The one thing that drives me to be open with my mental health experience is the hope that I can make it known that there is help available when you need it. I spend almost all of the time on my soapbox encouraging those who struggle to find support and try new therapies. That means I’m only speaking to a portion of my audience.
In my life I am the one who struggles, but it reaches out like cracks in breaking glass. The degree of breakage varies in every direction, everyone sees the darkness in different doses. They also handle the damage differently. The eclectic spectrum of supports creates the safety net that saves my life.
I have the physical supporter. They wrap me in a hug and hold me until my body calms down, and it’s safe to let go.
I have the research supporter, always looking up tips, tricks, resources, medication, therapies and equipment to help me.
I have the empathetic supporter, the one with their own mental health issues who can relate. They can listen and offer insight. They let me know that I’m not alone, even if our diagnosis or degrees of severity differ. They understand.
I have the “I’m trying” supporter, who doesn’t quite understand but still wants to help. She needs me to state or ask for specific help, things I’m not always able to do.. but I know she means well.
I have the “I pay you” support- like my therapist, psychiatrist and pcp. They’re educated, and want to help me. Their insight is most valuable, however its clinical and not personal. It would not be successful on its own.
I have the hug it out, but don’t say it out loud support. Someone who doesn’t verbalize their feelings, or ask to listen, but makes me FEEL their support with loving contact.
I have the support of my children- the unknowing, the non understanding, but the deepest desire to change the way I feel. The innate desperation to make me feel better. They love without hesitation or boundaries, even when they can’t see the whole picture.
I have literal support groups- people who understand, but are also there to vent about the WORST parts of their condition. It can be inclusive to know you’re not alone, but it’s sometimes even more scary to hear their shocking stories. Ironically, It’s the least helpful support for me personally, but every person is different and every group is different.
I have so many different forms of support in my life. Maybe you’re reading this, and saying “I don’t know what kind of support I need to be. I have someone I love who suffers, and I just want to help.. Where do I start?”
So, now let me speak to the part of my audience whom the “cracks” reach.
Start small, start natural. When it comes to mental illness, if you replace “I” with “we” ‘illness’ becomes ‘wellness.’
Support is support. There is always strength in numbers. Everyone will show support in different ways, so do what’s comfortable. Need specific Ideas? Tell them you love them. Ask if there is anything you can do to help. Tell them you want to understand. Ask what they’re comfortable telling you. Research more on your own, but know that not every person will have every symptom listed under a diagnosis.
If they’re okay accepting affection, hug them when you can. Hugs create grounding, physical boundaries. They make us feel loved, safe, and special. Scientifically hugs stimulate oxytocin (the love hormone) which promotes feelings of trust and affection. It’s a great ice breaker to make someone who is suffering feel they can be open and honest with you. An extended hug releases dopamine and serotonin- creating feelings of happiness and worthiness. These same feelings can make someone feel they are worth getting better, and that someone is on their team cheering for them.
Read the room- If you’re watching someone in a negative spiral who is refusing help, be honest. Know that your candidness may have them push you away initially, but put their well being first. “I know you disagree with your psychiatrist about being bipolar, but I think it’s time you hear him out. It seems like you may benefit from some help.”
On the other side of the spectrum, if someone is not asking for help, not seeking it out, and has not been told they needs help- approach differently. Just be there. Give hugs, sit as close as they let you. Ask open- ended questions that will induce a conversation. Just try to get them to talk, or love them in a way that doesn’t require words.
When in doubt, just love them. Be there, be present. Be involved in their live. Try to bring joy and fun to it. Look inside of you, is there something you need help with? How would you want someone to help YOU. Be the change you wish to see.
I support those who struggle, and I support the people who want to be supportive. Mental health is a web, its various people and institutions working together to help EACH OTHER. Listen, Learn, and Love. We will all be better for it.
With healthy hearts,
Kate and the Kids.