Seven Things Your Mentally Ill Friend Wants to Tell You in 2017
A New Year is here, and with it new blessings, joys, sufferings, and opportunities to grow in the Lord. If you are one of the millions of Americans who knows someone with a mental illness, pin this reminder list with your New Year’s resolutions and make 2017 the year that you are Christ to your brothers and sisters who walk in the dark of mood disorders.
1. Yes, I Look Healthy …
Just because I’m smiling and walking upright doesn’t mean I’m faking my illness or blowing it out of proportion. I really want to be normal and healthy, so I try to manage the best I can. I put on a grin when I’m feeling sad. I carry on a conversation when I really want to hide in bed. I keep on going because it’s the only thing I can do when I have a job and a family. Moreover, the twisted thought patterns that come with depression or bipolar disorder make me feel like I don’t deserve to feel bad. I think of myself as a lazy, incompetent faker, so I do everything I can to hide how “horrible” I am from you. In fact, if I do appear exhausted or disheveled, it could mean things are really bad. When I stop caring for myself and hiding things away, it’s a red flag that my condition has progressed to a dangerous level.
How To Be a Friend: Ask me how I’m doing, even if it looks like the answer is “fine.” You never know what could be hiding underneath that smile. It might be an opportunity from Jesus to reach out to the sick and suffering.
2. But My Brain Isn’t Even the Only Thing that Hurts.
You know mental conditions like depression or anxiety can ruin my mood and make me feel scared and hopeless. Unfortunately, the negative effects don’t stop there. Depression can cause intense muscle aches
. Bipolar disorder sometimes keeps me from sleeping
. Anxiety attacks might make my body feel like I’m dying
(even though I’m not)! And the medications that help manage these conditions often come with a whole host of unpleasant side effects. So don’t be surprised if I take extra sick days, punk out on that 5K we’ve had scheduled for months, or end up in the hospital when it’s “just” a panic attack. It’s all part of the war my brain is waging on itself and my body.
How to Be a Friend: Please be flexible and patient when it comes to the activities we’ve planned together. Recognize I’m not being a flake if I cancel our plans last minute or suggest we do something more low-key. Going at my pace (and putting up with my uncertainties) might be annoying, but it’s also really kind and merciful.
3. It Also Hurts When You Joke.
“She’s so OCD her closet is arranged by color!”
“You were just happy a minute ago! Could you be anymore bipolar?”
“My kids were sick for a whole week last year. I still get PTSD just thinking about it!”
“Geez, you look horrible today. What’s the matter, you got cancer?”
One of those quotes is not like the other, right? It’s insensitive (and downright offensive!) to make light of a serious illness like cancer. It has touched so
many families, it’s life-changing, and it’s quite possibly deadly. So why are we OK with poking fun at mental disorders? They affect one in three people worldwide.
They can change every aspect of a family’s life. And they can certainly be deadly. The National Alliance on Mental Illness
estimates serious mental illness can take 25 years off a sufferer’s life, and suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States!
How To Be a Friend: Stop with the snarky or thoughtless remarks.Yes, they might seem harmless. But when I think my illness isn’t serious or important enough for you to take seriously, it makes it that much harder to keep going every day. You are my friend, and I care what you think.
5. There is No “Cure” …
Yes, I have heard of anti-depressants. And therapy. And exercise. And going outside. And cutting out sugar and gluten. And even that turmeric lemon honey thing you saw on Pinterest. I’ve actually tried a lot of these things! Many help, some of them help very much, but none of them are an easy fix. Because there’s no such thing. Right now, there’s no sure cure for illnesses like depression or bipolar or PTSD. There are only treatments. Some of them are more pharmaceutical, some are more “natural.” None of them is a magic potion, and none of them is the only right way to manage a condition.
How to Be a Friend: Pray that I’m truly cured with a miracle from God. Pray for an earthly cure and more effective treatments to be invented. Feel free to send me links or tell me about the newest remedy you saw on TV, but please don’t be insulted if it doesn’t work out. And please don’t assume I’m doing the “wrong” thing if I don’t take meds, or if I do!
5. And I Don’t Want to Be Alone …
How to Be a Friend: If I push you away, reach out. If I don’t respond to your text messages, call me. If I say I’m staying home, ask if you can come over. If I totally shut you down, try again tomorrow. I don’t mean to be a jerk. I’m just hurting, and my fears and sadness are working overtime to convince me that nobody wants me around. It might not seem like I appreciate you, but really, you and my family are the only things keeping me going.
6. … But Your Help is a Lifesaver (Literally)!
You may have already forgotten about that time you brought me dinner, or watched my child for the afternoon, or came over with a bottle of wine and insisted we watch TV all evening. But I haven’t. These small gestures of kindness stick out like those beautiful little rays of sunshine you see breaking through on a gloomy day. When I’m in the middle of an episode, every day is dark and gloomy, and I can’t find the power to create those sunshiny rays on my own. So your help is literally shining Christ’s light into my life. In my worst times, it might be the only earthly positive I can remember.
How to Be a Friend: Keep up the good work! Even the smallest act of friendship has far-ranging effects, from washing a pile of dirty dishes in my sink to sharing a funny meme with me on Facebook. God bless you for everything you do!
7. Pray for Me!
You might not not know how to reach out to me when I’m depressed, anxious or manic. You might be afraid of doing the wrong thing or that you don’t know me well enough. And since you’ve got a family, a job and demands of your own, your time is limited. I totally understand that. But there’s one thing you can always do–the simplest, easiest, quickest, but most powerful thing–pray. I’m asking for just one Rosary, one Mass intention, light one candle, heck, say just one Hail Mary! Whatever works for you and your family will make all the difference in my life. There have been horribly dark times when I struggled to pray at all and definitely struggled to pray for myself. I might have felt I didn’t deserve God’s love, or been mad at Him, or just been too exhausted to talk to Him without falling asleep. When I look back and ask myself how I made it through these times, I know in my heart I was being carried by the love and faith of others.
How to Be a Friend: “Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The prayer of the righteous is powerful and effective.”-James 5:16 (NRSVCE)
Liz Schleicher is a Midwestern Catholic wife and working mama of one. Mental illness has visited her family to the third and fourth generation, and she battles to see the truth and beauty of each day. She blogs at St. Dymphna's Daughter and leads the conversation on Facebook at Catholics with Depression.