I met Ashley the first month I moved to Toronto. She was a photographer, I was a stylist. We worked alongside each other in a tiny beaten-up studio for a fast fashion company. Ashley is loud and bright, crude yet charming and has the type of magnetic energy that commands a room. When I first met Ash, it was that ‘Oh, there you are, I’ve been looking for you‘ feeling. She instantly became my familiar in a city occupied by 9 million strangers.
“Ashley won’t be in today. She won’t be back to work for 3 months.” our manager announced. There isn’t much that I can tell you about this moment, other than the feeling of complete selfishness. For all I knew, Ashley was a powerhouse at work. What happened to her? Was she okay? What made her take a leave of absence? What made her want to leave me? I couldn’t help but feel abandoned. This girl, my rock, had vanished.
My best friend was diagnosed with major depression and generalized anxiety disorder at the age of 23 and suddenly I was the one hurting.
That’s the thing with mental illness, no one is there to guide you through the steps. There isn’t a handbook that outlines what you should say or things you should do when someone you love is battling darkness. While Ashley was seeking outside help, talking to doctors on the daily, and trying different medication, I was going to give her the one thing I knew I had; support.
I am not a doctor. I have not studied psychology full-time. I am merely a friend that would take on any hurdle if that meant happiness for my best friend. So below are some things to remember if your friend is battling mental illness:
Accept what has happened to them as a real issue. Depression is not sadness. Depression is a disease. Don’t underplay it.
Do your research. Mental illness comes in many different forms. If you don’t understand their diagnosis, research it! Educate yourself on what is happening to them chemically, emotionally, physically, mentally. I will never be able to put myself in Ashley’s shoes, but understanding her disease is a good start.
Accept them for them. They are still the same person as before. Be the same person back to them. Your friendship deserves that.
Be patient. Always. Be. Patient. Some days their mental health will be great and other days it will overcome them. They might cancel plans on you. They might ghost you. Don’t take offence, just check in to see if they are okay. That one message could make all the difference.
Shut up for once and just listen to them. If they need to just talk about whatever’s happening, listen to every word they have to say. Take them for a walk to the park when the sun is shining, sit on the grass with your shoes off and just listen. Their feelings are valid. Listen.
Learn their patterns. Do they need an offline day? Or do you need to march over to their house and be there for them in whatever capacity they need. Don’t be afraid to share some tough love.
Be empathetic, not sympathetic. They are warriors!! They battle a disease every damn day. They don’t need your pity. They need your support.
Last but not least they are worthy of friendship, love, and life.
Remind them of that.