Many of us deal with mental illness. Be it anxiety, depression, depersonalization / derealization (DP/DR), panic disorder, or any other mental health issue that may be preventing us from leading the life that we desire. Mental illness comes in numerous shapes and sizes.
This article is going to be an open letter. I am going to let you know how you can support us, the people dealing with a mental illness. You may be our friend, our spouse, a parent, or our neighbor. We can take several forms. We are your boyfriend/girlfriend, partner, close friend, loving brother, sweet sister, that relative that no one talks to, or even a stranger that you might meet during your morning commute.
In case you are someone who is suffering from a mental illness yourself, share this article with your friends, family, and loved ones, to let them know how they can assist you during testing times.
An Open Letter
Life in this world can be challenging. That’s a no-brainer. We don’t have a manual that we can refer to every time we are faced with problems that pull us apart. However, what we do have is support from one another.
It can be tricky, asking for support from people, even when they are close to us. Sometimes, asking for help from the ones we love can be the hardest. Most of us are afraid that we will be rejected, or worse, misunderstood and hence not get the kind of support that we need.
These fears prevent us from reaching out for help. This often results in feeling alienated, estranged, disconnected, and oftentimes lonely; in addition to whatever issues we are already facing.
As people who are looking to be supported, we know that most folks have the best intentions when it comes to being there for us, but at times, we feel intimidated to ask for what we need. It’s so easy for us to feel like we are imposing on those we reach out to for help.
On the other hand, we know that you are afraid that you might not possess the skills to handle someone going through a mental illness. People often say, “I don’t know what to do when he’s like that” or “I wish I knew the right words to say to make her pain go away”.
What you don’t realize is that such skills can be easily cultivated over time. I am going to outline some approaches that you can follow to better help your loved ones on their path to recovery.
The Simplest Skill Required is Your Presence
When you see us hurting, you often feel compelled to help. You just want our pain to go away. Because you love us, you’ll want to do anything you can to fix our problems, but these problems don’t have a simple solution.
The quandaries of mental illness are often complex; you can’t solve them like a math problem. Instead of offering us solutions that rarely work, I’d invite you to use an important resource that you readily have at your disposal: your presence.
Sharing your presence with someone in pain is a vital tool in the healing process of your loved one. Presence doesn’t require that you know what is wrong with us or how to fix it. Chances are, that it’s beyond your control and you know it.
Let us know that you are here for us, and actually mean it. When we talk to you about our pain or the day-to-day struggles we go through, simply listen. You don’t need to know the perfect combination of words to say. You can just acknowledge the pain and suffering. Cultivate the habit of listening and being present without rushing to offer solutions.
Empathy is All You Need
If you haven’t gone through a mental illness in your own life, then it will be hard to know what is going on in our minds. It helps if you’ve had experience dealing with similar problems in life, but it’s not necessary; you can still empathize with our pain.
You have been hurt before, whether it was as a kid who fell down during playtime or when your heart was broken in the past. That pain is no different than what we feel. The degree to which we feel it might be greater, and the duration might be longer; but pain is a universal feeling that is accessible to all of us.
Realize that someone who is mentally ill is, in some way, hurt and in pain. You might not know how to heal this pain, but you do know what pain feels like. That, right there, is empathy.
Ask Us What We Need
It becomes easier for us to express our feelings without inhibitions when you’ve made your presence and empathy available to us. Now would be a good time to ask us what we need from you. You may pose it as a simple question: “I am here to offer you my support. How can I help you?”
Most people are conditioned not to seek support or help from others, even when it’s being offered. We don’t want to be a burden to anyone. If that’s the case, remind us that we are not imposing, and let us know that it would bring you fulfillment to help us.
However, don’t force us to come up with a plea for help every time. Sometimes, we only want your love, warmth, presence, and support. We want to know that you are here with us.
Sometimes, there might be a request to help us in a specific way. If it’s in your capacity to attend to us in that way, go ahead and honor it!
Let Us Know
Mental illness takes a toll on self-image. Most of us do not feel good about ourselves. We forget how important we are.
Tell us how much we mean to you and how much you love us. Say it out loud. Remind us that we are needed. Don’t hold back. Share some encouraging quote or piece of wisdom that you have come across. It could even be a silly video of a kitten that you think will make us laugh.
We feel closer to you when we know that we can let loose our feelings and be more of ourselves around you. This is intimacy, and it is one of the most important gifts you can share with us. Let us know that all of our feelings are welcome around you.
By embracing the full spectrum of our feelings in your relationship with us, we don’t have to perform when we are with you. Performance drains us. We don’t want to fake a smile or pretend to be someone we are not. Acknowledge us for who we are, and not who you’d like us to be.
During the darkest of times, we want to know that we are loved and cared for. Tell us that… every day. Remind us whenever we tend to forget how much hope there is. We tend to forget that so easily.
We know you care, we know you mean well, but we also often feel guilty and ashamed, because we think we are an extra load on your back. Prove us wrong with your kindness and love.
*This article originally appeared in A Coach Called Life.
Swamy G is a counselor and the primary writer for A Coach Called Life. He helps people struggling with depersonalization, derealization, anxiety and panic disorder. His is also the creator of DP No More – an online video course to cure depersonalization & derealization disorder naturally and completely.
Image courtesy of Ronny Sison.