“Can you keep a secret?” She asked.
“Sure,” I said. I thought it would be a confession about a boy who stole her heart or some typical teenage angst situation.
She digs deep into her soul with a deep breath. As she exhaled, all these words came pouring out... Words that I didn’t quite understand at the time. Depression? Self-harm? Suicidal thoughts?
How could I even begin to comprehend such a complex world that I’ve never set foot in before? I was only fifteen... All I knew was, my friend was hurting, and I had to do something about it.
At the time, mental health wasn’t a concern. Nobody talked about it. If it was being discussed, it was synonymous with words like “Crazy”, “Lazy”, “Excuses”, and “Dangerous”.
Nobody knew what it was back then. I daresay very few even know what it is right now. And this is the dilemma. How do we help someone we don’t understand?
As I continued to listen to her stories, I tried to grasp the gravity of her emotions and thoughts. I struggled to empathize with her inner turmoils as she battled invisible foes Every. Single. Moment. Every. Single. Day.
After dinner, we hugged and I prayed with her. She said she felt better. I was relieved. Something I did or said must have been remotely helpful. But I knew it wasn’t enough. I fumbled across the internet, trying to figure out a way to help my hurting friend.
Medication, therapy, professional healthcare, rehab centers, and doctors were recommended on all these websites. But I was NONE of these things.
Day after day, I’d watch her burst into tears as she told me about the heaviness of her emotions. She’d get panic attacks throughout the day. She’d try to hide new wounds on her arms. She barely had an appetite. She either didn’t sleep at all or she slept too much.
Others would think she was lazy and making excuses. Some of them even said she was trying to get attention from boys. But they were wrong. And I knew I couldn’t blame them. Although some of them were intentionally ignorant and dismissive, many of them were just simply unaware. But I knew the truth. I knew that she was trying her best every day to complete daily tasks around the house. She’d tell me that she struggled just to breathe at times.
But she survived each day. And those days slowly amounted to weeks. And even slower, it amounted to months. She began to get professional help and that was the moment that her life drastically changed for the better. She began to smile again. She still had many ups and downs. But it was part of a recovery process. She was taking steps to heal and grow.
Now, after all these years, whenever we meet up, she’d tell me how much it meant to her that I didn’t dismiss or belittle her struggles. She’d mention how grateful she was that I took the effort to understand her first before giving my opinions or advice. I will never forget those words, because, through my own struggles, I have realized how just that simple fact can make such a huge difference. It truly matters when someone takes the time and effort to meaningfully understand you instead of carelessly giving random advice or cliches that are teasing or playful jokes.
Dear reader, I don’t know your story. But if you or anyone you know is in the dark trenches of mental illness, please know that there is always hope for healing. Some seasons will be harder than others. But that’s okay. It doesn’t mean that it’s hopeless. Your journey is NOT over. You and your loved ones can thrive even in the darkest of seasons.
Don’t underestimate what you can do when you have the right tools to help yourself and others.
Sincerely, A fellow traveler.