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How to Reach Out to Someone Struggling With a Mental Illness

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Two years ago, I experienced a major life crisis. I wasn’t myself, but my self was doing terrible things. Regrettable things. Eventually, I returned to reality and watched as wind displaced ashes of my past life. The stench of death impossible to remove. Death of friendships. Death of security. Death of faith.

• What is Bipolar disorder?

A new beginning lay before me, but it was the restart I never requested. No requiem nor relief. One of the most challenging aspects of my restart was the isolation. In fact, I was inspired to write this post because I’ve recently had several people — friends and colleagues I’ve deeply cared for, for quite some time — tell me:

“I wish I would have reached out sooner, but I didn’t know what to say.” 

And, let me be clear when I say I don’t blame them. I don’t.

One of the most heartbreaking things about a heartbreaking illness like bipolar disorder is it creates a chasm between persons living with the illness and the ones they love (and even the ones they just see on a regular basis like the professor, or the coach, or the neighbor or even the pastor). 

Bipolar disorder was — and has been — a disruption of everything. When you’ve gone full-blown Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde like I did, it’s hard for others to know how to relate to you, be near you, work with you or approach you. I, too, would be hesitant to reach out to a person who, for a time, unknowingly succumbed to madness and horror. Whose brain couldn’t be trusted and whose actions brought forth havoc. The hesitation is human and the reservations are valid.

All this to say someone in your life will inevitably experience a great disruption.

Things may eventually calm, and they may begin their own intentional journey of healing. At this point, you might feel compelled to reach out because the compassion you have for them outweighs the judgment in your heart. You might feel anger, resentment and fear, but you know you want to connect.

I invite you to go ahead and reach out to them. 

Take your feelings with you. You don’t have to put them on the shelf. Take your questions with you. Take your truth with you. Gather it all, pick up the phone and let that person know you’re thinking of them.

Promise yourself you’ll try to listen, and remind yourself you get to be heard as well. I received several, “I’m thinking of you” texts last year. They lifted me during some of my most shame-filled moments. They cut through darkness and briefly shook me out of isolation.

If you find the relationship is worth it and you deeply care for the person, I invite you to commit this act of bravery: write a few genuine words to the aid the unseen in feeling seen and hit send. It could very well save a life.

It saved mine.

With a stable mind and a positive prognosis, I’m grateful to know death didn’t claim every relationship. My faith wasn’t killed, just strengthened. My security has been renewed. It’s now firmly planted in God.

Original photo by author

Originally published: January 24, 2020
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