February 21, 2013

Martha blogs about mental health and friendshipFriendship isn't always easy. I first learned this as a three-year-old, stepping into a prized Wendy house at nursery school, only to be told (by a slightly bigger tot), 'You can't go in there!' My first memorable friendship snub - ouch!

In the years since then, I've thankfully learned to take the knocks. I've also concluded that whilst life is about finding kindred spirits with whom to share positive and hopefully meaningful times, it's also about navigating your way through tricky scenarios - the assorted land mines laid down by life. The Wendy house-type confrontations and, of course, much, much bigger stuff. These situations, the challenges, I think most would agree, are the true test of friendship.

For people like me who've battled with mental health issues (in my case, severe depression and mixed affective state, a type of bipolar), it feels like these tests have come thick and fast. After all, there is arguably no greater test of friendship than the randomness that can accompany mental ill-health. And that randomness - certainly before diagnosis - tends to prevail.

I've lost friends as a result of being unwell

Over the years, I've definitely lost friends and marred relationships as a result of being unwell. I count myself among the three-quarters of people who've experienced a mental health problem who have lost friendships as a result of their illness (a statistic revealed by the recent Time to Change survey).

To be fair, in my case, these relationships existed in something of a pre-diagnostic fog - these friends probably didn't realise I was sick, and for many years I didn't realise how seriously under par I was either. We were all fumbling around.

Even if they had known I was unwell, I'm sure some of these friends would still have found it hard to cope. Some people can and some people can't. Not everyone has the inclination nor the ability to stick around for someone who, it transpires, is fighting large-looming mental demons. I say this with no value judgement. There are lots of things I'm not too good at either.

It can be easy for mental illness to masquerade as rudeness

Not just that but I think it's easy for mental illness to masquerade as rudeness, self-indulgence and an inability to keep your 'chin up' when other (healthy) people appear to navigate life so effortlessly. I can see that friends who are well may find it easier to draw a line under your friendship and take it elsewhere when it all looks so self-absorbed.

To the outside world the solution may seems obvious - over the years I've been told to 'do something nice for someone else' during my darker times and to 'have a manicure' or 'have a haircut' to make myself feel better.

I appreciate these were suggestions that may well have worked for a well person who was simply having a 'bad day'. Now I'm so much better, they'd probably work for me, too - not so when I was seriously depressed. Actually, the realisation that these suggestions weren't going to work for me made me feel a whole lot worse - I was a bigger failure and more beyond help than I already thought.

I also gained some incredible friends

And so, over the years, some of my friendships fell away. Some may have naturally done so anyway as life experiences took us in different directions. But in other cases, friends probably felt they'd done with trying, that the friendship was barely reciprocated and that they were drained and bleached by the continual process of being there. It would seem it was all too much. I can really understand that.

The other surprise, though, is that I've got this far, to the age of 43, with plenty of quality friendships to my name. Luckily, during those desperately ill moments, although I may have lost some friends I also gained some incredible ones at unexpected times and from unexpected places.

Amongst them there's the wonderful work friend who was at the end of the phone at all hours, telling me to 'keep it in the day' when I spooked myself by envisaging blackness forever.

My neighbour invited me round tirelessly

There's the neighbour who would allow me to sit in his house and just 'be' when I felt like I could tear my own skin away for sadness, not to mention the friend who would tirelessly invite me for Sunday roasts when I felt like all my favours were used up but I couldn't help myself.

Then there was the playgroup friend who offered to come to the psychiatrist with me when I first got my bipolar diagnosis - a courageous and most welcome act from someone who had known me for so little time. She sat with me afterwards in a London cafe as we gripped each other's hands and toasted, through tears of relief, 'new beginnings'.

These brave acts of frienship are things I will never forget

All of these brave acts of friendship are things I will never forget, words and deeds I think I'll always feel indebted for.

Like all of us, I'm still learning about the highs and lows of friendship. But now I'm feeling so much better, I'm hoping I can increasingly become that 'available' friend of the kind who stuck around to help me. I'm humbled by the generosity and resilience of these unexpected pals. If I can be half the friend they have all been, I'll be on my way to doing OK.

