do number 6!)
Take 2: 6. Make gifts!
One of my favourite points! I’m a big fan of little gifts that don’t necessarily have an occasion, but are just more of a reminder that you’re thinking of and rooting for them. It doesn’t have to be big, expensive- or even cost anything at all. I should probably do some examples. Ok, so a while ago I had kind of a big dip and was struggling quite a lot. I messaged her one night pretty upset about something (thanks to my ADHD I can’t really remember what it was ha) and the next time we met up, she gave me envelopes with notes in them to help me through stuff that I might struggle with. Amazing, right? Things like, ‘open me you don’t want to try’ and inside a beautiful letter with loads of encouragement and steps inside for what to do, for example 1) have a drink of water, 2)do something you enjoy, 3) have a wash etc. I know, she totally rocks 🙂
So yeah, it doesn’t have to be expensive– just something that will make them smile and give them a boost when they need one. A painting, a funny picture, something handmade– if that’s your thing- like a bracelet. Even a little card with ‘you got this’ on it. You don’t need to spend money for the sake of it, because that’s not the point. If you’re going to though, I’d suggest aiming for something that has meaning to them, or preferably to both of you so that it can be an inside joke 😉 Just make sure it’s positive!
I recently bought her Natsu’s scarf from the anime/ manga Fairy Tail. She can wear it out and it looks like a regular scarf, but we both know that she’s actually supporting her guild ;P
7. Celebrate the small victories (and the big ones!)
This doesn’t mean patronise them or treat them like a child.
Instead, when they accomplish things that they find difficult, however small, just find small ways to let them know that you noticed and are proud of them. You might hang out with them on a difficult day, then afterwards send them a card or a message to let them know that you’re really proud of the way that they pulled themselves back together, fought through it and came out the other side. Because trust me, that takes guts. And courage. And ridiculous amounts of energy. And so much more.
Or it might be something that seems small to you that could be a huge effort for them, like they manage to put makeup on or get changed out of their pyjamas, or maybe even BOTH. So when you see them, you make a point to tell them that they look gorgeous, or you love the way they did their eyeliner, or that those are really cool jeans.
You might see them out somewhere that they find difficult, like school/college, a party, a concert ( or basically just anywhere out of the house 😉 ) and make a point to tell them how good it is to see them, because you’re genuinely happy to get to hang out with them.
Side note/ example: The other day, I managed to go somewhere that I hadn’t been to for weeks. I had missed it, but the environment was completely wrong and pretty challenging for me, and I didn’t feel like I fitted in. After managing- with effort- to put on a smile for a few people I hadn’t seen in a while and tell them that ‘honestly, I’m fine, I saw friend who I hadn’t seen in months.
Sometimes, people don’t know what to do. Well, most times, really. When this happens, sadly they usually pick one of two options. They either a) do nothing (which I’ll get into in the next point*) or b) change the way they see you and treat you. Neither is helpful.
But anyway, more than a few people at this point– those who knew why I hadn’t been around much- had run up to me, hugged me, and then proceeded to stare at me like they couldn’t believe I was actually alive and functioning like a normal human, and were worried I might off myself at any minute if they didn’t ask me five or six times how I was. But this friend was different.
He saw me, and as he came over to hug me I could see in his face that he was genuinely happy to see me because of, well, me. Because he liked me for who I was– not what was wrong with me or the drama around me. So thank you, if you’re reading this. You lit up my day. Even if you didn’t realise it, getting there was a victory for me, so thank you for recognising it.
8. Nearly there. Phew, I’ve got a lot to say today. Maybe I’m overtired and a little hyper after wandering the house looking for cats and wanting to bake cookies at 3 am (don’t worry, there is still a small sensible voice somewhere in the far corners of my mind that stopped me. Just ;P )
Oh- medication time. Please hold.
Yay productivity here I come. Ok, time to finish this post with the help of the medication that I almost didn’t take because I assumed that I was drinking water I must also have taken the tablet but hey, at least I remembered.
Definitely 8 this time. Alright, this is an important one. Just as well I have two helpers with me now
*8. If you don’t know what to do: for the love of all that is holy, DON’T DO NOTHING. Please.
Dropping off the face of the earth because you don’t know how to deal with your friend going through a rough patch isn’t acceptable if you’ve committed to being there for them as their friend. If you really have no idea, the best think you can possibly do is ASK THEM. It’s really pretty simple.
Just saying ‘I don’t know what to do but I’m here and I’ll do whatever I can to make things easier’ or ‘tell me how I can help’ or even just simply ‘I’m here’ (but, you know, actually meaning it) means everything. And is about a bazillion percent (yep, it’s scientific. Or mathematical. Whatever) better than doing nothing. Trust me.
9. Learn what they struggle with so you can help.
Be relaxed about it if they mess up. Thanks to my amazing ADHD time keeping skills, I’ve been late almost every time the two us have met up, and the times I wasn’t was because she came to my house so being late then would be stretching it a bit even for me. And having anxiety, I’ve freaked out a little about it. But she’s never been annoyed at me or even mentioned it aside from telling me to get over it because it’s not a big deal to her every time I try to apologise.
Work out how you can ease up some of the pressure and make things more manageable for them. For a while, we would get together around dinner time every other week, and we would eat exactly the same food in pretty much the same portions, because it made it easier for her and her battle with an eating disorder (which she is totally kicking ass at, by the way). Now, it’s easier for her if we make sure that we’re not together during meal times so that I don’t see her eat, and that’s ok too. Because I want to do whatever I can to make things just a little easier for her, just like I know she does for me.
And we’re one cat down but we’ve finally made it- number 10!
(Yes, I made the mistake of buying sheets at christmas. It’s festive all the time in here)
10. Share stuff!
Friendship is a two- way thing! So talk about things! Good things, bad things, great things, terrible things- thoughts, hopes, fears, jokes, cheesy stuff like that 😉
So there you go, my first official (and hopefully longest, but probably not) post on this online journal thing! If you’ve stuck with it this long, thanks a lot. If you haven’t, I can’t say I blame you. Hopefully you picked up some helpful tips on how to support your friend, or maybe at least gained an insight into things they might find difficult and how you can help.
And if you’re reading this and you’re fighting a mental illness, if you take away nothing else from this post at least know that you’re not alone 🙂
Apologies to any ADHDers on the length of this and general randomness- I really need to work on that.
Oh, and one more thing, but it is pretty important. If you’ve come to this post, you probably care about the person you’re here for like crazy and want the best for them. That’s amazing. It’s fantastic. And hopefully some of the stuff you read here will help you show them that.
But it’s important that you remember that they’re not your responsibility. You’re their friend. Not their guardian. You can’t reach in and take their pain away, as much as you might want to, any more than you can live their lives for them.
Their actions are their own, and you can’t fight their battle for them. So don’t beat yourself up or blame yourself. No, being a ‘better’ friend would not have stopped them from cutting themselves that time. If anything, they probably would have done it sooner and/or worse if not for you. No, texting them one more time would not have stopped them from having that anxiety attack. But it probably did make their day.
- Lily, Tayto and Beethoven