Talking Things Through – Part 6 – Apologies

Do you know someone who is always apologising?  Do you frequently tell them that they don’t need to apologise?  Well today I’d like to take a look at apologies.  If you haven’t checked out last week’s post on mindfulness, you can find it here or maybe access the first post in our Talking Things Through series.  Let’s have a look at apologies, shall we?

Apologies

Frequently in my journey, I’ve been guilty of apologising too much.  Well, I say too much…I’ve always felt I’ve got a reason for apologising.  Not everyone sees it that way though.  Still, it seems to be a common trait amongst people with depression, so I’d like to tap into that a little bit and try and explain it.

I blame myself for everythingWhy do I feel the need to apologise?

It’s simple: I blame myself for everything.

Why?  Quite simply, I don’t feel like I’m good enough.  If I’m not good enough then it must be my fault somehow, no matter what it is or who is involved.  It’s logical to me. Does it sound familiar?

 

It’s an easy trap to fall into.  When you have a brain that drags up every mistake you’ve ever made, every time you’ve not been good enough or you’ve simply not been enough, you start to blame yourself for things.  You blame yourself for the big things, you blame yourself for the little things and soon it’s blaming yourself for everything, even when you’re not to blame.

Perhaps you know someone like this.  Perhaps you are someone who apologises a lot. Do you know why?  I’ll tell you some of my reasons below but right now I’m interested in hearing yours.  Please leave a comment (anonymously if you want to) about why you apologise a lot.

“I’m Sorry…”

Where do I begin?  Unwrapping the numerous reasons as to why I’m sorry is difficult because there are so many.  Too many, perhaps.  Maybe you’ll recognise a few of these…

I'm sorry for being me.I’m sorry that I self-harm.  I know that, despite it harming me, it hurts others.  I really wish it didn’t but unfortunately it does.  Also unfortunately, that knowledge won’t stop me from self-harming.  Next week our series about self-harm launches, so do check that out to find out why that knowledge won’t stop me and people like me from self-harming.

I’m sorry I’m weak.  I know mental health isn’t a sign of weakness but on the days where I just can’t motivate myself to do anything or can’t even pick up the phone or get out of bed, I feel weak.  I can’t help it.  Living in a permanent state of exhaustion, it makes everything that much harder.  It’s not my fault, I know that, but that doesn’t stop me from being sorry for it.

I’m sorry I’m unpredictable. Sometimes I’m absolutely fine one moment then down in the depths of a spiral the next. Most of the time there isn’t even a proper explanation for it.  It’s just the way I am.  Whether I snap or get angry or just go quiet, I don’t mean to. It’s my depression setting in.

Lastly, I’m sorry that I put my mask on and keep it all inside.  My mask is a coping mechanism.  If I can convince you that I’m fine, perhaps I can convince myself.  It’s why I hide, why I don’t reach out and why I keep it all inside.  Well, one of the reasons at any rate.

What do you think?

What do you think?  Is it making sense?  Those reasons are a non-exhaustive list, as there are many others that I would give but also many that other people would give.  I hope it gives you a little insight into why people might seem to apologise a lot.

As this series is Talking Things Through, perhaps this week try and talk to someone you know, find out the reasons why they apologise so much.  Helping them through it could be a good start to getting them on the road to recovery.

Next Week

Do you know someone who sometimes disappears off the face of the earth?  Whether unexpectedly or not, people sometimes do just vanish for a bit.  But why?  And what do we do when that happens?  It isn’t always suicidal tendencies that make them do that.  Come back next week to find out why people sometimes feel the need to disappear.

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Anxiety – Managing the Attacks

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Anxiety Attack

I’m sitting at my desk, flicking through YouTube videos on my phone.  Suddenly my heartbeat accelerates as though it’s bent on pounding its way out of my chest!  I can’t breathe!  It’s like some giant fist is clenching my ribs hard to stop me breathing.  I’m shaky, as though my legs want to jig up and down.  Somehow that makes sense to me.  Helplessness overwhelms me, as though I’ve completely lost control.  Dread claws at my mind.  I’m convinced something awful is about to happen!

