When a friend is going through trouble, what is your reaction? Does your left brain whirr into action to try to resolve the issue with almighty logic? Do you lull them into muffled distraction with a litany of Julio Blanco shots? Do you offer advice? Do you simply implore them to Be Happy, You’ll Be Okay? I’ve been guilty of all these responses. While the intention is pure, the result rarely achieves what it intends.
We all have to will our own salvation. We’re the only ones that can think our thoughts, and we’re the ones that have to swallow the pills and be healthy.
It’s hard to witness pain when you can’t do anything to heal your friend or family member. When all your efforts to fix the problem are frustrated, it may seem like a natural progression to throw up your hands and leave your loved one to their own devices. I’ve done everything I can! Nothing I do helps! And then you peace out and go on to the other areas of your life where you can be useful. But you didn’t do everything. You weren’t a witness to their pain. It takes a resilient patience to see a friend in pain, watch as they hurt themselves and flinch as they hurt you, yet do nothing but be present.
When it comes to being there for a friend, the opposite of presence isn’t absence. It’s abandonment.
After all the work I’ve put in to heal myself, it’s not the people who tried to fix me with advice and tough love who I remember most as my allies.
It’s the ones who stayed with me through the darkness, who gave me the freedom to talk with them without shame while my life was breaking down around me. Here’s to the people who know the healthiest version of myself, but still made me feel worthy when I was galloping into the sunset on a horse named Bad Decisions.
Despite all the recent strides in mental health visibility and advocacy, it’s still extremely trying (and sometimes seemingly impossible) to get proper psychological care. The psychological care system caters to those who are so sick as to be non-functional (and of course to those with hefty bank accounts/benefits packages). What about those of us who are managing? What about those of us who despite everything still strive to achieve our goals? Those of us who choose not to label ourselves as mentally ill for fear it will impact our careers and relationships? Those of us who spend hundreds of dollars a month at the pharmacy because we work freelance or part-time jobs with no basic benefits? Or those of us who simply go without life-changing medication and therapy because it’s too expensive?
Sometimes it seems like the only choice is between succumbing to the darkest stereotypes of mental illness in order to get proper care, or going it alone while doing our best to maintain the most successful version of our lives. I imagine a lot of suicides and attempts stem from a rejection of the second option. So what can you do to help? Just be there. Do what the mental health care system isn’t doing: encourage them to be their best, show them you won’t abandon them whether they’re doing bad or good, and let them know you don’t need or expect anything in return. If your loved one really loves you back, they will surely show you love in return, but at least it won’t be repaid as a debt.
Be there for your best friend, your brother, your mother. You don’t have to be around constantly, but let them know you’re interested and you care. Sometimes you won’t know if something was said or done because of an illness-related outburst, or if they ‘really meant it’. Well, I’ll tell you what. Stop trying to separate the person from the illness. It’s a futile exercise. When it comes to mental illness, most are lifelong cyclical issues. So if you really do want this person in your life, please acclimatize yourself to their condition and try to be okay with the fact that sometimes this relationship will be painful. And then it will be amazing again. If it’s not worth it to you, fine–you can’t be everyone’s hero. But for the ones that matter, it’s unbelievable how much your presence means.