May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I wanted to do SOMETHING. Like storm into Congress and tell them we need more funding, more accessible health care, psychiatrists and therapists that file their own insurance claims. I want to ring the Mental Health COWBELL and tell the world how difficult it is for those suffering to get help.
But, I don’t want to go to jail and I don’t have a cowbell. So I do what I can. I try to be transparent about my own struggles. I’m not ashamed. Not anymore. It took me awhile to get here but I made it. Because the more open we are, the more the stigma begins to loosen it’s grasp on society.
So I went to my readers and asked what has helped/hurt them in their own mental health struggles. They had a lot to say. And I’m going to lean HEAVY on how people have helped. I get a bad taste in my mouth reading the 8000 lists shared on FaceBook about everything you are doing wrong with your friends with anxiety, things you should stop doing. Because, let’s be real– anybody who is reading those articles are people who WANT to help.
I heard from one reader who said all those lists have made him gun shy about saying ANYTHING to people he knew were suffering for fear of saying the wrong thing. I get it. I know I’ve snapped at my family for saying the “wrong” thing. But I’ve learned to give them the benefit of the doubt– because I don’t doubt their love and commitment to me. I can’t kick their legs out from under them for TRYING to help and encourage me.
WORDS THAT HURT
I could post a lengthy list of quotes I received from almost 100 readers. But I’m not gonna, Imma summarize.
I worry, too.
Don’t worry about things you can’t control.
The Bible says, ‘Be anxious for nothing.’
These phrases and ones similar to it imply that the person has a choice. And they don’t. You wouldn’t tell someone with a broken arm, “I have an arm too!” You wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes, “Hey, relax. Just let this whole blood sugar thing go.”
The Bible/God/Church thing is an ATOMIC BOMB to drop on someone suffering with mental illness, because it implies their struggle is a moral issue. And it is NOT. If faith and prayer could fix mental illness, it wouldn’t exist. NO ONE wants to be able to ‘let things go’ more than the sufferer. Implying that they are somehow being disobedient, lacking in faith, or sinning is heaping coals of shame on their head.
Don’t try to “fix” it.
You need to exercise/go for a walk/work out more.
Would you say that to someone suffering from mono? No, because they are sick, exhausted and need rest. The physical toll of depression and mental illness is real. Offer to take their kids so they can nap. I spent months sleeping over 12 hours a day. I couldn’t stay awake, I felt like I was swimming through wet cement. The idea of exercising was totally out of reach.
HOW TO HELP
I am so, so, so fortunate to have the best support system ever. I have an ARMY of women friends who treat my kids like they are their own. A husband and family that will, and have, bent over backwards to help me. They have let me nap and sleep in, they have cooked me meals and driven me to the doctor. They have prayed and encouraged me and there is SO MUCH you can do to help your loved ones.
ASK QUESTIONS & BE HONEST
If you can’t relate, then don’t try to– saying, ‘I worry too” doesn’t help. That’s being human. But saying, ‘I know you’re hurting how can I help?’ shows them you see their pain and are willing to help.
Instead of quoting Scripture to them, ask, “How can I be praying for you?” My friends were so good at doing this and it always took my breath away. I honestly couldn’t pray. I was numb and could barely focus on anything, but it meant so much that they were. And the specificity of it– not just saying ‘I’m praying for you’– was so meaningful.
‘HOW can I help you?’ is so much more meaningful than, ‘Let me know if I can help.’
It takes the pressure off of them of having to call you randomly and ask you for help. Because we already feel like a burden.
Can I run to the store for you?
Let me get your kids after school.
I’m cooking dinner for you tonight.
These are tangible things you can do to help without your loved one feeling like they’ve inconvenienced you.
One of the most powerful conversations I’ve had with a friend was only a few months ago, I was changing one of my meds and not handling it well. I was weepy, exhausted and overwhelmed. It was time for carpool and I had no idea how I was going to get my kids home and to after school activities.
I called my friend and asked for help…
Her: You don’t sound good, are you sick?
It always feels like a trick question, because I always feel guilty for not being able to do what everybody else is doing. I feel like the biggest failure on the planet when I am too overwhelmed to take care of my kids.
Me: *bursts into tears* Yeah, I guess. We’re changing my meds and I can’t get it together. I’m in the bed…
She cut me off.
Her: You don’t EVER have to explain to me why you need my help. You ARE sick. Just like any other kind of being sick. You’re not putting me out. The only thing I’d be mad about is if I found out you were in the bed sobbing and DIDN’T ask me for help. You don’t have to explain yourself.
I’m crying just typing this. No explanation required. I’m sick, I’m not feeling well. I need help.
Best friend ever.
There is so much you can do to help, and for those of us suffering– we have to be willing to accept it. We have to show grace to those who are trying to love us without truly understanding where we are.
We have to be there. For each other.