The sensation lasts ten to fifteen minutes.  I’m trying to breathe slowly, to calm myself down, to snap myself out of it.  All the while, my mind is being bombarded by thoughts and feelings.  It’s disorientating.  Confusing.  Scary.

It’s an anxiety attack.

– Alex Davies, 13/12/2016

Anxiety

I wrote the above quote on my personal blog when trying to journal my experiences when all this started.  Contrary to explaining depression, trying to get people to understand the anxiety was more difficult.  It’s like worry mixed with panic but at the same time it’s not.  Somehow it is more than that but less than that.  It’s stress but it’s not stress.  You see?  It’s confusing.

The easiest way for me to describe how an anxiety attack works is for me to show you.  Some of you may have experienced this.  The following clip is from the ABC News YouTube Channel.  Presenter Dan Harris has a panic attack live on the air.  Warning: this is an anxiety attack that has been filmed and could be a trigger.

What Can You Do?

Are you someone who struggles with anxiety?  Have you had a panic attack before?  They’re absolutely awful if you have experienced them.  As Dan mentions in the video, they can manifest themselves in different ways.  For myself, it’s always been the feeling of being unable to breathe and that feeling of dread as if something awful is going to happen.  Can you relate?

But what can you do?

Mind.org.uk

Mind.org.uk has a few good suggestions for managing your panic attacks.  I’ll be honest, not all of them have worked for me because everyone is different and some techniques will work better for others.  Give them a go.  You might surprise yourself.  If you’re a friend or family member reading this, perhaps make a note of these so you can try them with your friend or loved one.

  1. Talk to someone – sometimes talking about what’s making you anxious can help you.
  2. Breathe – this is almost the stereotyped one but according to www.mind.org.uk it’s the simplest thing that people often forget in panic attacks.
  3. Distract yourself – this is where my self-harming comes in as it serves as a distraction from my anxiety.  Fidget spinners or stress balls can help with this.
  4. Listen to music – another big one for me. It often helps to listen to music as a distraction technique.
  5. Try reassuring yourself – easier said than done but that’s where friends and family can help.
  6. Physical exercise – said to help combat depression as well, it’s something you can do to allow you to get away from everyday stresses.
  7. Keep a diary – this can help you identify triggers (stay tuned for my upcoming post on triggers!) and help you avoid them.
  8. Eat a healthy​ diet – mind.org.uk suggests cutting out alcohol and coffee to avoid the stimulants that can contribute to anxiety.
  9. Complementary therapies – there are plenty of therapies that can help manage the anxiety symptoms.  Yoga, meditation and aromatherapy are the first three that mind.org.uk suggests.  Why not give them a try?
  10. Support groups – another good one, support groups can help you meet people going through similar experiences and remind you that you’re not alone.  Why not check out our forums for more support?
You’re Not Alone

Remember, no matter how scary the panic attacks are or how daunting the anxiety may seem: you are not alone.  If you need help, reach out to someone.  A friend, a family member, I’m sure they will support you as best as they can.  If you can’t reach out to them, reach out to us and we will provide whatever support we can confidentially.

You’re not alone.

Stay strong.

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Listening to Music

Comment your favourite song so I can listen to it.Music Comments

A couple of weeks ago, I shared this picture on my Facebook page, asking people to comment with their favourite song or piece of music.  If you haven’t already done so, please leave a comment below with your favourite song, as I’d love to hear some of the songs that get you through the darkest days.  Those songs might encourage others as well.

Music and Me

Music is a big part of my life.  I’m always listening to music or making music of my own with my guitar and voice.  A lot of the time I’m singing along to the songs that are playing. Even when there is no music on, I’m singing or humming something or my feet are tapping to a song that’s playing in my head.  As I said: music is a big part of my life.

