Rather than talk just about my own mental illness, I’m going to focus this blog more on my friend Cat. We met and became friends at uni (she’s a finalist, I graduated in July) and we both moved into a shared house with two good friends just over a year ago.
When I first considered moving into this house, I was aware of Cat’s mental health issues or ‘quirks’, as I thought of them, and while we were really good friends I wasn’t sure what it would be like to live with her. Since our friendship was strong, I thought that we could manage living together and deal with any issues as they came up – and I like to think that I was right!
Cat’s very open about her mental health
Cat’s very open about her mental health issues, which has encouraged me to be more aware of and talk about my own. We support each other during our difficult days, whether this involves talking about how we’re doing or respecting each other’s need for space or just making cups of tea. Most of the time our friendship is like any other, we banter and watch Youtube videos with our other two housemates.
One great thing about being so open with Cat is that I can talk not just about my feelings but also about what I can do to help and what I can avoid doing that can make her feel worse. For example, when I get stressed I feel comforted when someone hugs me, Cat says that she prefers to not be touched when she feels unwell.
Living with Cat has taught me a lot
Living with Cat has taught me a lot about not making assumptions that I am helping and now I ask her if what I do when she’s unwell is okay or if I should do something different. It felt odd at first to ask such direct questions but now it doesn’t feel awkward at all on my part. I really appreciate being told bluntly if what I’m doing is helpful or not so that I can get a better idea of what I can do next time and Cat says that she appreciates it that I ask.
It can sometimes be difficult when Cat’s unwell and at times I worry about her. When she has an episode and I don’t know what’s going on or what to do it can be stressful. Later when she’s calmer, we talk about what happened and how we were both feeling: having a debrief afterwards helps a lot.
Talking helps us both
As well as talking over my feelings with Cat, I sometimes talk my worry through with other university friends without going into details about what happened. Sometimes I phone my family or the Samaritans, talking helps me to get my thoughts and feelings in a bit more order and feel supported.
The main thing that I’ve learned is not so much what I can do to help but accepting that sometimes there isn’t much that I can do. It’s hard seeing my friend feeling ill and when Cat has difficulties I feel that I want to protect her from potentially stressful situations and do things for her. But I’ve come to realise that that’s not what I’m here for. While I tell her when I see her getting unwell and can suggest things that might help, I can’t dictate what she should do to try and make herself better or stop her getting worse.
Smothering her by doing things for her and trying to protect her wouldn’t give her space to recover. What I can do is to be there with her when she gets unwell and when she resurfaces. I can offer support even if that involves taking a step back. It can be difficult to accept though, when I naturally want my friend to be well.
Is it difficult living with a friend who has mental health problems?
So, do I find it difficult living with a friend who has mental health problems? At times yes, but when I do find things hard I have a strong support network in Cat and in my family and other friends.
On the whole, having Cat as a housemate is awesome. Being open about our mental health helps me to understand what I can do to help her, and what I shouldn’t do in order to avoid being overbearing. It also makes me feel better about accepting support from her when I feel stressed and unwell, which has helped me a lot with my own recovery. And of course it’s awesome to come back from uni and laugh with a good friend over a cup of tea.
What do you think about the issues raised in this blog?
Would you and a friend like to blog about your relationship? Could you both write a short piece about a particular time when one of you supported your friend when they were struggling with a mental health problem? Find out how to blog for Time to Change.