7 Lessons I've Learned From Having A Best Friend Who Suffers From A Mental Illness

7 Lessons I've Learned From Having A Best Friend Who Suffers From A Mental Illness

Mental illness is not easy to deal with, and we need to be there for the people in our lives who are suffering from it.
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I was exposed to learning about mental health at a very young age, being diagnosed with a mental illness before I even reached 10 years old. Though most people know that, something not many people may know is that the person who I have been able to call my best friend since Kindergarten also suffers pretty badly from mental illness herself. Because of this, I have learned lessons about dealing with people of this nature that I would never have learned had I not been so close to her as she faces the ups and downs of her own mental health story.

It's one thing to suffer from a mental illness yourself, but it's a surprisingly different thing to see someone so close to you suffer from one. The lessons you learn differ dramatically and I am not only thankful to have someone to go on this journey with me, but also someone who has taught me so much about how to treat people who are on the same journey as we are.

There are 7 lessons regarding how to treat people like us that I found most important and most worthy of sharing. My hope is that they might help to educate those reading who may be in a similar situation.

1. Never tell them they are "getting better" or that you know they'll "get over this" someday.

One of the hardest pills for someone who is mentally ill to swallow is that which forces you to come to terms with the fact that this is something we will most likely have to live with for the rest of our lives. Though you may be correct in saying that it will get easier for us to accept that reality, a legitimate mental illness is not something that will ever just go away. All we can really do is learn different coping mechanisms to make our daily lives a little bit easier. We know you mean good when you say it and you just want to encourage us, but it often reminds us of the harsh reality that we are, in a way, forever trapped inside our own minds.

2. Suicide jokes aren't funny.

This one shouldn't require much explanation, but I will give it anyway. As most people know already, mental illness can often cause suicidal tendencies. Though not all of us are affected by these thoughts, it is certainly not uncommon. By making a "joke" out of it, as many people so casually do in this day and age, you are doing far more harm than you may realize. For one thing, you are bringing up a topic that these people most likely don't want to think about, especially not while they're interacting with other people. Besides that, you are unintentionally delegitimizing their struggles. Making a joke out of a situation makes it seem less important than it actually is, which should not be done with a topic that is as serious as one's life.

3. Sometimes you just need to be around to listen, not to give advice.

I have very mother-like tendencies, which often leads me to find myself trying to give people advice on whatever they may be dealing with at the moment. I have recently learned, though, that sometimes that may not be the best thing to do. A lot of times, if someone is coming to you when they are not having the best mental health day, they aren't looking for advice. For the most part, we know that there is not much that anyone else can do to help us. Sometimes all we need is for someone to listen to us and make us feel heard. It makes us feel more normal about the things we are experiencing as well as makes us feel less isolated from the general population.

4. Never make them feel like what they are dealing with is an inconvenience for anyone but themselves.

I am not going to sit here and pretend like dealing with somebody while they are in panic mode is easy. However, it is crucial that you never make them feel like they are being a nuisance to you when they are in the midst of their hardest struggles. Even though you may be stressed out trying to help them and may often find yourself growing angry, I can promise you that what they are feeling is far worse. More importantly, it is completely out of their control. As somebody who loves them and has earned their trust, it is critical that you offer nothing but love and willingly help them when they make themselves vulnerable enough to ask for it.

5. Make sure they know that they aren't crazy, and what they are feeling is valid.

A disgusting term that should be squashed when referring to the mentally ill is the word "crazy." This word implies something that is flawed and the last thing we should do is make anyone feel like their mental illness defines them or makes them any less of a person. We are aware that what we are feeling is not normal and is often irrational, but that doesn't make these feelings any less valid. Just because you may never worry about a particular thing does not mean that we don't still feel the same amount of distress over that thing that you might feel over something that you deem to be worth worrying about. By making it known that you don't know how we could feel "so stressed about something so small" makes us feel like we aren't normal and we shouldn't be having these feelings. However, the reality is that we are in no control of those feelings and therefore should not be ridiculed or criticized for them.

6. Don't get mad at them for not doing things because they are having a rough mental health day.

Nobody likes to be canceled on, especially last minute. Unfortunately, this is common coming from people who suffer from mental illness. We often get bursts of confidence that prompt us to make plans that are slightly out of our comfort zone. Then when the time comes for us to execute those plans, we no longer feel as confident as we once did and do whatever we can to stay in an atmosphere that makes us feel safe. Even though it may seem dumb and flaky to you, we never enjoy canceling on you. I know that personally, I feel overwhelming guilt when I cancel plans at the last minute due to reasons regarding my mental health. However, it is often better that we cancel rather than us going through with the plans and feeling miserable the entire time.

7. Familiarize yourself with their warning signs.

Everybody who is suffering from mental illness will have some tell-tale signs that they are experiencing feelings that are not normal. As somebody who is close to them, it is your job to be able to recognize those signs and give them the help they need. Common signs include sudden isolation, changes in breathing, mood swings, and anything else that might be out of the ordinary. However, it is important to note that "abnormal behavior" varies by person and not everyone will have the same warning signs. And remember: you will never be able to fix them, but you may be able to make that particular situation slightly easier on them.

Cover Image Credit: Samanthah Santana

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An Open Letter To The Judgmental People In My Hometown

Imperfections are what gives a diamond its value.
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Dear judgemental, simple minded people from my hometown,

I am sorry that I have never met your level of perfection.

Coming from a small town, everyone settles to the norm of the people around them. Unlike you all, I have always been a little bit different.

