It’s near impossible to explain to someone with no personal experience of mental illness how those of us who struggle really feel. We really are living in two very separate worlds on the inside, and although we can’t truly let you into this world, we can all practice the important acts of acceptance and kindness to close the gap.
Friendships and mental illness are complex companions. My mental illness can cause me to cancel plans at the last minute, it can make me avoid large crowds of people, and it can seem like all of this is simply me not caring.
The truth is that I care deeply about friendships. Over the years I have lost many, as people were not able to see beyond their perceptions of having plans cancelled or behaviour that they couldn’t possibly understand. It takes time, a lot of patience and being able to hold judgement.
The hurt and the grieving for these friendships although incredibly deeply felt and painful, is a part of my experience of mental illness, and it is ok. The fact is that these were not really my people to begin with.
Having a heart that can look beyond expectations and into the depths of what is going on for someone, without making it about yourself, this is how friendships and mental illness become loving companions.
The funny thing is that those of us who live with the most severe and lifelong mental illness are the ones who need friendships the most. Sadly though we are the ones who are often the most difficult to love.
We are more likely to cancel, have a panic attack while getting ready to meet someone for drinks, sit in our car outside a restaurant and then turn around and retreat to the safety of home instead of simply stepping out into the world.
It can be so hard for those who live without mental illness to understand any of this, and so easy for them to make assumptions.
The reality is though that there are so many beautiful humans who simply don’t see your mental illness, who live with the ability to know what lies underneath. A life of richness and depth is found in being able to look and exist beneath the surface.
It is below the surface where the spirit of a person lives, and it is here that the messy, enriching friendships where people live in truth exist. Of course this place is not for everyone, and that is perfectly ok. I choose the messy depths and truth over the shallow and fake.
Thankfully learning to embrace this place will in turn attract others who live here too, and the friendships that flourish despite the many quirks and flaws that mental illness involve.
I hope that my fellow mental illness warriors know how life affirming this place can be, and I hope that you find and experience the beautiful friendships that exist here xx