How to deal with me when I'm hurting
A friend posed a suggestion to me... To write something to provide some advice for those who are searching for the right things to say to someone who is struggling.
I'm no expert, but I can share some things that I've noticed worked for me.
I'll start with 4 tips:
- Start small, get an easy yes and start the conversation
- Try using some sort of grounding technique
- Be present, ask questions, actively listen
- Remember, this isn't about you. Not your fault, and ultimately not your responsibility
Start small, an easy yes
Let's say, I've hit an obstacle and I'm caught up in the spiral negative self talk. The logical areas of my brain have shut down and I'm running on this volatile sort of anxious energy... highly volatile, shakey, monkey-mind instincts, and self loathing.
Ask me for something simple, like "Can you do me a favor and take a few deep breaths with/for me?". Or, "Do you want to watch a movie?" or "Can we go for a walk?"... Basically, the point is to get me to open up by starting with an easy yes and get me to out of my head. I've read something similar as a sales tip, as a way to earn the potential customer's trust. In the case of helping someone in the midst of a anxious or depressive episode, it can help slow down and hopefully reverse the negative momentum.
It takes a little time to recover from the mental hurricane of stress and panic. There's no spell to break the instantly break the episode, but starting a conversation and moving from emotional fearful thinking towards logical thinking is a good step. Create tiny victories.
Try grounding techniques
Grounding techniques are often recommended as a way for to get out of the noisy chaos of your head and get a little closer to the calm, centered sense of peace and presence.
A year ago, this was BS to me. It felt stupid and I didn't understand how it worked. Much like when I would try meditation, the negative self talk in my head wouldn't let the real me feel it. There's tons of lists and tips on specific grounding techniques for ideas. Here's just one for reference.
Now, I can be stubborn and closed off and not willing to do something that I don't think will help, or I don't understand. That's a shield I'm working on lowering. So, I do what feels more natural to me. Maybe it'll be making a batch of tea or closing my eyes and tasting something intently and mindfully. Counting deep breaths. Silently observing my heartbeat until it's slowed. Anything to get me to focus on my surroundings and my senses; not the negative self talk.
Be present, ask questions, actively listen
It's human nature to want to solve problems; to want to help. But sometimes less is more. Sometimes, you just want company. Sometimes you just want to explain to someone else how you're feeling.
You don't need to provide the answers. Sometimes there are no answers. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, I've grown more annoyed and frustrated with advice from loved ones who are simply trying to help.
If you're not together in person, offer to check in every so often via text or phone call. If you need to, set a schedule, and stick to it! It's important for me in those moments to know that I'm not alone and to know that there's an open line of communication with a someone who cares.
Last note on this topic... Be patient. It can take time to recover. I often feel a sort of foggy mental hangover when I'm coming out of a depressive slump. Don't discount the baby steps.
It's not about you
It's chemistry. My reaction to a given event is a a complicated chain reaction involving long-held core beliefs, assumption, expectations, chemical imbalances etc... Chances are, even if I think at the time that "so and so really pissed me off", they didn't. Usually, it's just the way I'm interpreting the situation. Bullies aren't nearly as pervasive as they are in childhood, but my brain still reacts to situations as if I were that little boy getting bullied.
Don't blame yourself. Trust in your love for that person and in their natural resilience. Make sure they know you are there to support them.
It can take thick skin and a whole lot of understanding. The person suffering might say or do things that are inconsiderate, irrational, or downright mean. Know that they're not in their right mind, and if necessary, shelf that grievance until a less emotional time.
Recovery comes from within. My wellness is no one's responsibility but my own.
I've been alive for 10,983 days, and I haven't faced an insurmountable obstacle yet. That gives me hope.
Thanks for reading.
I love you.