Finding the Right Support System - Friends

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One of our participants graciously shared her experiences talking to her friends about her mental health condition. We asked if we could share her thoughts on our blog, so more people could benefit from what she has learned. Happily, she agreed!

In Maddison's Words:

"When you've been struggling with a mood disorder for months or years, hope is easily lost. It begins to feel like a never ending journey towards an abstract destination. The fear and uncertainty of what the future holds makes taking each day as is comes paramount. Finding a good support system, particularly when you are very ill, can be a difficult task. The reality is that there are few black and white rules. Mostly there is a lot of grey area and the challenging task of navigating through it in order to establish healthy communication and boundaries. 

To start, I've found that it takes people a long time to develop an appreciation or hopefully an understanding of what you are dealing with. Expecting everyone to completely understand or empathize is unfortunately unrealistic.  All you can really ask of people is that they try and are open to learning. It's important that they have some knowledge of how your mood disorder affects you. Taking risks by opening up and sharing your experiences will give people the opportunity to understand. Not everyone will be able or willing but by testing these waters you can figure out who might be a potential support. It's also a way to figure out what you need, whether it be positive encouragement, a gentle reminder that things will get better or knowing that someone else has hope even if you've lost it.

The biggest problem I've had talking to people is how often people try to tell me what to do. When I'm struggling everyday to do everything I can to get out of the hole, the last thing I want to hear is "I bet you'd feel better if you just went for a run".  That was my well intentioned friend's response when I tried to explain what I was going through. It made me feel like I wasn't trying hard enough and that the solution to everything was a simple exercise I was neglecting to do. Going for a run wasn't going to "fix" my depression. If she had patiently listened to me and told me she'd always be there for me, it would have made me feel a lot better in that moment than a jog around the block. I tried to explain to her that it wasn't that simple. She didn't get it right away and still doesn't fully understand. She is however more compassionate and hasn't offered any unsolicited advice since. 

Another friend felt it necessary to "be honest with me" by telling me to abandone my previous goals and reprioritize my life. This came at a time when I was feeling lower than ever before and extremely sick. After the night was over it hit me how much this conversation had affected me. Just when I thought I couldn't feel more hopeless, I felt more lost than ever before. Eventually I wrote her a letter explaining that advice like she had given was actually dangerous to my life at this point. If she wanted to be a good friend to me, I needed her to listen to me without giving her advice and be a source of hope. It was a really hard letter to write and I was worried about how she would respond. Fortunately she was receptive and we talked it through. I know now though that if she hadn't been able understand how what she had said could be life threatening, it would be dangerous to my health to have her as a close friend."

Do you have experiences you'd like to share with others?  Let us know...we're always looking for submissions to our blog!