Hello again everyone! I’m back with another post on Mental Illness. Why? Because it is so important to me that people understand that there is no reason to hide or be ashamed to talk about their MI, but also because I was asked if there was any way I could write something about how to be a good friend or supporter for someone with MI when you yourself don’t have one. I think that it such a great idea that I have started trying to formulate ideas right away. I’ve even done research (sort of!), for those of you who haven’t realized it yet, research is not my favorite thing to do. I’m more of a write what comes to mind kind of person, but I wanted to have resources out there beyond just what I can write about. Every person is different and every one with MI is especially not the same. What might work for one is not always going to work for another, so keep that in mind as I tell you what helps me.
I have Bipolar II, what that means is I can often become severely depressed, even to the point of mania. I can also be so happy I’m almost euphoric, but those states don’t last as long. Yeah there is a whole lot more with B2 that I could mention, but this post isn’t about what I have, this is about how, as a friend or family member (biological or chosen) you can be there for me, and for others like me. The reason I tell you what I have is because it is important to know. It is important to educate yourself when you can. Don’t believe the misinformation that is out there, and there is a lot. Try to find resources that you know are going to be telling you the truth not trying to push some kind of stereotype.
If you are comfortable enough, ask your friend. Sometimes they won’t want to talk about it, or sometimes they won’t even know they have a MI. For the longest time I thought I was a fairly normal teenage girl. My angst and my mood swings, they were normal because if they weren’t that mean there was just one more thing about me that people could use against me. I didn’t accept what I had until my early 20s, which wasn’t soon enough, but it was better than not knowing I guess. I continued un-medicated most of my adult life thus far, as you can see in a previous post that is no longer the case, but that isn’t what this post is about.
So other than educating yourself what can you do? For someone like me it is as simple as letting me know you are there. Letting me know that you understand that sometimes I say things I don’t mean because I’m not exactly in the right frame of mind to think clearly. I’m a fairly solitary person so my Manic episodes are often unnoticed by those around me and that is fine I’ve spent a lot time dealing with it myself, but as my friend if I call or text you and tell you I need someone, just try to be there. You don’t have to respond to my 6 AM text message, but respond when you can. I just need to know that you are still there and you still care.
When I’m Depressed I often just need to hide away under the blankets, but I can’t because real life gets in the way, so I get up and I do what has to be done. I need extra attention in these periods and they usually last much longer than when I am Manic. I am mentally and often physically exhausted after only a few hours of trying to do anything. I can cry at any moment, and for any that know me, I’m not a crier generally but when I’m depressed it could come at any time.
Beyond my B2 have Anxiety. So that requires a bit more understanding. My anxiety manifests in a few different ways. The first and most common is making plans with friends and canceling last minute. It isn’t because I don’t want to hang out with you, I do, but after making the plans (which I was totally into at the time) I realized that I just can’t do whatever it was we had planned to do. There could be many reasons for this change, but most often it is that going out in public is something that can often be really difficult for me. At least when I feel like I have to be “turned on” in the process. Turned on is not a sexual phrase, I am using it to describe the feeling of having to be present and engaged with another human being, a process that comes easy for most, but not for me. It is exhausting and sometimes I just can’t do it. Now if you want to come over and sit quietly and read books and drink tea, I can tell you I am almost always down for that, but having to be engaging and in public, that takes a whole lot of energy and most days I just don’t have it.
I have just recently started to be able to go out and do things in public by myself. That is a huge step for me. I don’t generally do anything alone and often require the presence of another who fully understands that sometimes I just need you there with me, but I don’t want to have to be engaging. I have a few people that I can do that with, and it is wonderful, but I’ve been trying not to need them so much because I know, especially for my husband, it can put a damper on their plans sometimes. So I’ve been able to go out and do things, and that is great. The reason I bring it up is because I need my friends and family to understand that just because I can do something alone, does not mean I can do it in a group of people. I can sometimes do it one on one, but not always (see last paragraph).
My Anxiety also loves to tell me horrible things. It tells me I’m a burden, it tells me that my friends often don’t actually like me, it tells me people are talking about me, sometimes it tells me that my family doesn’t care. I try my best to remember when my brain is telling me the truth of when my Anxiety Brain has taken over, but sometimes it isn’t that easy and I will say or do something stupid because I fully believe what my Anxiety is telling me. This is a perfect time for you to set me straight. I don’t often like to be told when I’m wrong, but I need you to point out when my Anxiety Brain has taken over, but still be kind, just firm. Reassure me that yes, you are still my friend and that no I do not want to quit writing. Tell me that I need to stop and think about what I’m saying for a moment. It often helps.
I also have Anxiety Attacks, they are less common currently but I’ve just started new medication so that is normal. If you aren’t familiar with Anxiety Attacks let me describe it to you (keeping in mind this is my experience and may not be the experience of others): My heart races and I feel like everything around me is hopeless. I cry, I rock back and forth, my brain is telling me all these things and I’m believing it. Everything is horrible and I can’t handle much of anything and can often not form clear thought. I’m overwhelmed by everything around me and I just need to hide, or get away, or some how remove myself from whatever situation it is that I’m in. These aren’t super easy to deal with, but the one thing I can tell you, unless I request otherwise do not touch me. Many articles I’ve seen state to get behind someone having an anxiety attack and hug them and don’t let go no matter how much they struggle. I can tell you that I, and almost anyone I’ve ever talked to with anxiety do not want you to do this. For me, it will make things so much worse. Don’t do it, you are not helping if you do. If I ask you to hold me or hug me, that is different, but unless I clearly ask for it, touching me is off limits. Just talk to me, try to be as calm as you can, because I’m freaking out enough for the both of us. If it is in your power to remove me from whatever I’m doing, then that is appreciated. Otherwise just talk to me, be my friend.
Honestly for me all I need is a bit of understanding. You don’t have to know what I’m going through. I don’t need you to understand. I need for you to be my friend. Yeah sometimes I require a bit more effort than most, it is true, but I kind of think I’m worth it. That is really all I can say on how to deal with me and my MI. I’d love to see any others share how to help them, if they are comfortable doing so.
As promised, links: (Don’t take these as a rule, just a way to start to educate yourself)
Supporting Someone With A Mental Illness
15 Ways to Support a Loved One with Severe Mental Illness
For Friends and Family Members
How to Help A Loved One