A little over a year ago, while my world seemed to be crashing down, I wasn’t thinking about much else other than staying alive- putting one foot in front of the other and making it through each day. It wasn’t until I began taking care of myself that I started to question how my mental health had impacted the people in my life. What is it like for my husband? My friends? My family? What is it like to witness their loved one be stripped of the personality that they love and respect? What is it like for them to be human and struggle while simultaneously trying to be there for me?
This post gave me a chance to ask the above questions and more. I’ve never felt so vulnerable in my entire life. I asked each person to be as open and honest as possible. It wasn’t a trick. I wasn’t going to get insulted or defensive. I just wanted to hear their perspective. I wanted to listen, something that they had done for me time and time again.
I ended up asking a few of my closest friends for their thoughts, this is some of what I received (in no particular order):
“I often felt like I was less of a friend for not having the “right” words to say to help”
“Although it’s difficult, loving your best friend is effortless. It’s unconditional. It’s learning to understand their mental health and sitting with them in it. It’s communicating how you feel and having faith they’ll understand you”
“I feel like when you were experiencing some of your lowest points, in the last two years, so was I”
“I missed you. I feel like a part of you disappeared”
“It was really hard to pour from an empty cup and it taught me a lot about self-care”
“What’s it like to love you at your lowest, most anxious state? Let’s see…well I can relate in multiple aspects, so I feel like I understand you, yet it’s so incredibly painful to know how deep your struggles get at times”
“I feel when you’re struggling and can see when part of your brain is rationally walking you through crippling anxiety while the other part is emotionally withering- that shit is absolutely brutal”
“You’re hands down one of the strongest people I know, but strength is NOT easy”
“Through your unapologetic honesty and truth, you have inspired me to reflect on my own mental health in a way I never have before- a million times, thank you”
Thoughts from my husband:
“I felt frustrated because I couldn’t do anything”
“I wanted you to be happy and to feel loved”
I asked him what it was like when I couldn’t even handle being at the grocery store anymore (that shit is rough when you’re anxious and experiencing panic attacks). I’d quickly say, “I gotta get out of here” and bolt.
“It’s fine. I can handle that stuff. You looked scared. I’d just try and get out of there as fast as I could”
“It sucks not knowing what to say or how to act. I just wanted to help”
I asked him if he started to notice anything different about me around the time that my mental health took a turn for the worse.
…long, awkward pause…”I mean, I dunno. I don’t think I noticed just one thing. I think it was a lot of things”
“The look on your face. Your overall presence in the room changed. You started isolating yourself”
“It was hard when you’d go in the room and sit alone. That was hard to watch. I didn’t know if you wanted me to come in or give you space”
“I knew it wasn’t your fault. I didn’t want you to ever think that”
There was more to each conversation, but I wanted to keep some of it close to my heart, for my eyes only.
What struck me the most was the uncertainty that everyone felt around the time that I started to really struggle. I felt the same uncertainty. I felt utterly hopeless and I was scared out of my mind. I felt like everyone else was fine and I wasn’t. I was wrong.
Not only were people worried about me, but they had their own humanness to deal with.
I felt so isolated when in reality, I was trudging through the mud alongside my loved ones. Sure, our experiences were unique and differed in duration and intensity, but I most certainly wasn’t alone in my discomfort. Talk about a humbling realization.
Honestly, I wish I would have had these honest conversations sooner. Better late than never, but I have a new appreciation and respect for the incredible people in my life. Thank you. Seriously, from the bottom of my heart, each of you played an important role in saving my life. I’m not just talking about the people who shared their thoughts above. Each and every single person that I’ve connected with while on this journey has shown me compassion and understanding. I’ve never felt so connected and heard. I’m learning so much about myself and the world around me by simply asking questions, remaining open, and accepting my experiences for exactly what they are.
My beautiful friend/co-blogger and I decided to write about each other for this post, so here goes…
There aren’t enough words to express what an honor it is to know you, to love you, and to experience all of this alongside you. Our relationship has transformed from a supervisor/supervisee bond to a full-blown, insanely connected friendship. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Week 1 of my internship: I was terrified. I was having multiple panic attacks a day. I was having to pull over on my way in so that I could put my seat back and practice deep breathing. I was so close to dropping out of school and running from myself and what my body was trying to tell me. I came to you. I took a chance and told you, my supervisor, about what was going on. I told you that I was recently diagnosed with anxiety and depression and that if I disappear throughout the day, I’m just doing so to get some air. As logically and rationally as I could, I explained a bit about my journey. I needed guidance and somehow, I knew you’d understand. I was so right, you totally understood.
