Let me outline this very clearly, because it seems people who are outsiders, people who don’t struggle with their mental health on a daily basis, still don’t get what we mean when we say we need your “help”.
By help, we mean “support”.
By “support” we don’t always mean “advice.”
In fact, very rarely do we mean advice.
If you feel like you can’t “help” us, that’s because you can’t and that’s because you don’t need to. It’s not your responsibility, as someone on the outside, to cure us of our depression, our anxiety, our voices, our paranoia, our thoughts about suicide, or our self harming tendencies. That’s not a burden for you to carry.
If someone in a wheelchair is pushing themselves down the sidewalk just fine, not asking for you to push for them, would you just walk up and start pushing them? No. The same applies here.
We’re looking for someone willing to walk with us through the fire of the moment, not someone to toss water on the fire with good intention, not caring to pay attention to the fact that the fire is a grease fire, and then storm off offended they couldn’t put the flame out.
Say you were working in construction and you measured a beam wrong so that when you tried to put together the side of a house, the boards toppled on you. Your right leg is being crushed, along with one of your hands and your chest. You’re struggling to breathe, the world is turning black, and off in the distance you see a possible savior. You use your last bit of energy to wave them over and they come running, chest puffed out. When you tell them what happened, they look at your measurements and say “well, you should be more careful when you measure next time so this won’t happen”.
And then they walk away like this . . .
. . . feeling like they’ve completed their good deed for the day.
Then they get offended you didn’t say thank you to them when they come visit you in the hospital.
That’s what it feels like to us when the people we confide in get frustrated that we’re not responding to them the way they want us to when we’re already struggling to hold our head above water. It creates this feeling of isolation on both parties. You feel like you’ve failed someone you care about, we feel like we can’t ever express ourselves without getting turned away or bombarded with things we don’t need to hear.
This is a gap in a bridge that needs to be sealed.
This is where understanding comes in. Giving people pamphlets about the “symptoms” of “mental disorders” is “education” I guess . . . although not very effective, and your #stopstigma tags on twitter are amazingly popular for about five internet seconds, but if people on the “outside” aren’t around us, if they can’t see that we’re just the same as them, if they can’t see us in our best and our worse, and if they can’t come to us and talk with us and dip their toe in the fire for just a split second, then they don’t truly understand what support is. And you can’t #stopstigma without people having a clear understanding about what’s being stigmatized.
And it’s not about us tossing all our problems on someone with no problem, because at that point we’re using them as a scale to measure how “fucked up” we are, we’re using them as a landfill to throw all our trash, rather than a human being to relate to. And that doesn’t make anyone feel good.
It’s about mutuality in the relationship. If they feel you are burdening them by constantly venting without ever letting them a chance to speak or a chance to attempt at making a connection or a chance to express their grievances as well, they should be allowed to tell you that (politely) and you shouldn’t be offended. You shouldn’t turn them away and say “I’m crazy, that’s probably why they don’t care about me”, because what you’re doing is invalidating how they feel, and how they feel is pertinent to the relationship. If they didn’t care about you, they wouldn’t have spoken up.
In the same way, if you feel you aren’t being heard, if you feel something isn’t right, you have the responsibility and right to speak up and tell them so (politely) and if they get offended and take it as “this person is just selfish” than they’re invalidating your feelings, and how you feel is pertinent to the relationship.
Do we all see how this works now?
We don’t need to reform “mental health” necessarily. We need to reform how we interact with people who experience things differently. Categories, diagnosis, medication, none of that is the fucking issue. The issue is what we perceive as a result of categories, diagnosis, and medication. Let’s face it folks, that stuff makes money, it’s not going anywhere. So lets use it to our advantage rather than our disadvantage.
And that issue of perception doesn’t ONLY fall on the shoulders of people who DON’T struggle with their mental health. It’s our responsibility as the strugglees (not a word, don’t quote me) to be honest about the struggle and to be honest when we feel someone has stepped across a line. Don’t take it as a slap across the face because “you’re crazy” and therefore don’t have a right to speak up.
And if all else fails, if mutuality never develops–because, let’s face it, not everyone is meant to be in your life–if things can’t be worked through, separate from each other in the most respectful way possible so as to preserve their feelings and your feelings. Just because someone disagrees with you or you with them doesn’t mean you have to part ways by hurting each other.
That hurt only carries on into the next mutual friendship/relationship, and the last thing we need is a chain reaction.
Inspiration from this post came from a struggle in my own personal life just recently and by being honest, without getting into an argument, without screaming, without cursing each other, we managed to come to a conclusion that we both care for each other and want to move forward together.
I only have Intentional Peer Support to thank for this. With my inability to understand how to interact with humans in general, being there for that week laid it out to me logically in a way I could attempt to understand and duplicate. I may be a little robotic about it still, but I’m learning.
I was wondering where all my anger went. . . and thinking back on it, it really calmed down after being surrounded by everyone that one week in may. It’s amazing what taking the time and thinking about how other people feel, and how you react to their feelings, can do.