A family member told me that if I was able to pinpoint the specific catalyst for why I was struggling with my mental health, then I could move forward. This person, who is my dad, was convinced that we could even create a graph chart, which he believed would be helpful. He was sure that there was just one thing that could help answer “why I was like this.” It hurt to hear this because I didn’t feel cared for. I felt that I had done something wrong to feel this way, that it was my fault somehow. I was crushed. I felt small, unimportant, and ashamed.
A friend of mine often asks, “What can I do to support you?” or “How can I help?” She has shared that she doesn’t have the answers or maybe even the expertise but wants to extend her support so I know she’s there. I can’t begin to share how helpful and supportive this has made me feel. I know that I am cared for unconditionally, that this person will hold me up and listen to me, even if they may not necessarily have the right language, information, or skill set. She creates space for me to feel cared for, so I know that she’s always there.
The moment my friend told me, “You need to cheer up!” is still vivid in my memory. We were in the university library, having a quick chat between classes and working on papers or studying. Her words made me feel so guilty for not being happy. My life is good and I’m privileged in so many ways, I had no real reason to feel the way I felt. I had no reason to have such trouble getting through the days, yet the reality was that I did. Words like hers reinforced my guilt and shame, my own lack of acceptance of this reality, which prevented me from getting help.
I never told her about this, because I think that she would know better now and she has otherwise been a wonderful, loving friend who has stuck with me and helped me in countless ways. The most helpful thing she said to me was that whatever I manage to get done in a day is okay. If I feel terrible and all I can manage is to stay in bed and watch TV, that’s okay. And she was right. No one expects you to get up and go to work if you have the flu either. This acceptance from her and from myself was incredibly healing. Little by little, instead of always beating myself up and feeling worse, I became more patient and accepting, which was the first step in me getting better.