Tuesday, October 27, 2015

How to Help Your Friend Suffering from [fill in the blank]

Want to know a big secret?  I don't know how you can help your friends with anything they are suffering from.  Why not?  Because I don't know who your friends are, what they are suffering with, and most importantly, I don't know what it feels like to suffer for them.

This is the most difficult thing about mental health and illness awareness.  Just because I have a dissociative disorder does not mean I completely understand every other person with the same disorder.  Mental disorders are always experienced on a spectrum, often with secondary diagnosis that changes the symptoms of the primary tremendously.

So what can any one person do, to break down the walls of misunderstanding, when every person they try to help has a new story and a new way of coping with life?  What is beneficial for one friend may be totally detrimental to the next.  While I believe the viral posts that we often see that describe depression or anxiety in a very raw and vulnerable way are powerful, inspirational, and even world-changing, I sometimes shy away from sharing the post when I see some aspect of depression that doesn't at all describe how I feel when I am depressed.  How else do people with mental disorders communicate to their friends and family what to do when they are in their deepest, darkest moments?  But that post isn't about me....it is about the author, and we all have to be authors, and you all have to be readers.

You must read and come to know your friends first-hand.  Know that if they share a post about mental illness, it doesn't mean that is exactly how they feel.  It just means something to them.  Maybe ask them what they identify with.  Ask for honest feedback in how you approach them during hard times.  But basically, be there for them in all times, and you will already know how to help your friend when they struggle.

So...  I guess this is where I need to take my own advice...be the author, tell my story, and allow people to know how to help ME!  Next post, I'll be sure to give my raw and vulnerable account of what it is to be me.  Til' then...

Monday, October 26, 2015

When I say too much

It's a very thin line, almost invisible, between saying the words that need to be said, the ones that express exactly how you feel and believe, and saying too much.  But the difference I witness in the face of the listener is crystal clear.  When I share too much of myself, I see the slightest retraction of their eyes, they back away just a little bit, and immediately try and cover it up with a smile.  That awkward smile...  screaming to me that I just lost another potential friend to the misunderstanding and stigma of my mental illness.

What I have never understood is what changed in that moment.  I know it wasn't me, and guessing that this is not a new reaction for them, they didn't change either.  Really nothing changed, other than the realization that I struggle with something that cannot be seen by the naked eye.  Perhaps they believe I am asking them to do something, to help me, to save me.  But I am not.  I am only trying to be 100% who I am, and all I want is acceptance, and the occasional "Me too!"

But here is the best part of this conversation I am having today.  There are so very few people out there that I can never say too much to.  Instead of furrowing their brow, backing away, and fleeing the awkwardness, they lean in, wanting to know more, wanting to understand, wanting me to be 100% who I am and nothing more.  And honestly,  I think it is a good thing for now.  I don't think I could handle everyone always open to what I have to say.  But one or two...  I couldn't live without those few, who see me and not my mental illness. 

If you find yourself in one of those borderline conversations, next time, try to lean in, try to relax your expressions, and try to see that nothing has changed from one moment to the next.  Be grateful that person is letting you into the other side of their world.  You may learn more than you expect!