(for new readers: Adventures in Zombieland is a series on my experiences with mental illness. Two years ago I was diagnosed with major depressive disorder and generalised anxiety disorder, and six months ago I was diagnosed with hyperacusis. We call it Zombieland because dealing with these disorders is much like walking through the land of the living dead. Perhaps the exploration might help with the healing.)
Before I begin, I would like to say this:
Thank you. To every single person who has showed any and all support with my mental illness: thank you. Thank you. Thank you. I do not think I am capable of fully expressing how grateful I am for your warmth. It has helped enormously, even though I am not always in the state to say it. Every single kind word is heard and appreciated. This post does not undermine that at all.
With that being said, there are some kind words that help more than others.
I know that sometimes it will be a drag to hear, yet again, that my mental health is in a rut. I know that you sometimes feel as if you are repeating yourself when you try to support me. I'm sorry about that. I am trying, and you are trying, and I hope that we can help each other try.
This post is my attempt to help you try. I hope it clears up some of what is going through my head when I tell you that today is a sad day. And I hope it clears up the words you can say to truly help me feel better.
And so, there is this:
Please don't ask me if I am okay. If you have to ask, the answer is probably no. And then I will lie and say that yes, of course I am okay, because even now it makes me supremely uncomfortable to admit when I am suffering. Instead: tell me that you are thinking of me. Tell me that you understand life is hard right now, and that you love me anyway. Tell me the kind things you think I already know, because chances are I have forgotten them. A reminder will never go astray.
Please don't tell me you are here if I need to talk. That is so very lovely of you, but if you feel the need to say it, that probably means I am drowning in anxiety at this very moment and am spinning excuse after excuse about why you will hate me if I email you. Instead: you could email me first. Reach out. Make the invitation. Perhaps I won't email you back, because another person making the first move does not eliminate anxiety altogether. But it does help alleviate it, if only the slightest bit.
Please don't tell me I should stop worrying, or that there is nothing to be sad about. I know I should stop worrying. I know there is nothing to be sad about. The fact that I cannot stop obsessing over and crying at tiny things is why I was diagnosed with these disorders in the first place. Please don't make me feel like an idiot for something I have no control over. Instead: acknowledge the things I am sad about or anxious over. Even if it is nothing, even if today is just an inexplicably grey day, that does not make my emotions less valid. Remind me of that. Let me know that it is okay to be like this. I forget, too.
Please don't constantly ask me to answer your message. I realise that I am a slow responder. I am not the best at answering emails or messages or questions, especially when my mind is fogged. But there is nothing that ratchets up the anxiety more than constant repetition. Instead: the best, most wonderful words in the English language are "no pressure". I put so much pressure on myself already, especially fuelled by the assumptions of the pressure I think you are going to put on me. Please tell me that I can move at my own pace and you will still love me anyway. That is the most freeing thing in the world.
I will reiterate: if you have said any of the things above, know that I adore you to no end, still, no matter what. All of us make mistakes. It is not your fault. Please keep trying. So will I.
And, at last, when you are in doubt, here are the words that will help no matter what, in any situation when my mental illness is getting the better of me:
What do you need?
This is perhaps the most beautiful and open-ended question I have ever received. Someone I love said it to me and I tucked it away, because I wish everyone had the sensitivity to know that this was exactly what I needed to be asked. It is productive and proactive. If you truly would like to help me, invite me to tell you what I need, specifically, to help me with healing right this very moment.
Sometimes I will say I don't know.
That is okay. When I say I don't know, usually it means I just want your support. Sometimes that is the best thing you can give. Sometimes it is the only thing you can give. My mental illness is me hanging onto a rock face by my fingernails, with a hundred-pound weight on my back.
Your support is not going to haul me onto solid ground. But it will lessen the weight. And sometimes, that is enough.