Two-way street

Mental illness

Earlier this week, millions of people around the globe recognised World Mental Health Day 2018, reminding us that there is no shame – only courage – in reaching out for help when life gets a bit overwhelming.

The problem, however, is that admitting to being overwhelmed, or even just to feeling a tad vulnerable, is hard. Often, the culprit is pride: a misguided sense that one appears “weak” for feeling “less” than their usual “strong” selves. At other times, it is an issue of culture or environment, or a belief that one can soldier on and through it alone.

I have no formal qualifications in psychology or indeed in any field of medicine, nor can I share anything other than anecdotal experiences – either from personal challenges or from the journeys of my nearest and dearest. That said, most, if not all, experts in this area agree that the first real step to recovery is acknowledging that something isn’t quite right, and to then be brave enough to lay bare your feelings with a trusted person.

Verbalising your deepest (and perhaps most irrational) fears with another person can seem the most daunting ask on this planet. However, the flip side is of graver concern: a downward spiral made of ever-intensifying insecurities camouflaged in “personal space” and self-imposed solitude.

It goes without saying that human beings are fallible and imperfect. It should therefore also go without saying that we cannot always be “okay”, and that it is okay to sometimes not be “okay”. I have found on bad days, when nothing seems to go my way, that talking through my frustrations with a family member or close confidante helps me breathe easier and think clearer, even if that discussion didn’t actually reveal any substantive or new answers to my problems. At root, the experience is cathartic and a fundamentally important aspect of developing mental resilience.

The proverbial “slippery slope” begins, I think, when a person does not reach out with a certain level of immediacy upon concerns brewing – whether due to a failure to accept there is a potential problem or otherwise – and the vulnerabilities then begin to pile up, often at an alarming rate.  The longer this continues unchecked, the higher the likelihood of rash and unwise decisions being made, which in turn leads to what appears a self-prophesying cycle of negativity and helplessness.

I reiterate that I am no expert on this, but from my own reading and interactions with others, I have come to understand not only that many can relate, but also that in numerous cases, a person’s journey to recovery began when a loved one noticed that something was amiss, and asked if they wanted to talk. While the helping hand may not be taken immediately, a certain level of gentle persistence has, in my personal experience, proven to be incredibly rewarding in allowing barriers (typically, ego) to gradually be broken down and in encouraging receptiveness to external help.

In simple terms, sometimes you just need to be there for people.

While there is a fine line between being helpful and being overbearing, trust your instincts and personal knowledge of the individual in question and be guided by patience. It is often those who need you most who push you away the hardest – at least initially. This is hardly ever intended as a personal attack on you; it generally is, perhaps paradoxically, a cry for help which is best met by unobtrusive care and a non-judgmental listening ear.

After all, healing is always going to be a two-way street: offering the help, and being open to the offer.

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