May 15, 2013

DarrenWhen you decide to tell people that you have a mental illness you hope that those closest to you will stick with you.

It doesn't always happen. It can be the people closest to you that find it hardest to understand. In the last eighteen months I have 'lost' several people that I cared the most about. They either didn't try and understand or lost patience.

I can't imagine it is much fun to be friends with someone who repeatedly tries to kill themselves, who hardly ever socialises face to face or who thinks he is the heir apparent to Ernest Hemingway's literary mantel during a manic period - including the boorish behaviour.

I find my friends have formed three groups to varying degrees since I announced my illness in several very public episodes.

Some people will see mental illness as a threat

Some people will see mental illness as a threat. They won't understand why you are crying down the phone at 3am or think you have been to hospital when you haven't. They will see the lurid headlines and dramatic TV images of the mentally ill.

They will no longer see the you that is currently hidden by illness. It really, really hurts when you are abandoned by these people. They might be the person you love most in the world and there is no mythical magic wand to stop it hurting; it stings like hell.

Some people will lose patience with you

Some people will lose patience with you. The sitting around the house, the crying, the anxiety attacks that mean you haven't been to town in months. They might care about you but they can't take it any longer. I don't resent these friends for leaving and you shouldn't either.

Mental illness is a shape shifting mythical beast to those with no direct experience. The dark fog that descends over our heads or the confusing mists of mania are as alien to the mentally healthy as trying to understand Quantum Mechanics would be for, well, most of us. We all have our limits. I have been way, way past mine several times so I try to keep in mind; some people just won't be able to stay with us on the whole journey. It upsets me but the door will always be open for them.

Some people show unbelievable strength

And finally there are the people of unbelievable strength. People you never dreamed would become rods of iron for however long it takes you to get better. People who share our burden, your best friends and some who surprise you in ways you could never have imagined.

My point is, in my experience, we all have our limits. I speak out about my illness as often as possible. You can't end the stigma overnight; there will always be people who just don't want to know but there are many who will listen and try to help as much as they can. There are people that will support you and your return to health. They will be the most important people in your recovery.

Talking can open up new friendships and strengthen existing bonds

I wouldn't be here to write any of this without friends and family who have supported me down this road: some periodically, some every step of the way. Only talking can open up new friendships and strengthen those bonds that are the foundations to making it feel perfectly normal to answer truthfully when someone asks "How are you?"

How am I today? Well I've been better - but thankfully I have found people I can say that to now.

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