To be understood; it’s something we all crave. Often the hardest part of having an illness no one can see is an overwhelming feeling that no one around you understands. They don’t understand your fear, your medication, the way you look at the world. It can be a very lonely place, wrapped up in your own head.
When someone is in recovery from substance abuse, an important tool they rely on is a sponsor. Someone who has hit rock bottom and understands not only the tools needed to get healthy, but also the frequent urges not to use them.
What about other mental illnesses though? What about an Anxiety Ally, a Bipolar Buddy, a Depression… Comrade? When in an official capacity, these folks are called “Peer Support Workers,” but often the ones with titles can only be found in clinical settings. I’m not talking about one more appointment to squeeze in though, on top of your psychiatrist, your talk therapist, your yogi and your nail guru. I’m talking about a friend who gets it, who’s been in the trenches or maybe is there still. Someone who doesn’t simply pity you, someone who understands.
This is a person who understands your skewed view in an argument and so maybe they are the only one who can talk you back to reality. This person understands medication side effects for the crap that they are, and commiserates about things like dry mouth, weight gain and muscle aches instead of suggesting a glass of water or more positive thinking. This person understands the way you look at the world, and you won’t have to hide thoughts or feelings that others mistake as being dramatic. (This is, in my opinion, the most infuriating phrase in the entire English language. Never say it, it breeds stigma.)
I’ve got a few of these Mad Angels floating around my life, and they’ve saved me more times than they realize. I think I’ve done the same for them too. I found them all by being honest about my struggles with Bipolar Disorder and by following my gut.
1 in 5 Canadians has a mental health issue. Think of how many people you know, and I’m not talking Facebook friends. I mean family, real friends, people you bowl with on Wednesdays or invite out for coffee once every three months. How many is it? Now divide by five. Among them will be someone not only willing to listen, but itching to share their experiences with a knowing confidant like yourself.
Seek them out; you’ll be so glad you did. Maybe you guys could go to the movies.
Scared to come out of the Mental Illness closet to friends and family? I can personally vouch for all these anonymous and free resources filled with Comrades you can rely on:
A 24 hour moderated and anonymous place with discussion threads not only for those with many different illnesses, but specific threads for partners, siblings, parents and friends. A serious illness touches everyone in the patient’s world and everyone deserves a Buddy. I suggest a screen name with a pun, puns always get you friends on the Internet.
Trained volunteers man the phone lines if you’re very attached to your sweat pants. Experienced Buddies run the in person groups to keep the conversation focused on shared experiences and a feeling of acceptance and understanding.
About Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com