Over the years, I have encountered a number of friends going through deep, dark times, including depression, anxiety, addiction and eating disorders. Let’s face it, being human is fucking hard. Who can say that they have skipped through life with no bumps in the road? No matter what your circumstances, chances are you’ve gone through a rough patch. After personally going through one of these patches myself, I felt inspired to share a few things I have learnt along the way.
1. Be patient
There is no quick fix for this sort of thing. There are no definitive answers. Your friend may not even understand how they feel and why. They may push you away or find it hard to talk to you – no matter how solid your relationship is. The key is patience and perseverance, but saying that…
2. Don’t let the situation inadvertently affect you
It can be very easy to become wrapped up in trying to ‘fix’ your friend, but this poses a risk to your own health and wellbeing and you may begin to feel overwhelmed. You may then begin to feel increasingly negative towards them, rundown and burnt out by the situation, which in turn, could make you start to resent them. As much as it is in our nature to want to help, some boundaries need to be set. Remember you are not a carer or a therapist; look after yourself first and you can transfer that positive energy onto supporting your friend too.
3. Try not to take things personally
Under the circumstances, you may find that your friend becomes very socially withdrawn. They may be less responsive to calls and messages, struggle to stick to the plans you have made together and generally come across as a bit ‘flaky’. Naturally, your first reaction will most likely be one of hurt and you will begin to question whether it is something you have done.
If you find yourself in this situation, you need to remind yourself that this is nothing personal against you. The worst thing you can do is confront your friend about it, who is probably already feeling like they are a burden. This will just amplify their feelings and make them withdraw even further. Instead, talk about how it makes you feel and reassure them that you understand and accept why they are acting this way at present.
4. Listen up
Listen compassionately and without judgement. This is far more important than giving advice. Talking about their feelings won’t necessarily mean that the problem is solved, but it may certainly ease their suffering.
5. Think before you speak
It is so easy to say things like: ‘We’ve all been there’ and ‘you’ll be fine’. These are automatic responses to everyday life problems and most the time we probably don’t even realise we are saying them. The problem is, this actually comes across as incredibly dismissive to someone who is deeply suffering. We haven’t all been there and they may not be fine. Instead, try saying ‘I don’t understand exactly what you are going through, but I am here for you’.
6. Remind them how awesome they really are
Your friend may be in a downward spiral of self-hate, self-doubt and that voice in their head will probably have nothing positive to say about them. This is where you come in; be that positive voice who fills their heads with reasons why they are awesome.
7. Encourage healthy habits
Encourage and motivate them to look after themselves physically and mentally. Get them outside for some fresh air and exercise, make them something delicious and healthy to eat, accompany them to a mindfulness class, make them a small care package, buy them a helpful book – every little helps. Don’t try and drag them on a night out and ply them with alcohol – this will only end in tears.
8. Be a calming influence
Your friend may be experiencing some truly erratic thoughts, paranoia and mood swings. This can be really difficult to comprehend and upsetting to witness, but remember, you don’t need to fully understand, you just need to be calm, be the voice of reason and offer a hand to hold.
9. Be honest and realistic
Speaking openly and honestly with your friend about how they feel and how you feel may be hard, but communication is key. By being in denial and ignoring the problem, you are essentially enabling it.