In my post Before the Morning, I cited music as my inspiration for starting blogging.  Josh Wilson, a Christian singer and songwriter, wrote the song Before the Morning as a manifestation of someone else’s story to bring his followers encouragement and that song resonated with me, really bringing me the encouragement.  The chorus says this:

Would you dare, would you dare to believe
That you still have a reason to sing
Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling
It can’t compare to the joy that’s coming
So hold on you gotta wait for the light
Press on and just fight the good fight
Cause the pain that you’ve been feeling
It’s just the dark before the morning

Needless to say, I love the song.  It brings me encouragement when I’m down and there are others in Josh Wilson’s playlist that speak to me, bringing me further encouragement.  I’d encourage you to check out his stuff, even if you’re not a Christian.  He has some great songs!

"You only hear the music when your heart begins to break."Why Music?

As I said, I get a lot out of songs.  There is something about it that really stirs my mood.  Certain songs can speak to how I’m feeling at that point, whether that’s happy and joyful or down and depressed.  At other times it can bring me out of the darkness, giving me encouragement or a boost that I needed to lift me.  It doesn’t always work, granted, but most of the time it has that effect.

I believe music connects on such a deep level because it’s so personal.  People can connect through writing, pictures and other things like that,  but songs…songs go that much deeper because it’s a direct outpouring of someone’s soul.  In my opinion, words in blog posts or books go so far because they come from the brain but music, that comes from the heart. From my own experiences as a singer/songwriter, I’ve found using music to convey what I want to say transcends the normal connections, making a deeper connection almost instantly.  I suppose that’s why I have spent a lot of time writing songs and performing them for people, because they map out my journey clearly.

Another beautiful part of music is that it connects straight to your soul but, depending on how you’re feeling, you get different things out of it.  For me, when I’m feeling particularly joyful, I tend to focus on the melody and tune of a song.  When I’m in my darker moments, I hear the lyrics.  It’s only when my heart begins to break that I focus on the lyrics more.  Is that the same for you?

Drop Me A Comment

Does music connect with you on a similar level?  Do you have a favourite song that you’d turn to during your darker moments?  Leave a comment with your favourite song so I can have a listen and find some encouragement from it.  Who knows, other people may like the same song or they might find a new favourite based on what you share!  To start us off, I love Before the Morning and Pushing Back the Dark by Josh Wilson.  How about you?

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Let’s Talk About It

I know, I know. It’s something of a cliché but, as editor, I must say this phrase to Alex at least once a week. An idea forms and he wants to run with it straight away. Sometimes my job as editor is to put on the brakes a little and get a discussion going first.  Let’s talk about it.

We’re only Human

Everyone has that moment where we say or do something out of emotion in the heat of the moment. Be it excitement or anger, our feelings can carry us away and we can end up making mistakes.

I’ve done it. We all have.

Our internal editor fails to kick in and we have to then watch the consequences unfold. Sometimes it’s something we say without thinking, a text sent from a place of anger, a Facebook post we haven’t thought through, or even shutting someone out…we all do it.

We then just have to deal with the aftermath.

How do we move on ?

Here’s the more simple thing. We talk about it.

Take a beat and just talk about it.

I’ll give you an example. A good friend of mine made a comment about how I handled a situation with one of my children. There was nothing wrong with what they said, it was perfectly correct. Due to my own stresses and issues in that moment though, I handled the criticism badly.

So what did I do? Did I talk to my friend about it ? No. I actually shut them out. I stopped talking to them, wouldn’t look at them for the best part of an hour. (Bear in mind this was while they were in my house!) And it hurt them.

My response was from a place of hurt and anger that was being driven because I was in a spiral.

And I hadn’t told them.

That’s the thing. If I’d said something sooner that I wasn’t doing well that day the situation would have been different.

Thankfully, we did talk about it, eventually.  The phone conversation was over an hour, but it made us both realise that if we’d each handled things a little differently it would have been a lot simpler. In short, we needed to be mindful of each other.

