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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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black and white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble; and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time, until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling; whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die," or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you, you are not alone.

If you're thinking about hurting yourself please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or visit suicidepreventionhotline.org to live chat with someone. Help it out there and you are not alone.


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Meditation Is Not A Perfect Practice, But It's Still Worth Your Time

You'll thank me later.

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I began doing yoga a few years ago, and I instantly loved it. The combination of stretching, mental relaxation, and emotional release is amazing. It creates a sense of zen and peace in my life that I can use during the stress that comes from school, work, and everyday life. But the one part of yoga that I am not in love with is the meditation aspect.

I absolutely dread meditation. I do not know what it is, but I can never quite seem to get my mind to quiet down. No matter how hard I try, there is always a million thoughts running through my brain. "Did I finish that homework assignment?" "Am I breathing too loud? Can other people hear me?" I become so focused on other things happening around me that I just can't seem to calm down and relax.

But meditation is not about just clearing your mind and going completely blank. It is about focusing on a single thought, object, or intention and just allowing those emotions and feelings to overcome you. Focusing on one intention in your life allows you to become focused and re-centered. Meditation is not a set in stone practice, it is adaptable based on each person's needs.

There are seven general types of meditation: loving-kindness meditation, body scanning meditation, mindfulness meditation, breath awareness meditation, kundalini yoga, Zen meditation, and transcendentalism meditation. Each of these general types can be adapted to fit ones specific needs in that time. All seven of these meditations offer stress release options to help with daily stressors and inconveniences.

There is no perfect way to meditate. Meditation can also be as simple as just closing your eyes and simply breathing for a few seconds while focusing on one important thing in your life to help you remain grounded. There is no one set meditation type that works for all people. Some people enjoy all of the forms or even several of them, while others such as myself strictly enjoy the body scanning meditation.

The body scanning meditation focuses on scanning the body for areas of tension and to encourage the release of tension in that part of the body. Once the release occurs, the whole body can begin to relax even more. It usually starts by focusing on the toes and relaxing then moving up the legs, the torso the arms to the fingertips, and all the way through to the tip of the head.

My ideal meditation type is not for everyone. Playing around with the different types of meditations is the best way to find an ideal type of meditation that fits what the body needs. Unlike with most things, practice doesn't make perfect. Practicing the art of meditation just helps to refine the overall calm and zen that is felt.

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