TEN: The Sport of Support

Thank you for helping me, I don’t think I could ever repay you.

Me, expressing my undying appreciation for Student Loans

This one goes out to our support networks. On behalf of all of us here at Tim Action News, we thank you for your ongoing support of our brand. But really, to those who work their fingers to the bone to help us out, let me start out by saying something important. Your effort, regardless of its effectiveness, has been, and continues to be, appreciated at a level that words cannot convey.

I understand, as someone who is always learning to manage his mental health, how incredibly challenging it can be to try and support someone who is struggling. Sometimes a support person can relate to the struggles of a loved one, but sometimes they have absolutely no common ground to stand on and don’t know how best to help. Consider this an insight, albeit a small one, into how my support network helped me, and how I tried to approach being a supporter

First and foremost, let me stress a very, very important point here. Are you listening? I want you to play close attention to what I’m about to say, because this is priority numero uno.

You don’t have a degree in psychology, so we don’t expect you to have the answers. But we appreciate all that you do, all that we ask is that supporting us does not come at a cost to your own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

I’ve been on both sides of the coin, I’ve been someone in desperate need of help, someone who had no understanding of what was “wrong” with me. But I’ve also watched someone I loved suffer, and felt completely powerless and useless. Neither of those feelings were A1, but the important thing I needed to realise on both occasions is that I was doing absolutely everything I could, and that was all that anyone could ever ask for, that was okay.

No two mental health experiences are the same, so there isn’t necessarily a “one size fits all” approach to being an absolute rockstar looking out for their loved one. So, from the perspective of an untrained individual with experience with mental health, these really helped me out;

Validity/Acknowledgement – one of the most beneficial things a loved one could do for me is validate or acknowledge how I was feeling. Something as simple as being told that what I was feeling wasn’t weird, or that what I was feeling was okay, made a difference.

Respect/Time – it can often go without acknowledgement just how much we appreciate a friend or family member reaching out and saying “hey, if there’s anything at all you want to talk about, I’m here for you”. That is the first big step forward. What’s important to understand is that very moment might not be the time they want to talk, so respecting that they will come to you when they’re ready is crucial. We don’t want to be reminded on a daily basis, but a little gentle encouragement from time to time can sometimes get the dialogue started.

Education – As a supporter, educating myself of the condition (if diagnosed) my loved one was suffering helped me to understand. They don’t need to know we’re doing it, but a simple google search can help us put things into perspective and help us to implement dialogue from a different, more effective angle. I found education through social media, by sliding into the DMs someone who had suffered my loved one’s condition, and it helped me in a big way to approach the issue better.

Language/Tone – For a conversation in person, this is important, but for a message this is vital. We need to consider as a supporter, that this is often a very difficult and sensitive topic, and opening the dialogue is easier sa-…uh…done than said? Hm. We need to approach this with a gentle tone, offer the conversation’s steering wheel to them. If there is something they want to get off their chest, they will. As far as language is concerned, it’s all about using a dialogue that encourages progression of conversation. Expressing appreciation for them opening up to you is welcomed, from my experience. Here are some dos and don’ts, for reference;

DOS

  • “What you are feeling is so valid, do you think there are is anything we could together to make this a little bit easier?”
  • “I may not always understand, but I will always try. No matter what you are feeling, I am here to listen”

DON’TS

  • “Cheer up! There are people out there doing it much worse than us!”
  • “Calm down”
  • “It’s just a phase, you’ll get over it”

Accountability – this one is about you, as a supporter. It can be a bitter, but necessary, pill to swallow for someone dealing with a mental illness. It is often difficult for someone with that big brain-rain cloud over their head to see through the fog and think beyond their bubble, but it’s important we bring them back down to earth when they need to hear it. For me, I’d have panic attacks disguised as fits of rage and anger, and it was always directed at the hands that were extended to help me. What opened my eyes was being held accountable for the way I spoke to or treated my loved ones. It wasn’t about discrediting my illness, but I was still a grown man who knew right from wrong, it was important to realise no illness could justify not respecting those who loved me. It’s a very difficult conversation to have but, as I said earlier, it is absolutely crucial that you understand that being a supporter does not come at a cost to your own physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.

I hope this sheds a little light on a sometimes difficult conversation to have. If you take nothing else from this, just know that any effort is appreciated. When the black dog is barking, it can be hard to express this, but don’t ever think that the things you do with the purest of intentions ever go unnoticed.

Positive thinking can be contagious. Being surrounded by winners helps you develop into a winner

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Mental Health

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