J.K. Rowling is known for her brilliance in writing fantasy. Through her beautiful words, she has also precisely summarized my feelings in this simple line: It’s so difficult to describe depression to someone who’s never been there, because it’s not sadness.
It made me question why I pound in the meaning of depression and other mental illnesses through this blog and Instagram. Most people with depression work so hard to lift themselves up when they’re down. But what about you – our supportive loving caring sidekicks? When was the last time you asked yourself, “Am I being the most supportive I can for this person? Am I doing everything I can to learn more about their mental illness, how it affects them, and how I can help?”
Disclaimer: I’m providing a different perspective from someone who has lived with a mental illness for some time. The following is a summary of feelings and experiences I have garnered from those in the same boat as myself.
I’ve seen this floating around Facebook recently where #suicideawareness is publicly announcing that you support XYZ by reposting whatever message it is. I have a huge problem with this “affirmative” message. WHY ARE WE ALWAYS REACHING FOR HELP AND EXPECTED TO ASK FOR HELP? We are fighting monsters in our heads who are trying to destroy us. We work so hard to keep ourselves alive and now we’re responsible for asking for someone to acknowledge the realness of our experience too? Asking to talk about it or for help isn’t easy because people can shut it down with, “It’ll be over soon.” or “We’re all here for you.” Maybe you have felt equally “shut down” when this person has responded with, “I don’t want to talk about it.” but at least you have taken that step to open the doors for us to talk. As we journey through our mental illness by learning more on what it is, how to cope, what our triggers are etc., your love and care for us also translates by learning with us too. It’s equally important for you to learn how to have these hard conversations.
People aren’t mind readers – I get it – but here is a real life example. I’m screaming for help and love and support on social media. Just look at my Instagram! And yet I have only had two people sit me down properly to ask, “How are you feeling?” since I opened up my Instagram in July (outside of my girlfriends). Imagine all the people you know who live and battle silently with a mental illness because you couldn’t ask, “How are you feeling?” That’s a lot of people son! I want people to feel the joy and excitement that I felt when I was asked, “How are you feeling?” in those two instances. It made me feel like my mental illness was important and real. Mental illness is invisible and even we doubt our illness despite all the symptoms we feel everyday. I actually wanted to scream HALLELUJAH when someone asked me. Shrek and I held hands and pirouetted down a field of flowers together.
I can’t emphasize this enough though. Persevere with us. Ask us, “How are you feeling?” more than just once, or twice. We don’t always ask for help because we think we’re doing okay, but we’ve been suffering for so long that our version of “okay” isn’t actually okay.
Remember this: the most caring and loving actions are found quietly, like asking the question, “How are you feeling?” And not through a Facebook post to show hundreds of your Facebook friends that you care about mental health and you are there for them.
I’m hoping that you will reflect on why you haven’t asked that person in your life “How are you feeling?” Be honest with yourself.
Here are my theories. Feel free to tell me that I’m wrong.
1: You don’t care all that much
2. You don’t know what to say and,
3. You’re terrified to hear it first hand about how broken we are.
I believe this because a person who has never lived with a mental illness cannot reconcile in their brain that the happy-productive me on the outside is far from the messed up monster that is inside. They are so afraid to meet “this person” first hand. You know, the crazy person behind closed doors.
When you’ve figured out if you care or not, practice by asking the question. Pull us aside from all the crowds and noise. Genuinely ask, “How are you feeling?” And when we tell you how we feel, don’t respond with, “You can ride this out.” or It’ll all be over soon.” This is how your colours will show because these statements are dismissive and not supportive.
Being supportive means acknowledging all that comes with being depressed. Just tell us it sucks to feel sucky. Tell us you wish to take this pain away. Tell us that you’re here and will do whatever it takes when we need you. And if you wish none of those things, tell us why you’re still standing here. Mental illness isn’t cut out for everyone to deal with. I’ve had my fair share of people walk out of my life because they couldn’t deal with it so you wouldn’t be the first or the last.
If you really care, try it out. Try asking someone living with a mental illness in a private intimate conversation, “How are you feeling?” Try asking me, “How are you feeling?” instead of hiding behind the smoke screen of your phone/tablet/computer.