You have a way of inviting people in. You allow people to be unapologetically human in your presence. I remember the way you were looking at me when I told you about what I was battling- SO much empathy.
You’re so kind and so warm. You have so much love to give. You treat people with the utmost respect, whether they deserve it or not. I admire that about you. You care. You give a shit.
We’ve connected on so many levels. I too know what it’s like to feel everything and wonder if anyone else is feeling the heaviness too. The highs? I feel you, friend. The lows? Right there with you.
We’ve all done things we aren’t 100% proud of. That doesn’t make us any less human, if anything, that makes us more human. Even when we’re being self-destructive, impulsive, and careless we’re still worthy of love and acceptance. You are worthy of all the beauty that life has to offer.
I respect you more than you know and I’m with you, always.
I have to say, this is the scariest post for me to publish. This has, by far, been the most terrifying process because it’s forced me to take the risk of initiating a conversation about my mental health, solely and directly about my struggles, one on one, to the people whose opinions I care about the most, who are also not in the mental health field. It’s been both brutal and beautiful.
I asked my parent and longest friend to both share their experiences and interactions with my mental health. You will see that they are...entirely different. And I wonder if that’s because, with my friend, I have socially let my guard down, and, with my parent, I have emotionally let my guard down. And, for me, those are two very different things.
Just to be clear, here’s what we’re working with: I have three major mental health conditions. They are called Bipolar II Disorder, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Some might say I’m also on the spectrum of Borderline Personality Disorder and Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. But we can go more into that another time.
With my friend, she has seen more of the behavioral aspects of my hypomanic episodes. Unfortunately, this means that she has been exposed to my impulsivity, recklessness, and poor decision-making. This has included binging on alcohol and engaging in risky behavior, among other things.
As much as I’m learning to accept my mental health conditions and be kind to myself, I sometimes still experience shame and guilt about what she has seen.
It’s interesting- I’m not ashamed, nor feel guilty, about what I have DONE. It’s that she saw it. That I was caught.
That’s the honest truth. Because as hard as it is to go through something by yourself, it’s even harder when you have an audience (side note: I could never be a celebrity).
My friend and I have been through many years together and, truth be told, I didn’t think she noticed the changes in me that she mentions in her response. Simply because, as she will say, mental health hasn’t been something we ever talked about until recently. It’s still new for us. And I know it’s hard for her. Because as difficult as it was for me to read her response, it was also very real and honest. Which was very brave of her. And for her to have been that vulnerable in her feelings, I have to give her that.
She has stood by me when no other friend would have. For many years, I felt that I owed her an amount that I would never be able to pay back, because of my shame. But now I know, that’s not what friendship is about. It wasn’t until literally four days ago- while having a panic attack at her apartment- that I finally understood that I have nothing to prove, only to share. Thank you dear friend, for your honesty and for never leaving my side, even when you were most disappointed.
Kristen and I became friends in first grade during a game of hopscotch at recess. We became close with our vivid imaginations and love of cats. I wish I could say growing up we were popular kids with lots of friends, but that really wasn’t the case. A majority of our elementary school years were spent isolated playing with each other at recess on the tetherball court located on the far end of the playground.
Looking back, I feel like we found solace in each other as a way to elude our own social anxiety. For myself, I always looked to Kristen for support and comfort because truthfully back then she was my only true friend. I was very dependent on her during elementary school and if she was out sick or separate from me, I felt very anxious and awkward. I can only suspect that she felt the same way.
As we grew up through middle school and high school, we remained friends, but as the years progressed we lost touch. After rarely speaking through the end of high school to the beginning of college, we finally reconnected in our second year of college. We ended up finding a mutual bond through our shared troubles with our roommates and feelings of being caste out. Probably around this time is when Kristen first mentioned having anxiety issues and taking medication to me.
During this period, I had noticed a change in Kristen’s personality from the person I knew since elementary school. She seemed more reserved from the Kristen I knew in high school; who seemed to have found confidence and belonging with her group of band friends. The most drastic change I noticed was the change in her laugh. Her laugh almost seemed forced and simulated. Thankfully as time progressed, I heard the laugh that I had remembered as a child.