Alex’s post about Mindfulness from the Talking Things Through series went up this week.  It’s my recommendation for this week but I also want to add for everyone to take a minute and talk.  When a situation has gone bad, take a beat, be mindful and talk .

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Talking Things Through – Part 5 – Mindfulness

Last week I told you a bit about the importance of moderation in your conversations with people struggling with depression.  Not badgering them with your questions or trying to force them to answer and combining all that with the personal touch: getting to know them so that you can utilise that knowledge to help them.  Today we’re going to take that a little deeper and look at mindfulness.

Mindfulness Unpacked

When I say mindfulness, I’m sure those of you who have done some form of therapy will be thinking of some of the techniques they use.  Mindfulness in that sense means knowing what is going on both inside and outside ourselves moment by moment.  I’d like to put a different spin on it, if I may.

I’ve said it before that there is a time and a place for your conversations about depression and anxiety.  In part 3 we talked about the importance of sensitivity in those discussions and how the wrong time and wrong place can have a disastrous effect.  Being sensitive to their state can have a far better impact than going in fully loaded though.  But what about being mindful?  Is that not the same thing?  Not quite.  Not to me, at any rate.

Imagine a coin.  It has two sides, doesn’t it.  Well sensitivity is one side of that coin, mindfulness is the other.  With mindfulness, you’re partly looking at the time and the place for your discussions and where that person is in that discussion but there is a greater emphasis on some other aspects.  These are as follows:

  • Who or what is talking?
  • What words are being used?
  • Avoid triggers.

Let me break these down for you a little.

Who or what is talking?

This might sound strange, as though we’re straying into schizophrenia territory but bear with me on this.  Sometimes when I get particularly anxious or particularly low, it’s almost as though I have a fog enshrouding my brain.  I don’t react in the usual way or I may say things differently to normal.

An example of this would be back when I was still working. One of my friends used to come and take me for drives at lunchtime just to get me out of the office.  I remember one day I was on a particularly bad spiral and just wasn’t hungry at all so wasn’t eating.  My friend insisted that I needed to eat something.  Uncharacteristically, I turned round and snapped that if she told me that again, I’d get out the car and walk back to the office.

As I said: it was uncharacteristic.  My black cloud drove me to snap instead of being calm and kind about it.  Unfortunately it happens sometimes.  Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t an excuse as I should have known better but sometimes it does happen.  I’ve heard a number of people say similar things have happened to them: people react differently to normal.  It can happen, so please try and bear it in mind if a reaction is uncharacteristic.

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What words are being used?

As I’ve mentioned, last week we looked a little at persistence and how asking the same question numerous times can lead to someone feeling pressured or badgered.  Similarly, it is important to be mindful of your choice of words when talking to someone.  Some words are definitely best avoided.  Examples of these are:

  • Need/needn’t
  • Should/shouldn’t
  • Must/mustn’t

These all go hand in hand.  If you’re trying to encourage someone to do something, definitely do not use them.  They leave people feeling pressured and that can start them on a spiral of thinking they should be doing better than they are. Consider the possibility that they are moving as quickly as they can or doing the best that they can.  I dare say they already know what they need to do, they just need the encouragement to get them there.

Other words to avoid are ones that might make them feel worse about what they are or aren’t doing.  Expressing disappointment, disgust, extreme unhappiness and other such things will only serve to push them down further.  By all means tell them you’re sad that they feel the way they do but do not emphasise it.  I’ve had people express the above emotions towards me based on my self-harm and it’s served to push me back towards the blade as it mirrors some of the feelings I’ve already felt.  It might not be true for everyone but please do bear that in mind.

Avoid Triggers

Again, this one goes back to last week’s post where I mentioned the personal touch.  Many people going through depression and anxiety will be looking for triggers so that they can better cope with their conditions. These triggers manifest themselves in many different forms, which is why I say you need to get to know the person and learn what triggers them.

