In the world of family and friends, many can be filled with good intentions. Many wish to reassure a loved one that things will be ok, many wish to let someone know that they are there for them. These good intentions are usually good things, however, sometimes, a person can do small things which hurt the one who is suffering. Even if the hurt that is caused is unintentional. At other times, people can be completely unaware of the hurt they cause, especially if they haven’t spoken or interacted with the person who is suffering. Whether they know they are suffering or not.
So this is a message to those who need more awareness about the harm their small actions may cause, and maybe a breather for those that are impacted by the words, or actions, of those they know.
Some of the following numbers are quotes from people I’ve spoken to about the issue, I’ve been giving permission to use them.
1) When you struggle, it’s not something easy to get over. A walk, or drink, won’t ‘cure’ you. It runs much deeper than that. Whoever came up with that ideology? If a walk would cure me, then why hasn’t it done so already? While walks are refreshing, they are not a cure. No more than eating a radioactive sandwich is a cure for cancer. Instead of thinking of mental illness, or struggles, as just a temporary thing like cutting your finger on a page, think of it as it is – a struggle, an illness. If you broke your leg, would you like to have someone reply with: ‘go walk it off, you will be fine. You’re just being dramatic‘? If it were that simple, then there would be no mental illness today. It’s not. Walking can assist a person, it could be an aid of relief, or something which hinders. However, it does not cure them. So many, mainly old fashioned, minds seem to think that physical exercise is a cure. It’s not, but it can help someone to recover. It’s so much more than just exercise, and recovery would be a very different process, in terms of trying to get better, if exercise was the cure.
So how do you remedy this? Try and understand your loved one, ask them (but don’t push them) about what they’re going through and research about people going through similar experiences. Be more aware of the things you might say which might hurt them, don’t use mental illnesses to describe how you feel or look, it only makes people feel worse. Educate yourself and think before you speak. Also, remember that their struggle is not something easy to ‘get over‘.
2) ”Any sort of attention people give me makes me worse, I think and then I feel lonely because I isolate myself. Then, I feel left out because of it. It’s like a circle’‘ – L. It’s rather difficult to explain this one. One might not be able understand it unless they were in the persons shoes. Sufferers want to socialise – they want to be free and have friends. They want to be happy and make memories – let’s be honest, who doesn’t? Although while they have these secret desires to go out and socialise, at the same time, they don’t want to or they can’t. The attention from friends can be overwhelming – constantly being asked to go out, then feeling horrible when you don’t. Or can’t.
I’ve avoided many social situations myself because I can feel the overwhelming panic, or the lack of motivation when in a down mood, whenever I am asked to go out with friends. It has been stated from, a sufferer, that: ”attention in general makes me feel worse. But then you feel lonely because you avoid attention from people. Yet you still want to feel as if you have friends or family to talk to”. In this way, people can withdraw. Some people, like me, might turn their phone off or put it on silent so that they can disappear. It becomes a vicious cycle. You become used to avoiding attention so that you can disappear into the background. To become a wallflower.
Attention is good, as well as being bad. Sufferers need moderate attention so that they feel cared about and feel as if they are not so isolated. But you must also not overwhelm them. Don’t get angry if they decline a night out in a club, perhaps they just want to stay home or go somewhere quiet. Be gentle and offer suggestions, but don’t force them down their throat. It’s like half wanting to disappear into a bubble, but also wanting to be yourself. To socialise. Often, people ask me about going to nights out. I hate clubs, they’re so noisy. Overwhelming, too warm and terrifying. However, if someone had asked me about going to a quiet, but happy, bar for a talk and ‘bant’, I might have given it more consideration. Or even a walk together, or the cinema. Do not overwhelm them, or abandon them. They need you, and subtle attention, but a balanced amount of it. – Or, maybe that’s just what I feel. It’s different for everyone.
3) I am still me, despite the illness. Perhaps I’m just lost. When speaking to people, I found this to be a quite important one to them. When the people I’ve spoken to spoke out about what they were suffering, they were often met with stigma, treated like fine-china (fragile), or made to feel like they were crazy. That’s not the case. Underneath all of the suffering, all of the pain, we are still us underneath, you just have to do some digging and be patient.
I asked a friend, and she described the feeling of lost as of being ”as if you are watching yourself, hearing what you’re saying without actually hearing yourself as you….at times you are very outgoing but sometimes you de-personalise and feel like you aren’t really there” – L. To me, the easiest way to describe this would be for you to imagine being trapped inside your own body, with your voice being used, your body moving on automatic, and wishing that you could break out of the automated process and to escape it all.