I can’t say that I always know when Kristen is struggling with her mental health, but there have been several instances where I have witnessed her unease in certain social situations. Like all relationships, our friendship has seen many ups and downs. I admit I don’t always know what to say or I feel like I say the wrong thing all the time when it comes to matters regarding her mental health. I have also experienced frustration and disappointment with her from events that she said stemmed from her mental health struggles.
To be honest, it hasn’t always been easy for me to totally comprehend, especially since I was raised to suppress and deny my own mental health issues as a child. During a particular upsetting and hurtful incident, I found it hard to remain sensitive. For me, it felt as if she was using her mental health diagnoses as an excuse for hurtful and at-risk behavior.
I sympathize with her struggle and know that we all battle our own demons. I also admire her dedicated passion to mental health awareness and helping of others. In the end, I can’t say our friendship has always been easy when it comes to matters regarding her mental health, but I will continue to support her as best as I can. I just want her to know that she is loved for who she is and that I am always here for her.
With my parent, they have seen the emotional components of my anxiety and manic-depressive cycling. Unlike the more “dangerous” qualities that my friend has experienced from my hypomania, my parent has seen the irritability, cruelty, obsession, panic attacks, anxiety surges, and complete emotional shut-downs.
It’s different for someone who lives with someone who has mental health conditions. You see a whole other side of them. And my parent lived with me for 27 years and is my best friend, so it’s safe to say that they have pretty much seen it all (or at least most of it).
The biggest thing has been that they have bared witness to the impacts of my depression and anxiety, which are normally the qualities of myself that I try to keep most hidden from the world. Which is why hearing their experience with me was so interesting because of how obvious I thought my anxiety and hypomania were to them; when really, compared to their spouse (my other parent) who has mental health conditions even more severe than mine, it was so different. It was truly humbling to hear and understand how my parent’s perception of my mental health was so influenced by their spouse.
I understand now why it wasn’t a topic of conversation. I really do.
Aside from the fact that talking about mental health is only now STARTING to become accepted and encouraged, my parent was dealing with their spouse’s own mental health wars. And doing their best to keep me out of it so that I could live a full life. Without a doubt, I would not be all of the good things I love about myself without this parent. Nor would I be alive.
I will forever be grateful to them. No one has ever loved me the way they have.
I had a leg up on [the bipolar] because I dealt with your [other parent] for years. So, compared to [them], you were MINOR. You were truly minor...it’s true, you know. I already went through the whole process with [them]. I went to therapy because I thought, you know, [they were] freaking out, I didn’t know what I was doing, what can I do to help it, I had no idea. I did not know until YOU told me what it was. I thought it was just depression and guilt. But I had no idea it could possibly be bipolar. So, by the time I figured it out, you helped me, but I kind of wondered anyway.
It’s been years, but I kind of came to the place where I figured [they’re] doing the best with what [they’ve] got, and thank god [they] got medication. Because that made a big difference. So, when it came to you, I didn’t even recognize it as bipolar. I just thought you had minor mood swings because it was so, so small compared to [theirs]- I’m not demeaning it- but compared to what [theirs was].
I just thought every once in a while you would get quiet, stay to yourself, sometimes you were a little grumpy and sometimes you weren’t, but most of the time you seemed okay to me, so you hid it very well. You hid a lot of things really well. But, that was it. So, when it came to you, I just thought it was little mood swings, no big deal, and I didn’t take them personal. I just figured you were going through stuff that kids go through, and we all do. And, you know, you were always my girl. You never lost that.
[Regarding anxiety] you appeared to be just shy sometimes, you didn’t like to be the center of attention, you were quiet around strangers, which I was too. So, to me, it was like, okay, I get this, you know. And then in high school, I finally busted through it kind of, but you never really change that much, you do a little bit. So I just thought you were shy, which was fine with me. I figured you’d find your rhythm at some point.
[The hardest part has been] to see you get down on yourself. To see you when you have anxiety, to see you scared. That just kills me. ‘Cause...I wanna protect you, but I can’t protect you from that. I can let you know you’re loved, but I know you had to go through that yourself, and that was the hardest thing for me. ‘Cause I’m a fix-it person. I wanna fix things. I don’t want you to hurt, and yet, sometimes we have to hurt to be strong. Sometimes hurting’s the only way to find out what we’re made of. So, sometimes we have no right to fix something. We take that opportunity away from someone to find out for themselves. I still always wanted to fix it anyway though.
