Friendships through mental illness

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude

This is oh so true for those of us suffering from the travails of Complex PTSD, Trauma and the aftermath of childhood abuse. We are powerless in the face of the flashbacks and memories and the onslaught on our minds. It is those friends who can stay with us in those moments that I treasure, who can handle those moments and who can then turn up for a normal meeting over a cup of coffee the next morning. They are as rare as hens teeth. My once wide social circle of friends is now two trusted stalwarts who I totally can trust. They have stuck with my family through thick and thin and not shied away from the spectre of mental illness and it’s ugly presence and face when it shows up. They are supportive not just of me but my partner and children too recognising the impact trauma has on the entire family. They build my self esteem as they allow me to support them and do not lock me out of their lives but interweave me normally as in a normal friendship. This takes guts and strength on their part. They have educated themselves and realise we are still the same friends we have always been but with special challenges requiring extra support at times. The Mental Health Foundation of the UK puts it well when they say, “Our friendships are among the most valuable relationships we have. We gain in various ways from different friendships. We may talk to friends in confidence about things we wouldn’€™t discuss with our families. Our friends may annoy us, but they can also keep us going.Friendship is a crucial element in protecting our mental health. We need to talk to our friends and we want to listen when our friends want to talk to us. Our friends can keep us grounded and can help us get things in perspective. It is worth putting effort into maintaining our friendships and making new friends. Friends form one of the foundations of our ability to cope with the problems that life throws at us.

“€œThe best thing my friend did for me was that they just accepted me as I was.”

“They kept coming to see me even though I did no€™t seem to want them and they made me laugh.”€

 So these friends may be few but look after them and they will look after you.  I have been deeply hurt by friends I have heavily supported over the years and they took to the hills at the first sign of mental illness. I have managed to let that hurt go and put my energies into my family and friends who do support so do not waste your energy chasing shadows. Choose wisely and you will be rewarded ten fold by what you receive and what you find you can give in return. As Tim Winton writes in Breadth “It’s the pointless things that give life meaning. Friendship, compassion, art, love. All of them pointless. But they’re what keep life from being meaningless”

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