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To the Friend Who Doesn't Understand My Illnesses, but Still Tries

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When I told you I had attempted suicide, you didn’t know what to say. You didn’t offer any advice on how to cope. You had no similar experience, so you couldn’t share any personal stories. You don’t have other friends with mental illness, so you really had no idea how to handle the situation.

When I tell you I’m again seriously tempted to kill myself, all you can really say is that I shouldn’t give up.

When I tell you about my different illnesses, you seem dumbfounded. It’s like I’m speaking some alien language.

You don’t know the right words.

Once, you sent me a photo with a quote that attempts to encourage the reader. But it was shallow and even a little patronizing. Of course, I didn’t say that. Instead, I smiled and thanked you for sending it.

The fact is, no matter how much I attempt to get you to understand what is going on in my mind, I know you never will. So why should I even bother to be friends with you?

The answer to that is simple: You try.

When I’m curled up in the bathroom floor of a motel at 2 a.m., ready to end it all, I know you’ll be there to talk with me.

When I encounter something triggering for my PTSD, I know you can help calm me down.

When I get really excited about seeing three red-tailed hawks together, I know you’ll listen to me talk all about it, and we can have a nice conversation about birds.

When I send you an article on mental illness that I identify with, I know you’ll read it and appreciate the insight offered.

When I thanked you for sending the photo, I wasn’t lying or being sarcastic. I recognized you were doing something kind. The very gesture you made is what brought a genuine smile to my face, and that comes all too rarely these days.

Plenty of people understand what goes on in my mind. Plenty of people know the right words. But that doesn’t mean they care. It doesn’t mean they try. Some will only talk to me if I’m actively suicidal. Some won’t talk to me at all. All the understanding in the world won’t make them treat me any better.

You’re not my friend only in the good times, or only in the bad. You’re my friend all the time. You’re willing to talk whenever, about whatever.

I don’t mind that you don’t understand. But I’m overjoyed that you care. I’m alive today because you try.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.

The Crisis Text Line is looking for volunteers! If you’re interesting in becoming a Crisis Counselor, you can learn more information here.

Originally published: June 17, 2016
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