I just want to start by giving everyone reading this a high 5 and a hug. I don't often write about mental health issues, although it's a cause very close to me. It's important to me that anything I do write, also feels right. I want to hopefully help and inspire in a positive way.
So this is my letter that I am prompted to write, from the point of view of someone who has suffered with panic attacks, and now still deals with anxiety and mild agoraphobia. It's to everyone out there be it a friend or family member that is in effect 'caring' for someone with a mental health problem such as those I have been through.
It can be a tiring, frustrating, upsetting, confusing, and long journey to go on. I can see that in my parents eyes at times. I know they worry and want the best for me, just as I am sure you all want the best for those you know. It's a hard to get my head around sometimes, so I know and understand you will feel the same way too.
That said, I have experienced judgements, blame, frustration at trying to reach out and help people understand what I am going through, and I've not always been able to communicate the support I need. But this is what I would say to you all from my own experiences.
1) We're all different - one of the most important things to remember - no problem or person will be the same. However much or little you understand what's going on, try and remember there's no logic to it, and try not to compare and contrast too much. I know I've had to explain many times why I find one thing easy and another impossible, and it's hard work.
2) It's not all about anxiety and panic - I've had quite a few situations over the years where a lot has come back to my problems - it's all to easy for others to see it as an excuse for not doing something, or a reason for your life being the way it is. Sometimes there may be a lot of truth in that, but I'm not a problem or an illness, I'm a person behind it, and I do have thoughts, opinions, reasons, likes and dislikes just like anyone else.
3) Recognise the small things - Again I understand fully that whatever help your friend or family member might seek, or self help process they use, you'll be looking for measurable improvements, solid evidence of them seeking help and benefiting from it, or trying something new. A lot of things you take for granted may not be as easy for an anxious person, so it won't be one step after another all the time. It could be a long road to walk, with a few roundabouts in between. But when you have an understanding of their problems, then you'll know how much the little steps mean, even if they are repeating them and not moving forwards as you think they should. Sometimes it's a shame there's not more support and encouragement for the little things, it really does help.
4) You'll learn when to push, and when to take a step back - I had to undergo some dental treatment a few years ago, and I won't go into all the boring details, but it took a while to get it all done. I never used to have any problems with the dentist, but this was very hard work, and on a few occasions I didn't want to go in. Despite my protests at the time, I needed mum there, and I needed to be pushed, and she knew that. There's been other times over the last 10 years, when I've not had the space I've needed ( literally, and in my head) and it's been pretty frustrating, but ultimately I think my family have learnt in this respect, and are always learning just like I am.
5) Forget the blame culture - While I am ultimately responsible for helping myself, or seeking help, and it's my problems, I think also carers have to take some responsibility for their own actions and reactions - this could be when anxiety and panic rears it's head, or just when you're frustrated at how it's effecting someones life. However much you want someone to be fully involved in something, sometimes you just have to have faith that they are doing as much as they can, that maybe they can't get involved just now, but will be more in the future, or that there are other things they can do and be encouraged in. Ask yourself this, if your sister or best friend goes home early, or wants a bit of space for ten minutes, is that really ruining the occasion, or is it someone just recognising what they need. Would blame really make anything better?
6) Take your lead from them - If you don't know what to do, or can't understand what someone needs when they reach out, take a little time to think about the signs, what is said and done during a tough time, and just be there - to hug, to listen, to not question when someone needs to talk and talk over the same things, or just wants a rant. I don't always find it easy to get through to my loved ones, and it's hard work trying, but I feel like I have to, and in the end it has paid off to some degree. Maybe some of it comes from familiarity, but I know that they have been watching and learning as well. To know that something won't generate a reaction is calming.
I know I have things that have taken over some aspects of my life, and at times, maybe those are big aspects - I've never denied that - I am still on an anxiety journey like many others - and no my journey hasn't always been with as much support as I'd like - but that's why I am here now, to say to sufferers - that it can get better, that understanding is a two way street that can benefit all of you, and that as a freelance writer, blogger, and crafter I have found new ways to add good things to my life.
If you care for people with any kind of mental health problem or deeper illness, I hope I have given you food for thought, and shown you that as sufferers we do understand your journey, but that there are ways to make it a better, if not eventually easier one for us all.
This week is mental health awareness week - Find out more at http://mentalhealth.org.uk/our-work/mentalhealthawarenessweek/support-mental-health-awareness-week-2014-online