I've never understood why everyone always seems to feel the need to talk down to the next person. People love to gossip about a situation as long as the situation has nothing to do with them. For every move I made, someone was always there to bring out the negativity in the situation. You all are always sweeping around somebody else's doorstep when I know your doorstep is not clean. Maybe it is time to buy a new broom. I know that I cannot please everybody and that I will also not be liked by everybody. However, I deserve respect just as the next person.

SEE ALSO: Forgiving Someone Who Didn't Ask For It

I hope for the sake of the future generations of our small town, you all can learn to be more accepting to change.

I hope that no one judges your children like some of you all have judged me. I hope that the people that you love and care about are welcomed and accepted for who they are.

If we put as much time into being better people or helping others like you put into judging others, the world would be a much better place.

Imperfections are what gives a diamond its value. Pebbles are perfectly round. I'd much rather be a diamond, one in a million, than a pebble that fits in.

Sincerely,

The one whose every move you criticize

Cover Image Credit: Haley Williamson

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If Hashbrowns Were Heroin, I'd Be Dead

I hit rock bottom with binge-eating on a Tuesday morning before class. I am proof that it can happen anywhere and any time.

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I loved hashbrowns.

My Mom used to make them by cutting up chunks of potatoes and frying them to a crisp in a pot. I never really went crazy on them but they were always my favorite part of a homemade breakfast. Eggs were always a little too soft to be my favorite.

When mornings were really busy before elementary school we would go through the McDonald's drive through and order hash browns and egg McMuffins. Eventually, I started not wanting the sandwich. I just wanted hash browns. I could eat 2, 4, 5? I was only 7? 8?

Hot, salty, soft on the inside and crispy on the outside. I remember why I loved them.

I also remember holding the bag in my lap until we got to before-school care and seeing that the oil from the food had leaked out onto the bag, and onto my pants, and hoping it would dry. I didn't care. I still couldn't wait.

I managed to stay away for a long time after learning that these kinds of fried foods are just plain bad for you. Like cancer-causing, heart attack-causing bad. Not "bad" like I would be a bad person for eating them, although eventually, I felt that way too.

When my commute to school became over an hour, and I had 8 a.m. classes, I struggled. I struggled with the change, the demands of full-time school and work, and the growing compulsion to eat that came with it. I wonder if when you read this you will realize that this was only a year ago, and that I am still trying to heal from this. I wonder if you will be surprised that even though I am nutrition student, and I've lost a lot of weight, and I've created a life of love and intention, that I found myself in the McDonald's drive-through.

The first time I was starving. It was 7:30 a.m and I hadn't had a lot of dinner the night before. I was stressed, and sad. I was dieting on Whole 30. I felt the intensity of my own shortcomings. I told myself, "Just this one time." If it hadn't been a decision, it would have been an accident.

I wasn't a regular. I just went occasionally. I lied to myself a lot about how often I found myself showing up for hash browns.

I would tell myself the entire drive to school that I would NOT stop. I would go straight to school and find something healthy at the grocery store later. I could manage my hunger for the morning until after class. I stopped. I swear sometimes that my steering wheel turned of its own accord. To this day, I can't really explain it.

McDonald's enters their orders of hash brown in a very tricky way. One "order" of hash browns is two hash browns. The first time I realized that there were four hash browns in my bag, I thought it was an accident. I looked at my receipt and realized I had gotten what I paid for, and wondered why I wasn't even paying attention to what I was paying for. I decided I didn't care. I ate them.

Another time after that, I decided to see what I could get away with. I ordered three hash browns. I wanted to see if I would get three or six. It was like a mental game. I wasn't ordering six hash browns, if I got six it would be a mistake. I had a problem. I was disappointed when I received three. The next time, I ordered four.

That day, I received 8 hash browns. I remembered feeling like if I stretched myself any further across my schedule, I would just rip. I would fray. Shred. My seams would come undone and I would just float away. I think that day it finally happened.

I wasn't there.

I wasn't there when I ate them. It must have taken me all the way from the time I received them, until after I parked on campus, maybe 15 minutes to eat them all. I can't remember. It wasn't me.

I was the one watching the wrappers pile up.

I was the one watching the grease stain spread on the brown bag.

I was the one who was late to class. I was the one screaming to stop and get my ass out of the car.

I was the one who woke up in my car an hour later, ready for class, with a neat plastic bag of trash that included a hidden and tiny crumpled McDonald's bag.

I felt sick. Dangerously ill. I had a headache, a stomachache, a soul-ache. I felt low. Lower than any other time.

I felt like an absolute failure. Every mean thing anyone ever said about me, every mean thing I ever thought about myself, it was all true. I had made it true.

I was alone, ashamed, and sick.

If hash browns were heroin, I'd be dead.

Binge-eating wasn't a big part of my history, but it created a landmark in my life that I will not soon forget.

I think it's important to say that this event was not about the food. It happened because I was not emotionally well. I was not talking about my feelings. I was lonely. I was feeling sad. I was dieting. I was trying to control every aspect of my life to keep it from hurting me. I was hanging on so tightly to everything else, that I ended up losing control and hurting myself.

I was ignoring my mental health and it demanded my attention through disordered eating.

If you take anything from this story, please be reminded that your mental health comes first.

Get help with the heavy stuff. Get help, period.

You can chat with someone from the National Eating Disorder Association online to ask for help.

You can text NEDA to 741741 for help in a crisis.

You can call NEDA at (800)-931-2237.

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