I have a couple of friends who, over the past couple of years, have confided in me that they suffer from a mental health issue, in one form or another.
I should, I think, make it clear that they don’t have such issues because they know me. At least I don’t think so.
I think they both know – because I have mentioned it here on at least one occasion – that I’ve battled similar demons myself. I was never officially diagnosed with any particular condition, mostly – well, wholly, if I’m honest – because I was too much of a coward to seek professional help. When I last mentioned it, several people assumed that it was when I spent six months unemployed, but it was actually a little earlier than that, but still within the last ten years. I’ll not elaborate further, because it would mean me confronting some out-and-out lies I told to people both at the time and subsequently; they’ll probably know who they are, what the lies were, possibly even knew they were lies at the time. But it’s a scab I’d rather not scratch at, thanks. Not yet, anyway.
It’s amazing how much mental health awareness has improved in such a short time, for were I to ever slip back, be caught by that black dog again, then I’d not hesitate to seek help now.
But I’ve been lucky. So far.
One of the aforementioned friends (obviously, I’m not going to name either of them here) confided in me shortly after we met for the first time in far too many years, at Llŷr’s memorial service, last February.
I have to say I was totally surprised by this revelaion, for they had always seemed such a cheerful old sod, not exactly without a care in the world, but certainly not weighed down with the baggage of expectation, pressure, responsibility, either.
And then I realised that that is almost exactly how many people view me – laid back, entertaining company, very little really phases me. Admittedly, I don’t have the pressure of a family, or a mortgage to deal with. But one’s day-to-day life brings it’s own particular worries, and how we react to them simply cannot be predicted.
And I realised that they had probably been doing the same as I had all these years: wearing a mask to disguise how we’re really feeling.
I asked how they dealt with it, and they told me that they have a close net of friends who they will contact whenever they felt the darkness descend and they will look out for my friend, listen when needed.
I’ve been added me to that list now, I’m part of the network, and I’m really pleased and proud that they felt they could open up to me and tell me how they feel.
I mention this because I’m worried about the other friend at the moment.
Again, I’m not going to name names, or go into specific detail, but I noticed a week or so ago that they seemed to be struggling.
Unspoken, not pre-agreed, I’m part of their safety network too. That seems to be the most positive way forward to me: to know that you have friends who have your back, and who are there for you. We had agreed to meet for a couple of post-work, Friday evening drinks, to chat things through, in the hope I might be able to shine a little light. Because that’s what everybody needs to lift their spirits – a night out on the booze with yours truly! I should be on prescription, seriously.
But that didn’t happen, which means they must be finding things really tough right now.
So I want to post something positive, uplifting, but I keep coming back to the song I’ve chosen tonight.
On paper, the title is everything that being supportive should not be; it’s a “Man Up!”, a “Cheer up luv, it might never happen!”. But leave the title out and absorb the rest of the words and hopefully it makes sense in this context.
R.E.M. – Why Not Smile (Oxford American Version)
Hey you. Yes, you. You know where I am if you need me.
And whilst we’re at it, if you know somebody who you think might be struggling, let them know that they can talk to you. That might be exactly what they need.
You’ll be amazed how much ‘just talking’ helps.