I have realised that there seem to be countless websites and blogs full of well-meaning people writing about what doesn’t help. I’ve read dozens of articles titled ‘what not to say’ or ‘unhelpful things to do’. Rarely have I stumbled across people talking about what advice really helped them. Perhaps I’m looking in the wrong places and if these articles do exist then count this one of many.
So my list, in no particular order:
I wonder how much of my burden is not mine to carry. I’ve mentioned this before and I’ll mention it again because it’s so important. The minute someone told me this I’ve been unable to forget it. More and more I find myself questioning why I am worrying about something that has nothing to do with me. Why am I stressing out and carrying the emotions of others. I have enough of my own without the add weight of others. Now, I don’t mean to imply that we shouldn’t care for our friends, family etc. There never is and never will be anything wrong with lending a helping hand or shoulder to cry on. But here’s the difference. I need to be able to let go once I’ve helped. I need to distance myself so I don’t absorb their pain. My skin seems to be highly permeable when it comes to emotion. If you’re hurting, I’m right there with you. But I shouldn’t be; or at least not permanently.
Don’t undermine their pain by making it about you. It can be very hard being a person. We all carry a lot with us on a daily basis. Potentially (but not always!) if you have a mental health problem; it can be hard to put aside our own crap and be in the moment enough to be a good friend. Most will never do it deliberately, we’d hate to think we’re stealing the attention but we might unintentionally. When you’ve experienced emotional pain it may feel that by sharing it we’re helping. Perhaps this is true on a blog (ahem!) or some other social media platform where people are seeking us out. Less so when we’re supporting a friend. There’s a fine line between sharing to help and undermining someone’s experience by talking about our own.
A successful woman is one who can build a firm foundation with the bricks others have thrown at her. This is a quote by JK Rowling and it’s partly because she said it that I holds importance for me. Most of us will know that JK has her own experience of depression and it was in the grips of a depressive episode that she began Harry Potter. Since then she has inspired generations with her writing and set society’s imagination alight with her tales of wizardry. For many she provided a much sought out refuge from life’s journey. Above and beyond this JK is a tower of strength. A true phoenix from the ashes she has built on her success. Not only this but she continues to support those who struggle with their mental illness by responding on social media when people reach out to her. I truly believe she is a great role model and her determination and continued kindness remind me that in my darkest times I can continue. I can re-build a foundation with the bricks life has thrown at me.
This too shall pass. Whether you attribute this to King Solomon or the Persian Sufi poets, I have clung to these four words in some of my darkest times. Whether plagued by physical or emotion pain I have held these words in my consciousness. They remind me of the transience of pain and that time is fleeting. For however long I must endure the pain, it has to end. It may seem like hours and only be minutes. It may be hours in reality. But there is an end to it, I just have to make it there. For some the knowledge that it must end may not be much of a comfort. It does not alleviate the pain but when I find myself starting to struggle this gives me something to hold on to.
Say no! This is my final piece of advice and one of the ones which is hardest to follow. As a society we tend towards being a group of yes men. We’ll bend over backwards to help others, we’ll agree to do something even when our to-do list is spiralling out of control. We’re great friends and family but we’re not great owners of our own body and wellbeing. We’ve silenced the voice inside ourselves that asks for a break. We don’t know how to take a timeout anymore. There’s an over-whelming pressure to say yes to taking on more work, socialising, going to the gym, cooking the picture perfect meal – the list goes on. Whether it’s a fear of letting ourselves or others down, we need to break free of what is holding us back. Saying no can give us that extra bit of space, little increment of time to look after ourselves. It’s can also be liberating saying no; breaking a habit we’ve reinforced over the years. It begins to feel a bit like a guilty pleasure – the more I do it the easier it get’s – although I’d hesitate to say it will ever be easy.