The little pleasures in life are often the most precious. Earlier this month, I was indulging in the tremendous joy of FA Cup fever and sweet sweet Arsenal victory. For some, the idea of the biggest channel on telly dedicating an entire day to men kicking a ball to get the chance to lift a tin cup is ridiculous. For some of us it is good old tradition. But for all the fanfare and hype, occasions like this are nothing without supporters. And I know that, like many men suffering from a mental health diagnosis, the support we receive is vital.
Nobody will dispute that we all need somebody sometimes. I personally cannot be more grateful to those who have stood by me when I couldn’t stand on my own. But sadly, I know I am not alone when I say that often living with a mental illness can feel incredibly isolating, and even more so when one feels isolated from their loved ones. Through speaking about Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and men’s mental health on twitter to fellow sufferers, medical practitioners and those who support sufferers, I have learnt a vital lesson. Simply put, we need a more open dialogue between sufferers and those trying to live with and love us.
I have nothing but admiration for those who live with, love and stand by the people in their lives who far too often suffer in cruel and devastating silence. But there needs to be an acceptance of the fact that those who support us also need support themselves. Part of the solution comes in learning about and understanding the conditions loved ones are diagnosed with. Not all sufferers exhibit the same symptoms of a specific illness, but a general knowledge of what someone goes through goes a long way in building skills like empathy and patience. And to the gentlemen who are being supported, we too have a role to play. It is our duty to help our loved ones understand our symptoms and how they affect us. Let them know that at times we may be unreachable but this may not always mean disaster. Try and clue them into our thought patterns and behaviours. For many this will take great reflection and perhaps even professional help to gain such introspective insight. This was the case for me and I tell you there is no shame in this. The work is difficult but vital in helping prepare our loved ones with the tools they need to help us.
From a very personal perspective, I am still on a path of discovery on this end. My relationship with my mother in particular changed greatly once I opened up to her, and she read a book written to support those living with someone who has BPD. I am convinced that without these two events happening at the same time, there would still be a strain in our family. However, it is only in the last few weeks that I have accepted that I have not done enough to inform my closest friends about what my illness really entails on a daily basis. The truth is, all my friends wanted was to know what they can and cannot do to help me daily and in my darker times. These are things they just could not know without some input from me.
I want to reiterated in case it is not clear: I am not attacking either those suffering or those supporting. Rather, I am addressing an issue I have found to be an all too silent but potentially destructive reality. A reality of spaces built for love turning into war zones. The battle grounds of one side feeling like they are not understood while the other feels exasperated as all their efforts seem to have little impact. This is a pattern I know for a fact affects many and yet it is not, in my opinion, given enough exposure.
The day before the cup final, an Arsenal fan account tweeted instructions for fan choreography during all the pre game festivities. Holding up of scarves during the anthem, waving flags when the teams come out etc. To many with an ‘old school’ mind set this may seem corny. But it is proof that even supporters need support. And on this occasion it came from a twitter account. As it so happens, there are numerous online services which support those living with someone with a mental illness. Literature, blogs and NHS services in some areas also available. I cannot profess to be an expert on all the channels one can reach out to when seeking support for the supporters, but what I do know is that the help is there. And it is necessary. The attitude that simply being ‘there’ is enough must end if we are to truly harness healthy and happy lives as friends, lovers and families.
By far my most loved FA Cup final traditional is the singing of the cup final hymn ‘Abide With Me’. I find the last words of the first verse particularly poignant; ‘help of the helpless o, abide with me’. As men afflicted with mental illnesses we show great strength to get by everyday. But hard as we try, there are days we are near totally reliant on others to get by. Reliant on those who love and support us. But I do not see my loved ones as the help of the helpless, as I have learned that they too need help. Help to understand us; systems in place to guide them through what can be a tricky maze of emotions and behaviours.
There is no failing in those who seek support for mental health issues. Similarly, there is no failing in loved ones seeking the help necessary to live with and support a sufferer. At times we are all helpless. All the more reason to abide with each other and be honest in accepting the help we genuinely need.
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