An example of this for me would be crowds.  I’m not great with crowds of people but I’m reminded of a place I was in where my family and I were coming to the end of a session at an event and we were going to leave early.  My depression immediately told me not to bother saying anything so, stupidly, I didn’t.  I allowed them to walk me out…in front of 3,500 people.  Unsurprisingly I got that feeling that everyone was watching and my anxiety exploded.  Needless to say, I don’t think we’ll be walking out early again any time soon.

As you get to know the person, you can begin to identify some of their triggers.  This will help you when trying to look out for them, as you will know when they will need support, but it also allows you to try and avoid certain words or situations when dealing with them.  After all, triggering an anxiety attack or a depressive episode won’t get anyone anywhere.

Next Week

In next week’s post I shall be looking at apologies, as that’s one thing I’ve noticed a lot of people with depression do. Between now and then, I would be interested in hearing from you and some of your stories.  Do you know anyone who apologises constantly for being the way they are?  Perhaps you’re that person.  Would you mind sharing with me some of the reasons behind those apologies?  (All anonymously, of course).  Feel free to message over Facebook or email and we can get back to you.  Thank you!

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Depression, Anxiety and Work

When Work Doesn’t Work

Trying to maintain a job while battling with your mental health isn’t easy.  With two demons living inside your brain, fighting for attention and dragging you down, you have little room for work.  They have no consideration for it.  You need a job?  You have work to do?  Tough, they don’t care.  They just want you to give them attention.

That’s when work doesn’t work anymore.  Before I tap into that, though, let me tell you about the perfect job.

Joblessness

When I left university back in 2013, I had a difficult time finding a job.  It’s one of those pitfalls that a lot of graduates tend to fall into where employers want experienced people, not those fresh out of the classroom.  As such, it makes it extremely challenging for those of us graduating to find employment.  We’re constantly competing against everyone else, trying to shine despite having little to no experience of the jobs we’re going for.

It’s draining.  It’s tough.  It feels impossible.

When I got my first job, I was ecstatic!  It was a chance for me to use my French and to learn a new skill.  Working for a company in Birmingham was convenient, as it was in the vicinity of where I lived and the commute wasn’t too bad.  The job itself seemed good but unfortunately it didn’t last, plunging me into another bout of unemployment.

Then came the cash and carry.  While only part-time, it was a decent stop-gap job for a base upon which to search for new jobs.  Aside from a number of the people there – some of whom I’m still in contact with to this day – it was an awful job but it paid some bills.  I couldn’t complain, really, after being unemployed for so long prior to this job.  Still, I was looking for other jobs.

Then came the job.  Not just any job but the job.

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The Job

For most people working stop-gap jobs, you find yourself waiting for your “big break”.  It’s something associated with actors and musicians but I find that it works for almost anyone in a temporary job.  We send out all our applications, our CVs, hoping that we will get a response to the job that we want.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?

You can imagine my joy at being told I had a new job, after going through the lengthy process of applications and interviews.  While it was not something that I had trained for, getting to work for a bank was of a dream come true!  It’s high profile, looks good on a CV and is certainly far better than stacking shelves in the local cash and carry, wouldn’t you say?

Rarely do these things turn out well, however.

So I started the job and quickly became proficient at it.  Telephony customer services, managing customer accounts and doing what they need doingwith their finances.  It was something I enjoyed, interacting with the customers and being able to help them with their queries or problems.  I particularly enjoyed being able to take a complaint and turn it round, resolving the customer’s problem for them and being able to go above and beyond their expectations.

Then my depression and anxiety hit.

Work and Mental Health

Trying to work with mental health issues is not easy.  When your desire to get out of bed completely evaporates, you find it a struggle to get into work.  More often than not, you make it to work and then sit there wondering what you struggled in for.

Every day became a battle against myself.  I fought to get to work, then fought not to try and go home early.  Panic attacks were a regular occurrence as I sat on the bus or waited for the next customer to call through.  Sometimes panic attacks would come in the middle of a call and I’d have to work harder to simply get through that call.

