Then stop talking about it like it’s weird and scary.
Because it is weird and scary. And it can be really uncomfortable and confusing to those who haven’t experienced it.
It’s easier to explain chronic migraines. “It’s like a terrible headache.” That makes sense. I could relate to that.
But try explaining a deep, numbing sadness?? Or vomit inducing anxiety? A good portion of the population doesn’t know what that feels like. They might try to relate and be like Oh ok, so it’s like when you get a bad grade on a test? Well, if when you get a bad grade on a test you actually feel a thousand pound weight crushing your chest, then yes, that’s what it’s like.
So if you have a mental illness, and you’re sick of feeling weird about it, help those around you learn how to talk about it.
Don’t expect them to just know. For example, bipolar is a fairly new diagnosis. I can’t expect all my friends to brush up on their psychiatry every weekend and waltz into my house asking “So how are your new mood stabilizers affecting your mood during times of hypo-mania?
No. Just no. They don’t know. And that’s ok. That’s why we have to help them.
So. My fellow broken-brain friends, here’s what we can do to help them. And if you don’t have a broken brain, and someone you love does, try using this as a conversation starter.
- Give them grace. They are going to get it wrong sometimes. They are going to say the wrong things. Just give them the benefit of the doubt. They are trying to reach you halfway, their intent is to show you love. So be gentle when they screw it up.
- Give them a vocab. If using the word depressed doesn’t sound accurate for you, make up another phrase. “I got the sads.” If someone asking are you having an panic attack actually gives you a panic attack, recommend they ask if you’re feeling “rushed.” If it hurts your feelings for them to ask are you sure you can handle this, tell them to check-in by asking “you cool with how this is going?” It hurts my feelings when my husband asks are you feeling hypo-manic because sometimes, I’m just really excited. So he instead asks, “Do you have ants in your pants?”
- Give them peace of mind. Mental illness can be really really scary. And if you struggle with self-harm or suicidal thoughts or tendencies, regularly explain to your friends what you’re doing to be safe. They will avoid the conversation if it constantly leaves them anxious and worried. It’s just human nature.
- Give them a break. Make sure you aren’t off-loading your mental health conversations on just one friend. That’s a lot of weight for anyone to carry. Go to counseling. Try group therapies. Have multiple friends you can reach out to.
- Give them honesty. If you hide your mental health problems, the stigma will never ever go away. People will always think mental illness is scary if they don’t understand it. Help them understand. Be honest with them. Try to explain it in a way they will understand. Try different angles. Different metaphors. I promise they want to understand, and they want to help you.
- Give them updates. They may be scared to ask. Let them know how you’re feeling and let them know when they’ve helped. Or when you’re feeling better. Let them celebrate with you. “I’ve only thought positive things today! Couldn’t have done this without you!” Then freakin’ party.
Knowledge can fight stigma. Tattoos and articles are helping, but we’ll make bigger strides by actually talking to each other about it. We’re all in this together guys.