Five Ways to Support A Friend Living With Acute Mental Illness

It has been a long, tough summer. From unseasonal weather to unexpected organizing momentum, my preference for having a plan and knowing what to expect has been crushed. And this week, it caught up to me and I am ill. And by ill, I mean that my mental illness symptoms are out of whack and I feel really bad, both physically and emotionally. Like my brain melted and refused to reboot.

Fortunately, I have the luxury of being able to take a week off from my obligations and focus on the self-care I need. I know my medication is working which is one comfort. I just have to ride it out and find a new degree of even keel. It is akin to anyone with a medical illness getting some atypical blood results and having to do some fine tuning, including resting.

It is hard to rest this week because the contractors showed up to work on the house. They aren’t doing anything intentionally disruptive, but the noise and the coming & going aren’t peaceful. But they are five weeks behind schedule and work limited hours so I don’t have the luxury of sending them away. Plus, we are hopefully halfway done.

My tablet died, too, so all of those restful library books I borrowed are inaccessible to me. Talk about timing. It is almost exactly one year old. That has to have some ironic meaning, no?

A handful of people have said “what can we do?” and I’m taking advantage of a relatively calm and peaceful moment to make suggestions. What to do when someone is struggling with their mental health.

1. Make a meal. The old “casserole” discussion. But it is true. Ledcat is incredibly busy at work in a way that overwhelms her on top of worrying about me. I’m trying to not drive unless absolutely necessary. Eating three square meals is essential to being healthy. And, of course, we are low on groceries and I lost my debit card. This is when a meal would come in handy for both of us. A bag of bagels. A basket of fruit.

2. Follow through. I have probably two dozen dangling commitments from people who promised to do everything from answer their email to drop off items for a fire victim. I’m anxious about those things. All of them. If you have something dangling, address it. Maybe the resolution won’t be what I desire, but closure is better for my well-being than saying “trust me” or “I’ll get to it” or …

3. Don’t dump your stuff on me. Right now, that’s a terrible idea. I’m not feeling your pain, but I will feel guilt. Please turn to other supports in your life right now and realize that I need lifted up for a bit. I do regret that work is busy, your sister is driving you crazy and you have other very real, pressing issues. But … I’m sick and not able to be there for you right now.

4. Offer to help with something concrete. I can’t spend enough time outside with the dogs as I’d like to – wanna come hang with them for an hour in the backyard? My car was supposed to get washed this week – can you help? I’m supposed to go to a picnic this weekend for my art project – wanna come with me and help me keep this commitment? Got a great movie you know I want to watch? Heading to Walgreens and willing to pick up something for me?

5. Ledcat. Most of my friends are her friends. She’s taking care of me while I’m ill, like partners and spouses do. She’s also working FT and has frenetic level of unexpected stuff happening at work this week. She couldn’t take off to hang with me if she wanted. But like you do with people who are ill, she makes sure I eat, have supplies, does double duty on housework and pet care and all that other stuff. Plus, she’s worried because she knows I have a serious illness and that’s what you do. Calling her to ask how I’m doing is fine, but offering her some support is fine, too. Caretakes are often overlooked.  PS – please don’t tell her all the stuff you would tell me about your needs. When I’m better, talk with me.

6. Make me smile. Post something funny on my Facebook page. Send me a tawdry email. Share a video. Remind me that you know I’m here and that you care.

Things to avoid if you can.

  • General “Let me know if you need anything” offers. I make it clear what I need. If you don’t/can’t do those things, cool. But I’d rather you send love, energy, healing vibes or whatever Facebook type comment you got than some vague statement that makes me feel bad because I need ginger ale. Trust me, I’m all about the ginger ale.
  • Offering to visit with the kids, the dog, the mother in law and a quick trip to Eat n Park.
  • Changing the plan. I like plans in general and right now, I’m sort of counting on people to follow through on what they originally commit to do. If something does change, tell me please. Or tell me in the first place that it isn’t concrete.
  • Asking me to call you. I feel like crud. I don’t want to call anyone. Send me an email. I’ll decide if/when I’m up to moving forward in the conversation. Also, FB messenger is less than ideal if you want me to remember that you contacted me next week. Email, folks. Email.

Perhaps my most important of all is to believe me. I know myself and I know my illness. I don’t need a new therapist or an entirely new healthy diet that worked for your best friend’s cousin. I am not exaggerating or faking. I’m not asking you to do my dirty work. No supplements, metal bracelets or great books. I’ll tell you what I need based on my own experience/commonsense and the advice of my treatment team.  If you are having negative feelings about this post or our recent interactions while I’m ill, that’s something to talk about – with someone else who can support you.




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