People. We need different things from them. At least I know I do.
There’s the expectations. Let’s start with those:
There are the ones that people expect us to need from them AND the ones WE expect we are going to need from certain people. Family, for example, people would assume you need something specific from. To be the backbone. To be the ones that make decisions for you when you can’t make them yourself. To be the ones that your Mental Health Team should have on speed dial. This would be a case of what THEY expect and YOU do as well.
This example is SO not always the case. Personally, if you want to get down to that type of nitty gritty- My therapist and psychiatrist have the numbers (and release papers signed) for my parents, yes, but also for a very close friend. My therapist, more than either of them, knows that if she needs to call someone about me she’s better off calling Diana. Chances are she’s going to know more of what’s going on; and she (my therapist) KNOWS that I’ll listen to Diana before anyone else when they are trying to convince me that something is in my best interest if I’m hesitant. Diana has been the only one to go to therapy with me (on a few occasions) and my therapist has been able to witness our relationship first hand
Another expectation- at the time diagnosis. Those expectations of family up top? Yeah. That’s what we expect to happen. That and more. We want them to take notice as soon as something happens. We want them to understand and empathize with us. We haven’t learned yet that just because they’ve lived with us so long doesn’t mean they know warning signs of an episode coming on. Sometimes they’re too close. Sadly, other times people truly don’t pay attention until it’s beyond the point of an onset. The empathizing? Some people can do that and others can’t. How can they? Sympathizing is one thing. Empathy is hard to have if a person has never lived through something.
Friends? They assume that we expect them to be willing to accept this part of our lives. One that… “defines” is the the wrong word… One that shapes our life. Let’s be honest. It does. For some with a mental illness there are specific triggers, for others there are certain times of year, and for others there may not be a rhyme or reason for spiraling. This is a hard thing for us to cope with let alone a friend. Someone that can pick and choose what aspects of our lives they deal with. At the onset of a diagnosis this fairytale may be an expectation. As time goes on it goes away. Mostly.
Those are just a few EXPECTATIONS. I hope they made sense where I was going with them.
On to what we really need. These things can come from anyone. Friend, family, or virtual acquaintances.
So often times people think that a mental illness means you are incapable of making a decision or like you can’t understand things without extra explanation. As an adult, I am perfectly capable of doing reach if a I don’t understand something. Treat me with respect. Don’t belittle me because I’m having a rough time at the moment. I promise it will pass, but being treated with no respect… I may be going through an episode, but that doesn’t mean I will forget your actions.
How can you do this?
Take my feelings into account. For example, if you know I feel strongly about my doctor, for example, don’t criticize them because I don’t feel well and it isn’t going away as quickly as you would like. I promise you that I want to get better even more than you want it for me. I understand my mental illness. If the doctor isn’t doing everything in their power… I promise you when I say I’d know.
2. Treated like us
Even at our worse we are still us. That doesn’t change. I KNOW you worry about how I may react to something, but I still want to know the important things. Don’t wait until I’m manic in my doctor’s office to tell me life changing news. Can I tell you something? That doesn’t help. Knowing something is being kept because of some overwhelming concern when before my diagnosis I would have been told… It makes me feel like crap. It doesn’t make me happy. Or proud of you. I’m me. I promise.
3. An ear.
Sometimes all we need is for someone to listen. Just an ear to bend. Our lives in between outbreaks you give it. DURING them… that ear is needed even more. Episodes are rough! And that’s putting it mildly. Our life gets turned upside down for what could end up being weeks at a time. Sometimes we just want to talk. I know I ramble when I’m manic, stutter when my anxiety kicks in, and am slow on the response when the depression hits. Just listen. I PROMISE it helps more than words ever could at times.
Support does not mean opinions on treatment, advice demanding what I have to do with my days to make things better…
Wording is important by the way. Suggesting I try and get some rest drives me up a wall. Saying something like’ “Try watching one of those old movies you like so much and just veg on the couch.” THAT’S a suggestion I may take. I’m a Christian. Continually telling me to pray and leave it in God’s hands… Please don’t. Just telling me that God is with me and that you’re praying for me. I promise he message is clear. Trust me when I talk to God about it already.
Actions. Things as simple as wanting to meet for coffee when you know that’s a calming activity for me. Sending a devotional with “I hope this helps you.” Giving a quick phone call or sending a short text to make sure I’m okay that day. During an episode and all the in between times.
What we need varies from person to person. Just because there is someone you speak to on a daily basis and/or are related to… That doesn’t mean they are going to be the one you turn to in the greatest times of need. We may need you to play a different role. That role is just as important to our stability and functioning mental health.
What we need also changes. My associate pastor and I spoke a few weeks ago. He listened. He understands mental illness because of his educational background. He listened without judgment and hen made suggestions how I could add church back into my routine (on Sundays) as well ask suggesting another day of routine visits. He didn’t say with conviction that this would solve my deteriorated mental status. He didn’t demand that I do this. A year ago I never would have thought I would have needed this action from him.
So, what do we need from people. I know what I need. Everyone’s needs are different. Trust me… It may take time to figure it out. It took me way longer than I care to admit.
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