During this time, my depression and anxiety worked hand in hand, interchanging to keep me off balance.  When work was quiet, my thoughts would spiral down into black pits, dragging me further and further down.  When it was busy, my anxiety would peak, driven by my stress levels.  Soon, my manager started telling me to go home, to see the doctor and the other things that managers tell you.

In truth, the support wasn’t great.  Aside from expressing concern for me and sorting out time for me to go to the doctor, my manager did very little to help me.  Occupational health was unavailable, someone speaking on my behalf wasn’t an option and too much absence would not be tolerated.  I found myself being pushed into a deeper, darker place than ever before.  Looking back, it was potentially one of the things that triggered my self-harm as a way of coping.

Job Loss and Moving On

It comes as no surprise that I lost that job.  The surprise might come from being let go for my absence after being told to take the time off sick.  After everything I had done, everything I had put into the company, that hurt but it’s one of those things.  As I mentioned, though: there was not much support.

With those experiences behind me, I firmly believe we need to do more to raise awareness of mental health in the workplace and bring about a better understanding of what people are going through.  Through Pushing Back the Shadows, I aim to do that.  As a result, I have set up a page about doing public speaking, so I can visit companies and events and speak on the subject of mental health.

Do you have similar experiences of mental health in the workplace?  We’d love to hear your stories!  Drop us an email or a message telling us about it.

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Karina – The Interview

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What a Week!

Hi everyone, Cheryl here with this week’s pick from the blog!

A Busy Week

This week has been another busy one for us here at Pushing back the Shadows; Alex did his next interview with a health care professional to gain their insights (keep an eye on our announcements for when this goes live!), the brilliant guest post from Ara went up, the first podcast was launched, we had another productive editorial meeting and the first Facebook live session went fantastically, just to mention a few things!  (You can check out the video on our Facebook page!)

Phew!

It’s been incredible to see the comments on Facebook, the interactions on Twitter, all showing what an amazing community is coming together around the site. So thank you to all of you. It’s great to see all our hard work paying off.

And it’s having an impact on us too!

The Unexpected Benefit

Someone at my day job commented to me that there was a glow about me. I’ve talked before in A little Inspiration about how working with Alex on this site is giving me a purpose, but it’s apparently becoming a change people can see.

I also see (and sometimes hear via a very excited phone call) the positive effect this is having on Alex. Even though he’s still struggling through the change over of medication, the work and interactions we are getting is having the most wonderful effect on him.

He positively glows.

That’s not to say he isn’t still having bad days, like all of us working our way along our journey it can be a bumpy ride. But looking back over the months since his first diagnosis, from a point of feeling broken to now being in a place where his enthusiasm shines like a beacon, it’s an amazing thing to see and be part of. It’s why my pick for this week is Glowsticks – A Light in the Dark.

For all of us, it’s worth remembering no matter how broken you may feel, it might be you’ve broken so you can start to glow.

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Talking Things Through – Part 4 – Moderation

Welcome to part 4 of our Talking Things Through series!  Last week we look at the importance of being sensitive to someone’s situation and how there’s a time and a place for your interactions, whether talking to them or simply listening.  Today we’ll tap into when to take a step back.  Let’s take a look!

“I’m Fine”"I'm fine - I'm just tired"

How many of us give this response when asked how we are?  It’s the normal human automatic response, isn’t it.  Simple, to the point but a closed response that people can’t dig into without putting some effort into it.  For many, it’s a simple way of staving off other peoples’ attempts at delving deeper into their private life.  Everyone does it, not just people with depression, but let me tell you about why I do it.

For me, “I’m fine” is a threefold answer.  On one hand, I’m reserving the innermost thoughts and feelings for people I know will listen without being worried about it.  If I know someone won’t worry, it’s easier for me to feel like I’m not burdening them with my problems.  On the other hand, I feel like my problems aren’t that important in the grand scheme of things, so keeping them in appears to be the better option.  Lastly, though, it’s a coping mechanism, but I shall explain that in a moment.

What does it mean?