The best way to help would be for you to remind the person of good times, to be a good friend and to listen. I can’t offer the best advice, sometimes people respond better to different tactics. The best to do would be to treat your loved one as a human being. Don’t pity them, don’t treat them like a fragile piece of equipment, treat them like a human and be there for them.
4) Being left out – This was, overwhelmingly, the most common one. It ties in with number two on the list, in terms of content. You might not know it, but you can be pushing your friend/family member, who is suffering, away. While you might be out, having fun on a night out, with photos being plastered on Facebook, your friend might be sitting at home. Feeling left out. They could have rejected the offer, or you might have simply forgot to ask them. Nevertheless, they would feel left out and alone. Especially when the evidence of your fun is left over social media for people to see.
Even when people are having private jokes, posting on peoples walls, or even when with the loved one and a story pops up in which they weren’t there – they can’t speak about it, they cannot join in. They feel left out and shunned. I know it can be difficult to ask someone, who rejects your offer all the time, if they will go out. However, if you keep asking on separate occasions (not all at once), maybe one day, they will say yes. They might be able to feel included. They might say ‘no, thanks‘ 100 times before they do, but one day – they will take the huge leap (and it is a huge leap – it’s terrifying!), and they will go out and spend time with you.
Nevertheless, do not neglect them in a chat or in offers to spend time together. Try to spend time with them alone – not with 5 other people there. People open up when it’s private. Do not give up on your friend. Make them feel included. Make time for them. Think of how you might feel left out and consider that they might feel that way also. Step out of your bubble, and think.
To give a little insight, I will include a quote from a friend; ”Being left out is definitely a big thing that makes me worse and stress. Whenever I’m stressed, it seems to intensify everything for me….I have a lot of issues surrounding jealousy and stuff though, like I always feel like people don’t want to be friends with me and when I’m left out, it makes me very anxious” – K.
5) Underwhelming support/responses – ”There no point in telling anyone, and when you do, their response can be underwhelming or not helpful which makes you feel worse sometimes, and because no one gets you, you feel extra left out” – L.
This is truer than anything I can say. There are so many times when people reach out – when they are desperate. They reach out to someone – anyone, for whatever they need. Reassurance, help during a panic attack, an outlet. Imagine confessing your deepest and darkest thoughts to someone, telling them about how miserable you feel, or how you can’t breathe because you’re panicking. You can’t stop thinking – things won’t stop – then, getting the following response:
”Ah, you will be ok. Take deep breaths and have a sleep. Here to talk if you need me later x”.
I don’t mean to be rude, but such a response is more insulting than helpful. Someone had poured their soul, or tried to, as they desperately reached out for help, and such a short, unsympathetic response only makes the person feel like they’ve been dismissed, and they will feel uncared for.
To those of you guilty of it, please try and talk to the person as a human – ask them to explain what’s going on and offer what support you can. Direct them to help, and check up on them the following days after, just to make sure they are ok. Such small things can change a life. Can make someone feel cared for. It can make a difference, my best friend does it for me – do you do it for yours?
6) It feels like no understands or tries to -When was the last time you decided to go out of your way to educate yourself on what your friend or family member is suffering through? If you have, well – you’re one of the only ones. The amount of people who go out of the way to understand someone else’s illness (apart from those in a profession that requires it) is a very small amount.
I’ve yet to speak to a friend or family member who has gone out of their way for me to find out about my OCD – or my struggle. No one listens, no one tries to. No one tries to get into another’s mind to feel the way they do – to think like they do. I know that if I found out someone had done it for me, I would probably cry. It would be overwhelming to think that someone cared enough to do it. Otherwise, it ”feels like no one understands, and there no point in telling anyone” – L.
So listen. It’s only a small thing. Listen to your loved one and take time to find out about what they’re going through. Otherwise, can you ever truly understand what’s going on in their head?
The list might go on and on, but I would rather not overwhelm you (If I haven’t already) with more information. There are lists you can read as to how you might be hurting your loved one subconsciously. There are also lists about how you might be able to help them. Talk to your loved one, do not overwhelm them, find out what they need and how you might help. Don’t be afraid to ask how you might be hurting them, it would help you to grow as a person, much like how school children can improve their work with constructive criticism.
Although, the fact that you’ve even bothered to read this means that you are trying to get a better understanding of peoples thoughts and feelings, even if you are a sufferer or not. For that, well done. You truly are a wonderful person. Keep trying, keep pushing yourself to be a better person.
Break the stigma surrounding mental health, and break the silence.