When I was at high school, my best friend developed an anxiety disorder. Sometimes, she couldn’t face walking into a certain classroom because she was so scared that she would have a panic attack in front of everyone. Other times, she couldn’t even leave the house in the mornings. Getting herself so worked up about the smallest of things that at the time, I would just tell her were not even worth worrying about. And hoping that it was all she needed to hear to make her snap out of it. I will admit that in the beginning, I thought that this was just some attention-seeking behavior. But I soon realized just how wrong I was..
I watched as others failed to understand how she was feeling and why she was so anxious all of the time. This isolated her so much and I remember thinking to myself, “Why would anyone want to purposefully make themselves feel this way?”. And from that moment, I remember saying to her, “I believe you”.
And still to this day, I under-estimate the value of those three little words for someone suffering with a mental illness. There are times where I really do not know what to do to relieve my friend of her anxieties. But I have learnt that the most powerful thing I can do is to just sit her down, be the listener and tell her that I believe her. I’m certainly no expert when it comes to mental health. Far from it. But I do know that nothing is more damaging to someone with an invisible illness than getting them to try and convince you that the war that is happening in their minds, is actually happening. From the outside, it can be hard to understand. But for them, it’s even more difficult to explain. And we should never be forcing people to prove how sick they are because our psychological health can impact us just as much as our physiological state can. The only difference is that it’s not as noticeable to the eye.
Statistics have shown that 1 in 4 of us will experience a mental health problem in any one year. It is much more common than we think. As a society – I think we’re slowly getting better at recognizing it and talking about it. So I am not ashamed to say that there are times where I feel so low; even though I know that I have absolutely no valid or true reason to be. But not being able to change these thoughts and emotions is one of the most frustrating things in the world. It is something that we are all bound to experience at some point yet it is still highly stigmatized. And this needs to change. There is no shame in seeking help and there is no need to suffer silently.
Telling someone to just ‘snap out of it’ may seem like the best and easiest way to respond to someone. But that doesn’t work. It’s like telling a deaf person to listen harder. The best thing you can do is just to be there for that person because eventually, they will reach a point where they will realize that the only thing that can save them from their own mind is themselves. And when they reach this realization, it’s going to terrify them completely. But having someone there to support them will make that journey a little easier.
So have patience and be the listener. Be the person who will pop over whenever they need you to. Be the one to remind them that they are not defined by their mental illness and that their disorder is a flaw in their chemistry; and not a flaw in their character.