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Random acts of friendship

Was great to read this Martha, thank you. I struggled with my friends struggling with my illness - and like you, have lost a few that couldn't cope with my constant cancelling or disappearance into myself all the time. I also believe I've marred friendships and relationships in my past due to my unawareness of my illness. One of my most random acts of friendship I received was from a friend I'd known for a while but wasn't particularly close friends with so to speak. She called one day for another reason and I had a mini telephone breakdown (as you do) stating there was no point going on, I had no reason to get up and to live. The next day there was a knock at the door and a lady standing there with a small fish tank and a goldfish - with a little sign saying "My name's Wagner, I'm your new responsibility". Suddenly I got up every day panicking that Wagner hadn't made it through the night and making sure I looked after him. I had a reason to get up. In the shape of a little orange fish. It was such a kind thing for someone to do - with such meaning in a simple gift. I'm writing this looking at my much bigger fish tank, with Wagner and his three other goldfish friends. And I will never forget how someone cared enough to give me a reason to live at a time when I felt I had nothing much to hold on to. xx


How lovely, Sarah. What a beautiful act, and one you'll never forget. These things are so helpful, and totally priceless xx

Friendship & support

These blog posts are so refreshing to read and I hope that they help people to understand the illness a bit more. I've been supporting a friend through major depression for the last year and it's been the hardest thing I've ever done. I myself suffer from mild depression, so I totally understand how it feels and can relate to the things that people are talking about through their blogs. Even understanding how it feels - at times I felt like nothing I did was helping my friend. I felt helpless. But the one thing I never did was to give up hope or give up on my friend. No matter how hard it was I was always there for her. I know how much my support helped, even though it didn't feel like it at times. 12 months later she's so much better, but still struggles from time to time. We're their for each other and we help each other through the bad times. We also have a great time during the good times! There is a light at the end of the tunnel, it just takes some time, some good friends and some perseverance.

Acts of friendship

I loved reading this. Brought a tear to my eye. As I read it, memories were flashing through my mind. Good and Bad. You do find out who your friends are, and you do find that the most unexpected people step compassionately up to the plate. I've always likened that to this scenario: You are drowning in a lake when someone walking along the bank sees you, they glance around and see a branch long enough to reach you. They pick it up, hold it out and pull you to the side. For them it was a simple act. You were there, they were there, the branch was there. It took little effort on their part. So while they can just shrug off the help they gave as "It was nothing", you will always remember them as someone who saved your life. For them it was nothing, to you it was everything.

Better late than never!

I talk openly about my life situations online as nobody ever listened to me, being the youngest. With a father that would race like a madman when he was angry and tell me that my mother trapped him. 1970's parenting great! A mother on all the latest pills for her depression. I couldn't watch the news as a little girl, it was like my heart broke every time there was a murder! On becoming a mother I was to discover my son would start taking drugs, after his dad died when he was 13. Self harm and attempting to hang himself following for years. 2 foster carers were providing him with cannabis. He's currently in prison and has terrible mental health problems. I've been in bed for 3 years for most days, but still find my children are my rock and we have the most fantastic bond. I now have an appreciation for my experiences, i can be the best mother to the others. Please don't be scared when talking to someone with mental health problems. A little warmth and empathy can make their day xxx. Speaking is my release xxx

It's those who stick around who are important

The moment someone throws your mental state I your face its time to walk away however, that is also the time when you are at your lowest and unable to deal with such hurt. It's those people who stick with you that are important. Your friends and family who,accept you for Jo,you have become, But there are another group who are vital to recovery or just simply living. They are the people who you meet after you have been diagnosed who like you when you are at your lowest and have never known you any other way and would not change you for the world. My husband would like me to be fitter and a little slimmer for health reasons but he accepts my strange moods, my need to own my own sometimes and the occasional uncontrollable crying. Why? Because they are the things that make me the person he fell in love with.

Alright for some.. have

Alright for some.. have severe depression and anxiety and have practically noone.. close to suicide almost everyday.:(

Hello, the Samaritans are

<p>Hello, the Samaritans are always available if you need someone to talk to. You can call them on&nbsp;08457 90 90 90 or email jo@samaritans.org or visit your local branch if you'd prefer to talk to somebody face to face: http://www.samaritans.org/branches&nbsp;</p>

Alright for some

You have admitted to yourself that you have severe anxiety & depression. Just say those words to your doctor or the samaritans. write them down if you cant say them.They will help.There is someone to talk to.

having a 'woe is me'

having a 'woe is me' attitude, will just make depression worse

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