Pure and simple, this is a tricky one.  It’s something my mum and I talk about fairly frequently, as it’s a difficult one to work out.  The trouble with saying “I’m fine” is that people perceive it as the standard response and don’t always believe it.  That can lead to them feeling as though they’ve been shut out, pushed away or rejected in some way.  Have you ever felt that way when trying to help someone?  It’s hard, isn’t it.

At this point I’d like to point out that it’s nothing that you’ve done.  Please don’t feel like it’s personal because, believe me, it’s not.  For someone struggling with depression, there are a lot of reasons why they might not open up and explain how they’re really feeling.  Perhaps they don’t want to worry you or perhaps they might not feel important enough, as I mentioned before.  For those of you who have depression, perhaps there are other reasons you have for saying “I’m fine” when you’re not?  Please feel free to comment some below so that we might get an idea of why.

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What to do?

So this part is really in two segments, as it’s where it all gets turned on its head.  On one hand you should persist and make sure they know that you’re there if ever they want to talk…on the other hand you shouldn’t push too much.

Tricky, right?

That’s where moderation comes in and this is where it gets turned upside down in some crazy mishmash.

From my own personal experience, I’d use the Rule of Two.  No, that’s not a reference to the philosophy of the Sith in Star Wars.  Think of it more along the lines of “two is company, three’s a crowd”.  If you ask someone the question and they say “I’m fine” then pause, give it a moment, then ask again.  If you get the same “I’m fine” answer, ease off and leave it.  Here’s why:

  1. Badgered: asking someone the same question more than twice can lead to them feeling badgered.  I’ve felt it many times before.  It closes me off further as I withdraw deeper into my shell to avoid being asked again.
  2. Lying: if I give that response of “I’m fine” because I want to give the impression of being fine, being asked more than twice can lead my mind to highlight the fact that I’m lying about how I’m feeling.  That, in turn, makes me feel worse.
  3. Aggravation: in some cases, constantly being asked if you’re fine can exasperate whatever problem you’re currently wrestling with.  When I’m having a depressive spiral or a panic attack, someone asking me repeatedly if I’m fine only serves to accentuate the feeling that I’m not.  On the odd occasion it’s even been known to make it worse.

Those are just three reasons why sticking to the rule of two is probably best.  If they want to tell you, they will tell you.  If not, they won’t. Opening the invitation for them to talk is great and a very important step.  Maintaining that respectful distance if they say no, however, is equally important.

The Personal Touch

Really, it all boils down to your relationship with the person.  People who know each other better are more likely to get it right than those who don’t.  As your friendship develops, you’ll know how the person will react to being asked questions or offers of support.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s very much a process of trial and error.  Take this example:

Cheryl and I have known each other for a little while now.  We met through work and have become close friends since.  She knows more about my struggle than anyone else I can think of but even she gets it wrong.  A few times in the past, I’ve snapped or become irritated over being asked if I’m OK and I’m sure she’ll back me up if I say we’ve had our fair share of discussions over what to do and what not to do, what to ask and what not to ask.  That’s spending a lot of time together, knowing each other really well and knowing the majority of the details of my struggle.

It really does take a personal touch to get it right.  You’ll make mistakes, you’ll get it wrong but persist because they’re certainly worth it.  They might not see it that way but I’m sure you’d agree.

Next Week

Next week we’re going to look at the importance of mindfulness.  Not the kind of mindfulness that the psychiatrists and psychotherapists talk about in the CBT therapies but my own special mix.  Think more along the lines of being aware of others’ situations, being mindful of what they might be going through.  Another important step to helping someone.  Come back next week to find out more!

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Safety Zone

Discovering one of your closest friends has a mental illness is no easy piece of news. I was horrified. So much had changed.

I have always felt a responsibility to my friends. This was by choice, although I doubt I could sleep if I didn’t; it was my duty as his close friend to help him through it and I felt guilty for not noticing his illness. I came to understand that he hid it as best he could but it didn’t stop all the guilt of somehow missing the horror one of your closest friends was going through.

