Tuesday, 21 February 2017

I’ll be there for you: The Importance of Friendship and Support

Sarah writes about the struggles of being a supportive friend.

-Sarah Williams

We all have those moments in which we’re standing in front of the mirror, saying things to ourselves that we would never consider saying to anyone else, because it would hurt their feelings. So, why are we less considerate of our own mental health? Why are we so quick to put ourselves down. Sometimes so down that it’s becoming out of control. Mental health difficulties feed on silence. They grow when they are left in dark corners alone.

At primary school, we are taught the “Gold Rule”, which is to treat others the way we want to be treated. Children who grow up in healthy, functioning homes expect love and respect from their peers or, in other words, the same support and treatment that they received from family members. For a child who has not been exposed to this sort of behaviour, the “Golden Rule” might translate a bit more ambiguously. Once we develop our own individual identity, we also, unfortunately, develop doubt, jealousy, and insecurity, which ultimately leads to self-deprecation. As a person who has struggled with depression and has friends who have also battled with depression, schizophrenia and eating disorders, I’ve learned the true importance of maintaining and providing a strong support group.

A friend of mine, (let’s call her Alice) who began struggling with schizophrenia during University, spent hours trying to convince me of her delusions about her boyfriend. Without going into detail, I can assure that this was not typical paranoia we all experience in relationships. These were irrational hallucinations that were haunting her, keeping her up at night, and deteriorating her heath. I used to leave our sessions, and I only call them sessions because she had begun referring to me as her therapist, rather than her friend- she tried certified therapists but would often lie to them because they were strangers who had not won her trust like I had- but, I would go home feeling so emotionally drained, with a heaviness in my chest and a confusion as to what was even real anymore.

I’d become angry and resentful at her for bringing me down. Our friendship felt so one-sided; I was convinced that she didn’t even care about me. I don’t want to compare whose situation was heaviest as I cannot even try to imagine how it is to be that severely sick, but what I felt in this relationship was loneliness. But at the end of the day, Alice gave me purpose. I realised that as heavy as my burden felt, hers was even heavier, and if she needed me to carry some of her load, if that helped her in some way, I was willing to do it. Because at one time or another, I was all she had, and I couldn’t bear to think about the severity of her mental health difficulties had I not been around.

Give your brain the space and time to think about something else. For my friend learning to paint and getting involved into it with her whole heart had positive effects. The worst thing you could do to a person in need is to abandon or give up on them. And the worst thing you could do as a person in need is to use your illness to take advantage of your friends’ time and energy, or to get angry with them for not understanding the root of your illness.

If you’re struggling with mental health difficulties, it’s important to see your friends as regular people, not therapists, or super heroes. We are all the same. We all have pain, and we all need each other.

For more information on how to support a friend, you can find it here

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