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What I've Learned About Reaching Out to Friends During a Mental Health Crisis

Editor’s note: If you struggle with self-harm, the following post could be potentially triggering. You can contact the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

Yesterday I experienced a series of triggers that pushed me into a terrified state. In that state, I was convinced by my post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)-fueled thoughts that I had made a horrible mistake that would destroy my life. I ended up yelling, hitting myself and banging my wrists. I didn’t demonstrate my “healthiest” coping skills.

Now that I’m calmer, I’m embarrassed by my “meltdown” but also able to reflect on what went well. Namely, I tried talking with a friend on the phone, but when I spiraled into distorted thoughts and raised my voice, she pointed out that our conversation wasn’t helping me. She calmly stated that she hoped I took good care of myself and that she would talk to me again later.

What went well is that while I hurt myself, I didn’t hurt our friendship. I accepted that she wasn’t able to help in that moment and didn’t blame her. I didn’t yell at her for saying she needed to end the call. Therefore, I’m confident that I haven’t damaged our bond, and that when we talk again today it will go well. 

Learning how to have this kind of loving, respectful interaction while in crisis has been a process. In the past, when I was unable to console myself, I would desperately try to make the other person make me feel better, even when none of their attempts were working. This put unfair pressure on them to do the impossible. It made people limit their interactions with me.

I’ve learned that to maintain friendships, I need to own my emotional intensity challenges rather than expect someone else to fix them. The fact that someone can’t de-escalate me doesn’t mean they don’t love me. This is incredibly hard to remember in a crisis, but it gets easier with practice. And it allows me to have close relationships despite struggling with PTSD.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who struggles with emotional self-regulation, I’d like to say that it’s OK when you can’t fix things. It’s OK to recognize that sometimes you can’t help, or to take a break if someone’s behavior is upsetting you. Ultimately, you can’t solve someone else’s emotional intensity challenges. You don’t have to do the impossible in order to let them know you love them.

If you or someone you know needs help, visit our suicide prevention resources page.

If you struggle with self-harm and you need support right now, call the crisis hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text “START” to 741-741. For a list of ways to cope with self-harm urges, click here.

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Thinkstock photo via stock-eye