Worried sick was an understatement. I suddenly realised that the chirpy, fun-loving “adopted brother” I could joke with was battling his mind for happiness and primary functions and felt like he was failing. I knew about people with depression, and had somebody else very close to me years back who suffered (let’s call him Jo), but I knew early on Jo suffered with depression and took on this close friendship already planning to help him. I was not prepared for Alex’s revelation and I felt lost with how to help him. Just letting him get on with it and coming to me when he needed was not something I was willing to do – I wanted to actively help, I just didn’t know how. Telling someone with a mental illness, “It’ll be okay! I genuinely believe you’ll get better!” doesn’t always cut it as they may be incapable of trusting you. It’s not something that comes down to a bond of friendship. They’re trapped in a mind that won’t let them believe they’ll get through it. Try convincing someone they can walk through a brick wall. I needed to find some other way of supporting him. So, what did I do?

People going through depression often feel worthless and like they’re a burden on their friends. They won’t see what you see in them and will believe they’re wasting your time. They don’t feel safe.

My initial advice was to seek help from his GP. This was no state of living and I admitted that I thought it was bad enough that he may well need medication. If functioning properly was proving impossible or too hard, medicine may regulate his life for him.

I found that reminding him periodically that I loved him and would always stand by him gave him some relief. Talking to him every day if I could let him know that he wasn’t alone, even if he felt alone. When something reminded me of him, I’d message him so he knew he was in my thoughts. That helped him. He had a safe friendship. Knowing he was in someone’s thoughts without having to message them to assert his presence was good for him. I would suggest meeting up in town or coming over to my flat for gaming or a movie. All these things just sounded like a regular thing that you would do with your friends, but here’s the difference: someone who doesn’t suffer from this mental illness is fine not talking for a week, a month, or longer, but someone with depression won’t feel that safety net – to them, they’re of no significance, so why would they expect a message or to reach out to you? Sometimes they will, don’t get me wrong, but if you want to support that person you need to make the effort because you know they are worth it. Go and remind them. Don’t give them more chance to question it. They may not be in the right state of mind to go out, or cancel last minute because they can’t bring themselves to move or just want to hide. Tell them no it’s okay! They can’t bring themselves to go with your plan, so they probably feel even worse for letting you down. Tell them it’s okay. It’s about them and you can see them another time. Reassuring them it’s okay to hide away is just as important as making the effort to talk and meet up. Give them that safety net.

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Blades. Cutting can be a key coping mechanism for someone with a mental health illness. Some have done it for attention but sometimes it’s their only outlet. One of the most important things I ever did, and I can’t stress this enough, was reassure him that I was never disappointed or annoyed with him for self-harming. I understood that he had needed to do it, even if he was disappointed in himself, and I was there to help him prevent it or to talk to if he had already done it. It can be incredibly hard not to tell someone off for it when you care about them so much, but that can install an aversion in them to telling you rather than seeking your comfort or company. I trusted him that if he did it, he was left with no other choice in his mind and I wanted him to feel safe when talking to me.

You may not know how to help your friend or loved one with depression, but my advice is just ask them. One of the best things can be to ask them how you can help them. I had Alex telling me how a couple of people tried to help and they had it all wrong. I could see why they did what they did, but he told me why it was no use so he didn’t bother going back to them. You may feel nervous about asking them what they need but they probably feel even more nervous turning to you because they don’t think they’re worth the hassle.

A few questions such as, “What do you feel?” and “How can I help you?” could go a long way to someone getting the support they need.

It’s all about their safety zone. Make sure you’re doing right by them and take your time to talk to them.

If you are interested in reading more of Ara’s work, check out her blog at http://nest-of-the-robin.blogspot.co.uk/ or get in touch with her on her Facebook page.

Why not subscribe?

Subscribe today to receive a free chapter from my eBook “Pills and Blades”, a subscriber-exclusive podcast episode and more!

Become a PatronDisclaimer: I am not an expert, nor am I medically qualified.  This blog is based on my personal experiences only.  Always seek medical advice in the first instance.