Shattering Stigmas is an annual blogging event that lasts two weeks. During this fortnight, we’ll be talking about anything and everything mental health related. The aim of these posts are to take away some of the stigma surrounding mental illness, to invite people to open up about their stories, and to help others learn.
On Friendship and Mental Illness
Since I have always had mental illness, I noticed that friendships don’t normally last long for me. In more recent years, I have been fortunate to have healthier relationships with friends. This post is going to be a discussion and a series of advice for maintaining friendships while having a mental illness (or more than one).
Issues that arise
It is sometimes very hard to reach out and make new friends when you’re mentally ill. This is the case for many people, because mental illness does this thing where it isolates a person. To me, it always feels like I’m trapped in a glass jar accompanied by a hurricane. Essentially, it is hard to look around you and notice people when there is so much inner turmoil.
Anxiety also plays a huge role in how relationships can unfold. For instance, I remember crying the first time someone asked me to come over to their house because my brain was saying that I was unworthy of their presence. Sometimes, you’re just far too depressed to communicate. With each mental illness comes a series of issues to adjust to as a friend.
Be an ally. Learn about mental illness, and how it may affect a person. I want to put an asterisk here, though. Don’t be attached to the definitions you hear. Keep an open mind.
It’s often quite terrifying for people with mental illness to befriend people. Not just being nice, but getting to know people deeply and intimately. Be patient with people and let them take their time to trust you. This advice goes both ways. People with mental illness tend to have a hard time trusting others, for various reasons. They may run away from connections. I know for me, I often delete accounts when the anxiety just gets way too much. I sometimes cut out relationships with friends because I worry about being judged. It’s like getting claustrophobic.
(For some reason, my brain was like, Cher!! Ahem. Back to the post). As a neuro-typical person, it’s a good idea to open up about your own insecurities with neuro-divergent people in your life. Tell them what makes you uncomfortable, squeamish, scared. Discuss conflicts you have in a calm and understanding manner.
For people with mental illness, it’s important to try and share thoughts and insecurities. Explain what’s scaring you. Discuss it with people. Take the internal struggle to a literal manifestation.
Ask What You Can Do For Help and/or support
Once friends start explaining their actions and their thoughts in more detail, rather than doling out advice, ask what the person needs for support. Sometimes, people just want to be heard and understood.
Like I said earlier, it’s really nice when you express your feelings with people who are mentally ill. In many of my relationships, I often ask, “Are you okay? Are we okay?” This tends to happen when people don’t voice their feelings enough.
Mental illness isolates a person quite intensely. Your brain can tell you that you’re unloved and alone. Mine certainly does. Granted, I am fortunate to have the ability of asking for reassurance, but not everyone is able to do this.
Take Care of Yourself
Ultimately, you have to remember that you need to take care of yourself. Mentally ill or not, friendships take effort. Give yourself breaks. Obviously, the challenge is balancing between focusing on friends while taking care of yourself.