Part One: The First Step
Nearly three years ago I went to visit my close friend to spend the afternoon as we often did – chatting, laughing, having a cuppa, putting the world to rights with the odd spot of crafting thrown in.
Little did I know my life, our friendship and what I knew about my friend was about to completely change.
You see my friend took that very important first step.
She told me, through tears, that she could no longer cope alone with the enormity, complexity and consuming mental health illnesses that she had been battling with for years.
She told me she was at breaking point and knew she needed proper help, but couldn’t do it alone. I won’t go into the specific details; however, I did know from the day we met that she had battles with depression, anxiety and grief.
But what I didn’t know was just how deeply rooted her illnesses were as day to day she lived behind a mask and walls – her safety blanket - not allowing anyone to see her without.
That day I saw my friend without the mask and walls. I watched her crumble in front of me.
I remember guilt hitting me like a tsunami at that point. Why had I not realised? What had I missed? Why hadn’t I seen it? There had to have been clues and I had missed them all. I’d let my friend down.
I had to shake off those feelings pretty quickly because, in truth, there wasn’t anything I could have done. I didn’t know, but once I did I knew I had to be strong, present and I had to learn to listen.
Those first few weeks and months were difficult for us both as we tried to find our way. My friend found it hard to make small, everyday decisions & actions, and I had to step in and do those for her or with her. Always with her best interests at heart.
That day triggered a journey that we are still travelling along. Together.
Now, almost three full years on, she is able to make some decisions and actions on her own and the way I step in and help has changed in line with her forward journey. Of course, there are wobbles and set backs – we face those together like we always have.
I’m incredibly proud of my friend, from the start she has been courageous in seeking and individually attending therapy sessions, although for the majority of the time she was unable to drive so I drove her to her appointments and waited in the car.
When I couldn’t be with my friend, we messaged. Those check-in messages were vital – we weren’t discussing the usual - our messages were full of step by step help to complete an action or outpouring emotions that had to come out and then be dealt with in that instant. I was always there at the touch of a button to offer virtual hugs, encouragement and support.
At first, those messages were very frequent – some days every half an hour to an hour. Any time of day or night. Now, we have back and forth messages a couple of times a day.
Each and every message is still as important. Each saying you’re not alone.
With everything that has been happening lately and the rise of mental health awareness, I decided to write this series of posts about my personal experience of supporting someone with complex mental health illness and connected conditions.
We’ve experienced so much these last few years. We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our friendship. We’ve learned about what services are and are not available. We've been through both NHS and private channels in our search for long term professional help.
Thankfully we did find that help and my friend continues to make progress. We still experience bumps in the road, but I feel we’re better at dealing with them now.
My friend fully supports my writing of these posts and will contribute her ideas and observations along the way. Together we hope maybe some good may come of it.
I won’t lie it has been incredibly tough at times. I have been frightened for my friend. Fearful of the effect it may have had on my own mental health. Frustrated at the brick walls we kept running into. My own family have been concerned about me and were worried that the enormity of the situation would be too much for me to handle. I’ve even doubted my own ability to manage it all.
Despite all of that, I knew I could never walk away from my friend. Here we are nearly three years later having walked many steps together. I just do my best and together we take one step at a time.
Take care Zoe