There’s been a lot of people jumping on board with the “accept mentally ill people” bandwagon. Which, by all means, is wonderful. However, they forget key points that they have to be supportive through everything. Neurotypicals can normally understand what it’s like to be anxious, sad, depressed, to an extent. But when other symptoms start showing up or the ones they understand take too long to go away, they stop being supportive.
From my personal experience, I had a friend who was one of the people I was the closest to, and had known her for most of my life. We’d been through a lot together and I trusted her more than most people. She experienced some depression along the way so she could understand part of what I was going through. But when what helped her depression didn’t help mine, she started to treat me differently. Going as far as to say I wasn’t trying hard enough to be happy. The second she said that, I lost my trust.
When someone struggles with mental health problems, it’s not because we aren’t trying hard enough to be better. The chemistry in our brains is literally different from everyone else. I had C-PTSD at the time, which I didn’t fully understand at that point. Still in the process of getting diagnosed but there’s also possible borderline personality disorder as well. Point is, things like that can really get in the way of your thinking. Intrusive thoughts are not under your control. So when you tell someone to just snap out of it, they are probably already trying to. No one likes having intrusive thoughts. But when you tell us to stop thinking about it when we’re already trying to and we can’t stop it makes us feel like we’re doing something wrong. That we aren’t good enough to just make it stop. This applies tenfold when in reference to suicidal idealization.
Everyone experiences being depressed at least once in their life, and it makes them think they know everything about depression. It’s not just feeling sad. It’s not having the will to take care of yourself. How many days can you get away with not talking to people? How many days in a row can you wear the same clothes? Surviving off of one small meal a day, if that. Only getting up to pee. Waiting too long to get up to pee and getting a UTI. Your house becoming a mess without realizing it. Wanting to talk to people but knowing no one wants to talk to you because you can’t hold a normal conversation. Thinking about subtle ways to push everyone in your life further away so they won’t miss you as much when you finally disappear. Barely having enough motivation to leave your house. Being teased at work for being a downer. Feeling like your body weighs 1,000 pounds.
I was going to go through all the normal depression, anxiety, etc. to explain what it’s like. But there’s been a lot of awareness on that lately, so I’m going to assume you know the basics and head down to the scary stuff.
Hallucinations. Visual, auditory, and sensory. (Which are groups I just now made up but I’m pretty sure they hold merit) The first time you experience them is terrifying. Everyone has different reactions that also depend on how old you are. If you’re younger when they start happening normally you’ll tell your parents or an adult and they say nothing’s there or it’s in your head. This is very harmful because the child is already scared and doesn’t know what’s happening. When you tell them it isn’t real/they’re making it up they can’t tell you about it if it happens again and they start keeping things to themselves. This leads to a lot of internal conflict and prolongs understanding and help.
- Visual hallucination: Things you see
- Auditory hallucination: Something you hear
- Sensory hallucination: Something you feel/smell/taste
You can have one or a combination of one or more. As a kid I would have all three types. Not normally all at once. I would wake up in the middle of the night and feel bugs crawling on me and see them running away when I would pull off my blanket. Or see my room full of smoke. I’d run and get my parents and they would always tell me it was in my imagination. And to be fair, I had a very good one as a child. But I didn’t understand how these things could be happening if I wasn’t making them up in my head first. Another time I was sleep walking and started falling down the stairs and when I got to the bottom I thought I saw an angel or some other religious figure (my family was pretty strongly religious while I was growing up). Another time I thought I saw Jesus. But now that I’m older and have done my research, I realize religious hallucinations are very common. Now I mostly see shadows, animals, hear things. I’ve been lucky enough that it hasn’t impacted my life too much at this point. It’s still scary when it happens and I have to ask people if certain things are real sometimes. If I know I’m having a bad day I avoid driving, though. I’ve seen children in the street, roads end when they actually didn’t. Between paranoia and hallucination I’ve ended up on the shoulder of a road crying after swerving. These things are not okay by any means, but I have a life to live. People don’t understand, you learn to adapt. To be supportive, if someone asks you if something is real tell them the truth. Lying is only going to hurt us more and/or make us more paranoid, anxious, stressed than we already are.
Rage is another common one. Rage from mental conditions can be caused by a number of things. PTSD often comes with bouts of rage. Then there’s also autistic meltdowns. My parents didn’t believe in doctors, so I spent my whole life with multiple untreated chronic conditions and autism. I would have very violent meltdowns due from stress in an abusive household. I could never understand why certain things were happening or why people were upset with me. Growing up around very abusive and manipulative behaviour, that was what I turned to. They hurt me, so I would hurt them back. So often I didn’t even know what I was doing. I would realize it later and start crying because I hadn’t meant to react that way but I didn’t know how to control it. My parents would only make the situation worse by adding more stress by threatening to lock me up, call the cops, not give me essentials to survive, lock me out of the house, hit me, etc. I know part of that was because they couldn’t understand what was happening to me, but it still doesn’t give them an excuse for some of the things they did. Thankfully I’ve mostly grown out of meltdowns/know how to control them. Rage from PTSD is a little different. It’s more controllable in my case than my childhood meltdowns were. Mostly consists of yelling, swearing, and the typical seeing red. It can be over the tiniest thing that shouldn’t even matter and yet somehow it’s bothering you down to your core. Now I understand this can be a lot worse for some people and some get dangerously violent during an episode, but you can still be there for us and show support when we aren’t a threat. Or if you can tell it’s building, calmly talking us down or rationally talking about things.
Paranoia can have such a wide range of things, it’s very hard to explain. It could be something tiny to something big. Very realistic to not realistic at all. But you have to remember, in our heads, it’s real. It may not make sense to you, but you need to treat it like it’s real to us and help us get through it. Whether that means checking an empty room to make sure there’s not someone waiting to kill us to double checking to see if we put the milk away even if you watched us do it. Of all my symptoms, paranoia is the worst. Because of everything I’ve been through when I notice red flags it throws up many warning signs for me which then turn into things that could happen and then the things in my head become real. It takes time and patience to work through what is and isn’t real.
There’s a lot more I could go on to say but I’m now pretty drained, so I’ll continue this in another post.
But the whole point is, you need to be around for us even when it’s scary and you don’t understand. Because we don’t always understand either and having someone who won’t belittle us is very important. Don’t blow off our concerns and needing reassurance as being dramatic, it is crucial to our mental health.