Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay
but acknowledging that it is not.
I am often asked for advice from people who have loved ones battling mental illness. Normally, I don’t like to give advice because I know that each person deals with mental health struggles differently. We all have our own coping skills, rituals and methods that help us get through each day so one thing that works for me, may not necessarily work for someone else. However, I love sharing my own experiences, coping mechanisms and my own needs, in the hopes that something I say may shed some light for someone else.
That said, I have written an article originally for Grit & Virtue last May for Mental Health Awareness Month, and I'd like to share it with you all, as I talk about ways how to help loved ones and people you know who are living with depression.
Looking back over those years when I was really in deep with my depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder, there were many things I wished for...love, compassion, comfort, strength, the light of day, etc. More recently, I wish for the same things but it is a bit different because I have had long years of living with my mental illness. Today, I know better, although that’s not to say I have no more needs. I just cope a little better on my own now, more than I used to.
Still, I will simply share the things I wanted and needed. Please indulge me and allow me to personally go back in time and put myself back in that position...to feel how it was like againand let you know the things I secretly wanted to tell my family and close friends... And just maybe, the same things are being wished for by your loved ones today dealing with their own battles. If so, maybe, you can do something about it now.
Just be there.
You don’t need to say anything. I just want you to be there. Please be there and help me feel that I am not alone in this. Your presence is all I ask for. Not your words, not anything else but your full presence-next to me, and that is enough. You don’t even need to give me any advice, because I won’t hear you. I won’t understand what you’re saying, because I am so consumed by my own thoughts and feelings. Darkness has overshadowed everything within me and you giving me advice on what to do next, makes me feel even more alone. So, if there’s one thing you can do for me…. Just please be there.
I don’t like to share much because I don’t know how to express myself. I don’t know how to describe to you what I’m feeling exactly. Frankly, I also don’t have the energy to even talk. I feel too tired and weak. I’m also afraid that you will not understand and I’m worried you won’t believe what I’m saying. Or maybe, you’ll think less of me, or judge me. I know you care about me and you want to help, but I really don’t know how else to express myself….BUT, there will be rare days where I’ll share something with you. You may not get it, nor understand it, but all I ask is for you to listen. Listen, without thinking of the next thing you’ll say, or thinking of advice or how you’ll respond. Just listen with empathy and feel what I’m trying to express to you in between the lines, because soon, I will choose not to speak again and will prefer to be silent and keep everything inside me.
Try to understand.
I know you don’t understand what I’m going through and you will probably never understand unless you go through this yourself. I don’t expect you to because, I myself, don’t even understand. But you can do something to learn more about the illness. At least make an effort to understand and let me feel you truly care. In my eyes, trying to learn more is acknowledging that my illness is real and legitimate, and that way, I don’t feel so alone. Knowing that you’re looking at symptoms and ways to help alleviate the pain inside of me, is enough for me to know that you care.
Remind me that everything will be OK.
When I feel that my world is falling apart and everything is out of control, I feel hopeless and desperate. I feel sad, frustrated, and totally isolated. Sometimes, reminding me that things will get better and all will be OK is enough for me to feel comfort. Such simple words to hear, but enough for me to get through another day.
If you feel you want to do more to help, just simply give me a HUG.
A simple, heartfelt hug is a silent way of letting me know that, I matter to you. No words, just a simple act of love and compassion and accepting me for who I am, what I am and everything that I’m going through. That’s all I ask and that’s all I need.
Lastly, please PRAY for me.
Many days I lose my faith, and I can’t find the strength in me to pray for myself or even ask for God’s guidance. I know it in my heart, but I can’t seem to fully believe it. So, in times like this, please pray for my strength, my patience, faith and wisdom to know that God will never forsake me, especially in these dark times. Please pray that I will be reminded by HIS presence and HIS light, and that this too shall pass.
... This is as real as it gets to me. As I was writing, I actually felt everything as I looked back. In fact, I found myself crying because I was feeling it all. I feel it all too well and I realize it’s a part of who I am today... I hope that this list helps you in some way. I know that these may sound too simple, or things you may already know to do. But, please realize that it’s really the small, simple things that matter to us, especially in the midst of the complexity of mental illness. What may sound like such a simple thing for you, can be very meaningful and valuable to me, or anyone else struggling. During the most difficult times, it really is the little things that count in life.
Thank you for letting me share some personal thoughts and feelings with you.