As we enter this year’s Mental Health Awareness Week, with the theme being Nature, I had planned to write a little about how much I love living by water. Having grown up in Macclesfield, about 15 miles south of Manchester, the best we had up there was a river and a few canals!
We spent every holiday with family in Devon and my brother loved throwing a stone or two into the sea. There was something very special about the place. Being near water felt like home.
When I was 24 I met my husband (via an eBay sale!) and he lived on the south coast. There was no question about who would move which way. I was next to the sea again and will never move away!
However, despite this being the plan, I woke to a Facebook memory that made me rethink what I wanted to write about today.
Four years ago, I wrote this:
“So, being as it’s mental health awareness week… This time last year I had a “breakdown”. Some people said it had been a long time coming and I now think they were right. I spent so long bottling things up that I ran out of space. I had nothing left.
I took every minor thing to be a major thing and I spent weeks crying. Until I eventually had the courage to admit something was wrong… The doctor gave me the usual prescription and I found myself a therapist. I was also very lucky to have an amazing support network out there 😍
Now, a year later, I’m off the pills and my therapist “signed me off”. I feel so much better but can see the signs when I’m not. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you need to ask for help or are struggling emotionally. To admit there’s a problem and seek help is more courageous than pretending and trying to battle on… ❤”
This was not the first time this had happened. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the last either. I fear the fragility of my mental health will be something that I will live with forever.
What came to mind when I read this though was those close friends that I had around me at the time and the ‘be kind’ message that is so often shared but not necessarily observed.
Each time I had a ‘breakdown’ I lost friends. Each time it happened my closest friend in the friendship group was the one I fell out with. I know very well that I was the cause. I could see that at the time but couldn’t control it due to my depression. What interests me is the way that the rest of the group responded.
On two separate occasions, with two different friendship groups, when I fell out with one the rest abandoned me too. Only one person within the two groups approached me to ask if I was ok. There were times that I was stood in the park or playground crying and they ‘left me to it’. Some even took me off their Facebook and have never spoken to me since.
I saw an interesting post the other day offering a number of signs to look out for to check on someone’s mental health: breaking down over little things, appearing on edge, socially withdrawn and/or acting out of character were just a few. All of these things were me back then.
Maybe if, instead of pushing me away, those close friends had have asked if I was ok, realised that I was acting out of character (and clearly wasn’t ok) and offered support instead, things may have turned out differently.
Maybe we need to shift our thinking. Be more aware of our own actions; more aware of those close to us. Make sure that we don’t just say the right things on social media but actually carry it through into everyday life and ‘be kind’. You could actually change someone’s life.
If a friend is not themselves, if they’ve pushed you away but you’re not sure why, if they’ve said something that isn’t really like them, don’t give up on them. Ask them if they’re ok. If they withdraw, give them some space but go back to them and ask again. You know your friends better then anyone. You know if there’s a shift in behaviour. It’s hard to support someone going through a tough time but to ignore them at that time could make it a million times tougher for them!
Be a friend. Be present. Be kind.