In my last post I talked about making new friends, and in other posts I have mentioned opening up to my friends at home. But I’ve never really taken the time to write about the impact of friendship on mental illness and how blessed I am to have a supportive group at home.
To put in context:
I had a couple of friends who knew about the traumatic event which occurred about five months before I had PTSD. Remember, when the illness crept up on me I couldn’t explain what was happening let alone to anyone else so I struggled with the idea of telling people – if I don’t understand how will they? Once my Mum and Dad found out they wanted to know what kind of support I’d had and straightaway picked up on the fact that I was hiding my illness away from almost everyone in my life and honestly, keeping up a happy facade 24/7 was exhausting. So they insisted that I widen my support network.
Why did I open up the way I did?
Making that kind conversation happen is really tough, even now I find it emotionally and mentally draining to tell my story right from the beginning (this blog has been great for me because I can tell little snippets of my experiences which pushes my limits without over doing it). But it was even harder at the time because opening up was still very new to me and I hadn’t been diagnosed with PTSD yet so I couldn’t “label” what was going on to make explanations simpler.
It took a few days of my mum convincing me until I saw sense in telling my friends but I knew that repeating the same emotional conversation with each friend individually would be too much on me, so I sent a short message to all my girls saying they needed to come over that evening because we needed to talk. I have no idea what thoughts were going through their heads but it makes me chuckle in hindsight at how dramatic it must’ve seemed!
I sat in my living room with my Mum and one friend who already knew holding my hands. I had around 10-12 of my closest girl friends all squished onto the sofa opposite me waiting for the last person to arrive and for me to start talking. To this day I’m still amazed how many people made it to my house on such short notice! That’s good friends for you.
The biggest hurdle was getting out that I’d been through something very traumatic. I still don’t talk about it in detail (apart from with my therapist) and no one but my absolute nearest and dearest know. It is still so deeply painful to remember. After getting that out, which took considerable effort, I begun to explain the changes I’d been going through over the past few months and that I would be going to seek professional help.
Initially I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many blank faces staring back at me which lasted for just a few seconds whilst everyone absorbed what just happened before a few jaws dropped and even a few tears fell. I think the main confusion and shock impact was because no one had noticed a change in me, no one had picked up on any depression and that was because I was ashamed of what had happened to me, so I had been scared that someone would notice and want an explanation. I became very good at hiding behind my smiling, same-old-Anna mask. So it was a total shocker for my buddies.
Honestly, give my parents a pat on the back because it was a great idea. My girls treated me almost no differently than before, which was a good thing because I was scared their opinion of me would change.
But they always checked in on me when we were out, asked me how I was progressing and never ceased to remind me how proud they were of me. Now if something is wrong and I can’t get through to my parents or my boyfriend I am comfortable calling any one of them or just writing “someone please call me” in our group chat and knowing help will be on the end of the phone in a flash. They may not understand what it feels like when I have derealisation or anxiety, and they don’t pretend to either but they can calm me and make me smile which is most important thing of all. I would say to some extent they kept me in college because I knew I’d be safe and distracted if I was with them.
It gives me a lump in my throat to remember their kindness.
If anyone reading this has been hiding like I did and wasting all that effort to seem fine when you’re not, I would 100% recommend opening up to at least one friend if you haven’t already. Make it so you have minimum one person in your support network that is at home, at school and when you’re socialising who can take care of you when you need it. That’s one of the things about travelling alone that’s been so tough, I haven’t got my best friends with me!
I realise I’m very very very lucky to have a group of friends who respect my privacy, who haven’t gone and blurted out my trauma and illness as gossip. I’ve spoken to a few people who, so sadly, have not been so fortunate. In reality we shouldn’t have to hide mental illness anyway, but a true friend can appreciate that it’s your story to tell not theirs.
Of course it was tough on them too so there were a few minor downs along the way but that only brought us all closer together. If you don’t feel comfortable or safe talking to anyone you know, then you got a friend in me. I’m happy to help and to talk! You are most certainly never alone.
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