The hardest thing was when you moved [out] and you had that anxiety. And I was like oh my god, I just wanna drag you home, put you in your room, make you feel safe, but that wouldn’t be the right thing to do. It was horrible seeing you go through that. I felt so bad for you. And I know you felt guilt because you thought you should’ve been independent, and yet you had two homes, and you were fighting all this stuff. But there was never any judgment. You’re gonna find yourself in your own time. We all do, hopefully. Some of us never do.
[Regarding anxiety and bipolar disorder] I believe in the reality of it. I know that you suffer from that, you told me, and you don’t lie. But I also think that going though anything like that not only makes you stronger- it makes you more empathetic, less judgmental, more open to people. You know, with every curse comes blessings, and I think, in your case, there’s been a lot of blessings. Just look what you’re doing. Seriously, look what you’re doing. And I think a lot of it is directly related to what you know about yourself, what you’ve been through. So, you know, why would I wish that away when I see all the good you’re doing because of it?
You’re my diamond, you’ve been through the fire. That’s the only way diamonds are forged. Or metals. Gold has to go through fire. You’ve been through fire, you come out gold.
As I said, reading and listening to these testimonies has been incredibly humbling for me. I’m so eternally grateful to have people in my life who love me unconditionally and choose to remain with me. Through the bad, the good, and the in-between. And it’s because of this that I understand where the suicide rates come from: not having support and love, especially within adversity, can be a cause of death. I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be here right now, in this place, in this body, without these people. I’m beyond honored that I can use this platform to let you know that you’re not alone, there are others like you, and you can use this for something more meaningful than you ever imagined.
Living proof :-)
And last, but most certainly not least, to my very dear friend and co-blogger, Natasha:
Where do I even start? From the beginning of our relationship, Natasha has been honest with me, even if it has gone against what her anxiety wants her to do. What I first noticed about Natasha was how comfortable she looked in her own skin coming in for her interview. Leaning her head in her hand and smiling at the receptionist, it seemed as if she had already felt, and made our receptionist feel, at home.
Natasha is very good at doing this. Making people feel at home.
She’s even better at masking the chaos and pain that has often been writhing inside of her throughout her life. When she later told me of the lethal struggles she endured during the first months of her internship as my supervisee, I was shocked because she covered it so well. And I know she’s had to cover it so well because of the trauma and hardships she has endured. She is so bravely learning how to uncover this and nurture herself as she has nurtured others, a courageous act for anyone who has played the role of caretaker.
When I think of Natasha, I think of someone who is strong and capable. I think of someone who never gives up, even when she has wanted to. I think of a profound warrior spirit, dagger-sharp intellect and wit, fierce beauty, and love, above all else: love.
I have disclosed more to Natasha than I have to most people, most noticeably with one particular disclosure that I had never actually said out loud, not even to myself. I may have taught her how to be a trauma clinician, but it was in that moment that she taught me what it meant to be validated, what it meant to be a SURVIVOR.
And that is the ultimate value and transformative life lesson she has taught me: how to be a survivor and still love wholeheartedly. Even with pain. Even with uncertainty. This was a life-changing moment for me, and she has forever changed my life for that alone.
Natasha’s journey elicits awe in me each time I think about it. And I am constantly in a state of gratitude around her, for being a part of her growth when she was my supervisee, for that relationship transforming into a friendship, and, most especially, for that friendship forging into a rare type of bond that most people don’t experience. Never have I been so able to be unabashedly honest, nor unjudged; in fact, quite the opposite: UNDERSTOOD.
For Natasha to embrace vulnerability and transparency, ESPECIALLY with her mental health, is just a testament to the kind of bravery and courage that I so love about her. And I love just as equally in her terror, her uncertainty, her shame, her state of nothingness, and, always, her pain. Even in her pain, the beauty of her spirit shines through by the way she feels her pain. Its fullness, it’s opacity.
That’s the thing- her fearlessness in feeling it.
Natasha is the kind of human each person should strive to live up to because she has known such pain. And isn’t afraid to bare it anymore. I love Natasha for her humanness and her courage. For being real in a world where that doesn’t sell as much as fake does. I strive to encompass her spirit and be deserving of her presence in my life. I didn’t think other insane, passionate, complex weirdos were out there, but thank my lucky stars, I found one.
Love you, K
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