Speaking up and reaching out - my experience
Michelle, Brighton & Sussex J-Soc
While I was during one of the worst depressive episodes of my life, between thoughts of harming myself and self-defeating thoughts, I heard my boyfriend ask me a simple question, “What is that would help you right now?” At the time, I didn’t think anything of it, I was too far into my own mind and the illness was crippling. I don’t even know if I answered him, honestly. I don’t know if I had the capability to do so. It wasn’t until a few days later that the question came back to me and I could give it my conscious attention.
Empathy. That was the first word that came to mind. Someone who understood what I was going through, who didn’t judge me for wanting for all the pain to disappear and that I was almost willing to do whatever it took to get the pain to stop. Don’t get me wrong, I love my boyfriend and he supports me as fully as he’s capable, but I’m the first instance of mental instability he’s directly dealt with and he’s navigating uncharted waters. He means well, and most of the time he’s able to help me.
But he can’t be my only support system here. I made the decision nearly a year ago to leave the security of living with my parents to move to a new country and to further educate myself. It was one of the bravest decisions I’ve made, but also possibly one of the stupidest. I came over here not really knowing anyone within the city, with no knowledge of how I’d handle myself if my mental health were to go unsteady. I was a bit overly optimistic, as I tend to be. The fact that I had anyone in this city is amazing. My boyfriend really went beyond what’s necessary to be there for me and to make sure I made it through each episode to the best of his ability. I honestly don’t know what I would’ve done without him. I don’t know if I’d still be here.
But like I said, it’s not fair for him to do this alone. He was in frequent contact with my mother thanks to technology, but she wasn’t with me and we were all painfully aware of how little she could do from such a distance. I reached out to my aunt and uncle who live a few hours away and they helped the best they could. I still didn’t have anyone in Brighton besides my boyfriend who I could really rely on. I had one friend who tried – bless her – but she just couldn’t handle it. I know she meant well and she does what she can to support me. She’s never dealt with mental illness either, though, and I could see that it scared her when I wasn’t my “normal” self.
What would help me? A support system. People who I could depend on time to time to just hear me out and emphasize with what I was going through. Who understood the pain and how it never leaves and how we didn’t ask for this. People who have been through hell and returned -- they might be a little singed but they’re mostly intact. People who understand that I don’t want to die, I very much like being alive, but the fact is that the pain is sometimes unbearable and that sometimes death seems like the only way to stop it. People who understood what it was like to not be able to keep up with your own thoughts, let alone trust them. People who understood the difference between actively wanting to die and then just being ok with the idea if something were to happen it wouldn’t be the worst thing ever. People who knew what it was like to rely on medication to keep going every day. People who understood me.
Obviously when I came over here I knew it would be a challenge making friends. I painfully underestimated how difficult it would be. I don’t want to undermine the friends I’ve made, I’ve really met some fantastic people and I consider myself extraordinarily lucky to be able to associate with them. Up until this point I didn’t have anyone who filled the previously stated criteria, though. The loneliness began to creep in again at this point, but at that moment I made the conscious decision to not let it take over me. Not this time. This time I would take control and I would do something about it.
I had been introduced to MeetUp.com when I was living in Florida with my parents. I was lonely then, too. I only knew people from work and most of my friends from high school had mostly moved away. I needed friends. Badly. I decided I would try the site again and I looked for a Mental Health Support Group sort of thing in Brighton. Brighton may be a vibrant and lively city but there wasn’t a single MeetUp for anything related to Mental Health. I was not impressed and decided spending the £15 to set up my own group would be worth it. I’d try it out for a month to see what kind of reaction I got.
Within a week I had to pay an extra £5 because I had hit the maximum number of members I could have under the first subscription.
I was overwhelmed with the response. I knew not everyone would come to every meetup, I’d be lucky if I got around five at any given session, but the amount of interest really blew me away. It showed me just how needed something like this was in any community. Members told me that I had “hit a rich vein of need” and that the massive interest in the group “goes to show how many there are of us that have different mental health issues, and need/want support from others”.
The first MeetUp was a success. We had ten people there who were willing to openly speak about their experiences and we all quickly felt comfortable in each other’s company. The amount of honesty and sincerity shown by these practical strangers when they found that people were willing to listen to their stories was moving. Everyone was kind, nonjudgmental, and willing to help one another. Just a couple of hours together and there was already a sense of community. I had never expected this to go so well. I even didn’t expect to speak much, I was wary about sharing my own experiences and didn’t feel I would be able to open up to strangers about something so personal. I found myself speaking about things I haven’t spoken about to anyone in years and I really felt it made a positive difference.
All I can hope for at this point is that the sessions continue to be as positive and as healing as they have been so far. I’ve only received positive feedback from members at this point, so I feel it’s safe to say that the reception of my gamble paid off. If I’ve learned anything it’s this: One, that people will speak up when they know they have someone willing to listen; two, we can learn a lot from people, even if what they’re going through is supposed to be similar to what you’re going through because no two people have the same experience; and three, we need more groups like this out there. We all need a safe place to tell our stories, be heard, and to receive support. This journey isn’t meant to be taken by ourselves, we have the opportunity to positively influence those around us, and through that we can make our own voyage more worthwhile.
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