Sometimes, a little push is needed to get the ball rolling.
Despite the fear of being perceived as nosy or intrusive it’s important to remember that when it comes to mental health, checking in with someone reminds them they aren’t alone when they’ve gone quiet.
In the summer of 2018 I found myself struggling with depression more than ever before. Work became increasingly difficult to show up to, I feared confiding in anyone about my mental health because I saw myself as a burden.
I felt like I’d be draining to listen to, not worthy of being cared about. With my self-esteem at rock bottom, I couldn’t even begin to appreciate the empathy of others.
Depression had completely changed my life.
All my friends were enjoying the long bright days, maximising the warm weekends, going on adventures, getting engaged, and house hunting whilst I became increasingly isolated, on the outside looking in.
Days passed wishing someone could see me and my pain.
I wanted to talk about how much I was struggling but didn’t know how.
I feared scaring others, it became excruciatingly routine to just ignore the phone.
Depression became my world, I couldn’t imagine anyone else wanting to see inside so I pushed everyone away. I didn’t want to drag them into my own turmoil.
I’d experienced periods of low mood but depression in its entirety overwhelmed me, I felt trapped in my loneliness, convinced that no one wanted to hear the truth about how I was really feeling when they asked.
It was easier to shut people out in and outside of the home with the classic “I’m fine” when in truth I was falling apart, bereft with the fatigue of life becoming progressively joyless.
Inside I knew that if a friend was having a tough time, I’d want to know how they were really doing just so they knew they had a friend on the other side of the walls around them. I’d never been in the habit of giving up on people but struggled not to give up on myself.
I’d spent my life giving my time, energy, love, and patience to others yet couldn’t imagine getting back in return.
I didn’t know how to accept help because I couldn’t believe I was worthy of it.
Weeks of avoiding social contact had passed, and a colleague turned close friend reached out again. She wanted to see me, catch up and see how I was, we’d formed a really close bond at work, and though my walls were still up I let her in.
She thankfully wasn’t buying it when I said I was “fine”.
The fact that she was persistent with communication despite me being consistently unresponsive pushed me to realise hearing from her really added to my willingness to at least try and open up.
It reminded me that I had a real friend out there, that I was cared about.
Despite the walls depression encouraged me to put up, I’d learned it’s okay to take a few bricks down and talk to the person on the other side.
We’d been sat over dinner talking about work, summer plans, and books we’d shared an interest in. I mentioned not having read much recently because I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Then came the dreaded question.
“So, how are you?”
I sat there speechless, eventually telling her I couldn’t answer that.
It felt like a loaded question.
As a society we’ve become accustomed to seeing conversations about negative thoughts and feelings as something to be ashamed of yet talking about having the flu is seen as normal.
“Seriously, just say whatever comes to mind. I want to know how you’re feeling.”
That push right there, her asking me for a second time led to me opening up about feeling low, desperately unhappy, and not enjoying life.
It steered to me explain why I struggled to keep up with reading, about leaving my job I’d been away from on sick leave for a while, and what I’d like to move on to. I didn’t feel like I had to filter what I was saying so it all just came out; the dam of pent up emotion had burst its banks.
She never judged me, only listened.
We didn’t spend the whole evening talking about my mental health, we just talked.
The #AskTwice campaign is the push I wish I’d had years ago when I started to struggle with my mental health. It opened my eyes to really think about all the times I’ve said I was fine when I wasn’t, and when others around me have done the same.
There are misconceptions about how to talk to someone with a mental health problem, but the truth is you don’t need to be a mental health expert, or try to “fix” someone, the only thing needed is your willingness to listen, empathy, and an open mind.
A friend with a mental health problem is still a friend, a life with mental health problems is still a life. #AskTwice to remind someone that they aren’t invisible, and that they will be heard.