April 10, 2017

Sometimes the thought of being there for someone can be pretty daunting. We question whether we’ll have the time, whether we can say the right thing, and perhaps if we’re having a hard time too, whether we can truly give another person the support they might need. In my experience however, being there for someone can range from offering up my spare time or gifts, to simply sending a text and letting someone know you’re thinking about them. As we get older, it can feel harder to be there for the people we care about when there are so many things happening in our lives, but it doesn’t need to be, or feel like, a full time job.

We never know what acts of kindness and support can make the most difference to a person as we’re all different, and this is definitely true for mental health. A few years ago I was incredibly ill with anxiety and it affected my life in every way possible. The support I needed from those around me ranged from letting me stay over at their houses when being at home made me feel too anxious, to leaving their phone on loud so if I needed to contact them, I knew they could hear it. Although it was nearly five years ago since it was at its worse, some of the acts of kindness I remember now might have seemed like some of the smallest back then.

That’s why when a few months ago, I found out a close friend was struggling with their mental health, I knew that despite my worries about whether I’d be able to step up – there would be plenty of ways I could be there for them. One of the main things I wanted to make sure was that I gave them choices about the kind of support they needed – but that I didn’t offer anything I wasn’t comfortable with. Having a history of mental health problems myself made it much easier for me to know what might be helpful for them, but to understand that there would be times when I needed to come first.

Having the initial conversation was of course hard, but understanding my own experiences meant I could ask things and suggest things their other friends and family hadn’t been able to. We could discuss whether certain things made their anxiety worse or not, knowing that it would help us both. For example, when I went away for a few weeks, I asked whether they would prefer to speak to me every day over the phone (if possible) in case their anxiety increased while I was away, something which although small – I wouldn’t have known to ask if I hasn’t been for my own experience.

The most important thing I’ve realised though is that being there for someone doesn’t always mean asking them about how they’re feeling every minute you’re together and re-arranging your life around them. It means accepting that your relationship might change and allowing space for those moments, but continuing to do the things you love together, to be the people you want to be around each other, and knowing that the bond you share is much stronger than anything else you might be going through.

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