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Why ‘Active Support’ Could Be What You Didn’t Know You Needed for Your Mental Health

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After 15 years of treatment for anxiety and depression, there was really nothing you could suggest I try that I hadn’t already attempted at least three times. Every diet plan, exercise routine, deep breathing, all of it. I had done it all, over and over. I had also taken every medication on the market, multiple times in various combinations, in the hope of combating my mental illnesses. My attempts, however, were met with limited success. At best I became a bit more stable, but never to the baseline of what most would consider ‘normal’.

I was in an emotionally abusive marriage for several years, during which time my mental health (not surprisingly) was at its worst. I ended up in a psychiatric hospital three times to stop my imminent suicide risk. I could barely function, and I didn’t want to live. My depression left me in a tunnel of darkness. My anxiety suffocated me as if I couldn’t move without running out of air. It was a nightmare, a living nightmare. When I divorced my ex-husband, I wanted to believe there would be a magic fix — that getting out of such a negative place would somehow “fix” my mental health.

It didn’t.

There was no magic, there never has been. But I did meet my partner along the way, and slowly but surely things did start to improve. He was patient, kind, thoughtful and understanding. Every anxiety meltdown was met with calm reassurance and assistance to get through it. The darkest moments were met with sincere care and unwavering love. In short: I had found the support I never knew I needed. It didn’t free me of my depression and anxiety, but it freed me to be who I was even with my conditions, without shame or guilt.

It’s difficult to articulate how having the freedom to actually be mentally ill would somehow make my condition better. Why would that improve anything? After all, that freedom wasn’t going to change the fact that I dealt with mental illness. It was simply a fact which I had coped with for over a decade.

Turns out, it wasn’t the freedom that was improving my mental health: It was the active support.

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It was the active attempts to provide a supportive and loving environment that were helping me feel better. Having someone who was willing to not only reassure me that I would “be fine” driving to a new place, but to write down exactly what lane to be in and put a smiley face next the last line of directions with the words “You’re home!” That was helping me improve. Having someone who could tell I was in a dark place just by the look on my face and would wordlessly go get his guitar so he could play for me — that was helping me improve. Having someone who knows when I need a hug or a break from the family Christmas party (without me saying a word) — those are the things that help me improve.

Providing support for conditions that may seem “irrational” or difficult to relate to doesn’t just mean accepting and loving someone. It means being willing to put forth the effort to actively help them in ways that are constructive and genuine. Providing support means doing the best you can to find new ways, no matter how small, to show them that you are there for them.

Mental illness requires an enormous amount of energy to tackle every day. Far too often it is something that we feel we must hide, even from well-intentioned friends or family. Mental illness can be isolating, it can be tiring, it can feel hopeless. Yet active attempts at providing support can be an incredible way of helping someone who struggles with such things.

Actively supporting a loved one with their illness could turn out to be exactly what they didn’t know they needed.

Photo by Davids Kokainis on Unsplash

Originally published: October 9, 2020
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