I can’t tell if this is regular adult life, adult life in this stage of society, or the particular network of people that I know, but I know a lot of people who have mental health issues or have lost a significant person in their life by their mid-20s. Those have been the main causes of my troubles from the past several years, and while I knew there were communities of people who had been in similar situations, I never anticipated the communities to be so close to me as they are.
The mental health part I feel is more of a common thread in society now, as it manifests more, we know how to spot it, and/or we’re talking about it more, thus it seems more prevalent. The loss part, I can’t tell if I know a disproportionately high number of people who have dealt with a big loss, or if everyone knows this many people who have gone through similar tough times by the time they were 26. It’s not that I had ever guessed a number on how many people I would know that would have had a sibling or parent die by this age, but I guess I’m surprised at the number that it has turned out to be.
For me, 2018 was fairly stable, with only minor blips in mental health and occasional tiny breakdowns tied to bereavement, but that’s just my baseline at best; otherwise, no deaths or big news. For people in my network, ranging from very close to Facebook friends, it was a year of more struggles, for the reasons that you can generally conclude from the theme of this post and blog. When it came to supporting my close friends, that was easy: there is no question in being there for them and I know how to do that. When it came, however, to Facebook friends, people whom I like but with whom I generally don’t have close relations, it was a different story. It’s one thing to Like or React to an initial obituary post or status update, but how much could or should I reach out?
At the end of the day, I feel like my lack of action has been due to laziness and cowardice, which sound like ridiculous feelings to have regarding sending a Facebook message to say I hope they’re doing well and am thinking of them. Am I afraid of saying too much or too little? Is it inappropriate, can it be inappropriate? Will it seem like I’m coming off as caring or, somehow, a know-it-all? Am I afraid of being ignored, or it turning into a longer conversation than what I’m ready for?
To ease my conscience, I assume that, because we’re 26 and I have a vague idea of their circles of friends, they have the support that they need, and my lack of action isn’t missed and isn’t vital. I tell myself that by this age, people generally react to loss better and handle our feelings and each others feeling better, and we all have a better idea of how to be there for each other than we used to.
Those are big assumptions and hopes for people, but also, am I too tough on myself and my perspective, considering that these assumptions I’ve made are based on the experience that I had and that’s all I’ve known? From the beginning of the decline of my mental health, to the depths, to the rebuilding of it, added with the loss of my father and navigating this new world on the other side of it all, I have had so, so many friends and family be there for me, in any sense of support. When things were bad, I had friends send “Thinking of you” and “how are you doing” messages and calls, and I ignored or replied in varying degrees, but I always appreciated them and haven’t forgotten them, especially when I didn’t reply. I had a network and it responded to my needs. The logical next step is to try to provide or strengthen that network for other people that need it, yet I have not moved.
Too often, especially when we live in our own heads as much as we do, we forget that other people have different experiences. It seems like a mildly ludicrous statement, but at the end of the day, that’s what it comes down to. Every year, another two or three friends tell me they’re struggling with their mental health, and in each of my different groups of friends, almost half of each group has had or is currently having mental health problems. I have friends for whom mental health problems were a time in their life that has passed, or for others it’s an ongoing issue (and may always be), and for others, they’re still figuring out if and how much of an issue it is. When we talk about depression and anxiety, it’s fairly easy to connect on the symptoms, feelings, and behaviours; I blab about what I’ve felt, and they feel validated or they feel warned, but either way, it’s an easy thing for me to navigate. The part that is trickier for me to blab about is when my friend tells me that their family doesn’t believe that mental illness is a thing; that’s a thing that I never had to worry about. My family and I learned about depression and anxiety together, and as I worked through it, I talked about what I was trying and learning, and they listened. Anything that I said that was new, they took it as fact and filled their gaps in knowledge, rather than turn the situation on me and say that I was the one who knew nothing, as so many do. It’s heartbreakingly common for people to simply not believe that mental illness is a thing and it’s almost ironic how it damns those who most need to be believed.
The only workaround that I’ve found is to speak up and say that I believe that you’re suffering and I’m here for you in any capacity that you need. I am still afraid of stretching myself too thin in the attempt to support others, but at the expense of someone feeling alone because they’re crying all the time, feeling too little, feeling too much, missing their loved ones, and feeling like no one understands, I am also still compelled to say that I am here. I am here to encourage you to see a professional, to join a bereavement group, to talk to your friends and family even if you’re afraid that it will make them uncomfortable. Talk about your experience because it either educates the people that care about you or it connects you to people who already know what it’s like. Even if it’s built slowly, having a network can help so much (I’ll be brave and send those messages one day), and only good things come from us understanding each other.