I worried about talking to my friends about my mental health
I have the most wonderful friends. They accept me for who I am, don’t judge me and are always there when I need them: I am blessed in that department.
I did worry about talking about my mental health issues amongst friends. What if they didn’t understand? What if they were scared? What if they didn’t want to be my friend anymore? You see, I was brought up to not talk about feelings and emotions, not to let others see how I feel or know what I think. To keep myself completely private. An isolated island repelling hostile tides.
I decided I shouldn’t keep that part of me disguised anymore
I personally find it therapeutic to talk about problems or issues though. Trying to keep everything bottled up tends to make my brain go into pressure cooker mode and the anxiety of waiting for it all to splatter out in a messy explosion is not good. So, thinking I couldn’t talk to anyone about mental health, I just used to write my thoughts and feelings down. A shrouded secret. Me against the world. Me against myself. This helped me but I still felt I was the only ‘different’ person treading water while a sea of sane people ebbed obliviously passed me. I decided I shouldn’t keep that part of me disguised anymore. I pride myself on my honesty but how honest was I being if I didn’t mention or talk about my depression to my friends? How did I tell them? A big announcement? An ad in the paper? Nothing so dramatic. Chatting with a close friend I dropped into our conversation that I was being referred to a counsellor by my GP. I explained I had depression and was finding life a bit overwhelming and difficult for me to cope with at times. My anxiety kicked in straight away: had I just made a fool of myself? Was she going to look at me differently from now on?
Of course she didn't judge me, she’s my friend. A rational brain would have told me that but I don’t have one of those. She was surprised (even though I have depression and anxiety I’m a jolly person outwardly) but totally supportive. I felt relieved. I’d stopped treading water and was gently bobbing with a life-jacket on instead.
I wrote a blog about my brain and how ‘wonky’ it is
This gave me the confidence to be open about my mental health. I wrote a blog about my brain and how ‘wonky’ it is and I published it on the Time to Change website and Facebook for my other friends to read. Again I was apprehensive when hitting the ‘post’ button. Would I haemorrhage friends in mass ‘unfriending’ activity? Of course I didn't: I have lovely friends. My brain was being irrational again. It does that often, it’s the default setting.
I had lots of supportive comments on my ‘wonky brain’ post, and a few friends ‘came out’ to me as having mental health issues themselves. Reading and hearing other friends’ stories and experiences was like being wrapped in a warm fluffy blanket. While cuddling a kitten. I wasn't alone. People understood. And still wanted to be my friend. And why wouldn't they? I don’t mean that in an arrogant way –I mean why would they stop wanting to be my friend? I hadn't changed or morphed into someone else: I was still the same person they knew before I revealed I had a ‘wonky brain’.
Communication is key - it really is good to talk
I feel more relaxed with my friends knowing. I don’t have to worry about making up excuses if I can’t do something or go somewhere if my brain is playing up. I can just say ‘I’m having a wonky brain day’ and they are cool with that. If I’m feeling really low and need to talk to someone I have friends I can ask to come around or friends online I can chat to. Sometimes I just need some alone time to reboot and knowing I have great friends I feel confident to say I don’t want to see someone without feeling guilty or negative towards myself.
Communication is key. Other people can’t read my mind – thank goodness – so it’s important that I can ask for my friends help when I need it. I’m so glad I found the courage to talk about my mental health. My friends have helped me so much. Sometimes they don’t even realise how much they have helped me: covert support scattering my negative ninjas.
I recommend talking to someone whether it’s a family member, a friend, lots of friends or someone online from a forum or help group. It might seem scary but if you unlock the door of doubt you too can bob blissfully in a life-jacket instead of just treading water. It really is good to talk. And use lots of metaphors.