This story is part of a blog series called, “Your Story: a conversation on mental and emotional health and disabilities.” Please read with a heart open and understanding -free of judgement.
Please be aware that the interviewee mentions topics such as: anxiety, suicidal thoughts, depression, sleep disturbances, disordered eating. If these topics affect you in any way please stop reading, talk with a someone you trust, or contact a mental health professional immediately. You may also call the Suicide Hotline 800-273-TALK (8255).
A Note On Editing
Minor changes were made to the interview to bring clarity to the reader.
Let Us All Welcome to the Stage…
In this story, we see that age differences do not limit the help, comfort, care, and listening ear we can give to someone struggling with mental and emotional health concerns. We also learn that it doesn’t matter how far apart you live, you can make a difference.
What is your relationship to the individual struggling through this mental/emotional health challenge?
I met this young woman at a church youth camp for girls when she was 15. (I was their working as an adult leader, but I wasn’t that much older than she was.) She came late and was recovering from a knee injury. It was easy to tell she was uncomfortable being there, so I did my best to connect with her and make her laugh.
During the camp experience, I did my best to make sure she felt loved, appreciated, and wanted. I felt a strong connection to her – like I was at camp that year specifically to be a part of this young woman’s life. We stayed in contact after camp was over, and she would call and text me regularly.
How did their mental/emotional health impact your relationship?
I like to think that I am very accepting of individuals with mental and emotional struggles – probably because I have experienced my fair share of them in life. Sometimes, I think I am a light that draws these individuals in so I can help them. Then, eventually, they move on with their lives and so do I. Our purpose in finding one another ends.
With that in mind, her emotional health struggles never bothered me. I felt needed and important. I wanted to help her. Loving others through their struggles is something I often feel like I am called to do. I think she also helped me as I continued working through my own most recent bout of anxiety and depression.
What symptoms or behaviors do you notice in the individual who struggles with mental/emotional health challenges and disabilities?
Early on in our friendship, we did most of our communicating over the phone – calls and texts.
I knew something was wrong first when she asked me to adopt her – it wasn’t a super serious request, but at the same time, it was. Her home life wasn’t the best, so I understood the desire. I didn’t know what to do. I had only been living away from my home for a year; I wasn’t married, and at the time, I was recovering from my own mental health struggles and not working because of it. Could I have really been a good influence on her had she moved in with me?…I don’t know.
Eventually, she started having anxiety attacks when we would talk on the phone. Honestly, part of me was concerned that I was part of the problem that kept triggering them.
When she would be having an anxiety attack with me over the phone, I would spend a lot of time talking to her and encouraging her to breathe. At that point in my life, I had never had an anxiety or panic attack and I didn’t know quite how to relate, but I knew how important breathing was and being patient with yourself.
She also brought up regularly that she wasn’t eating well – because of the anxiety – and I would encourage her to eat. Eat just one meal or drink juice. Do something to keep giving your body nourishment. This I did understand.
And regularly, she would call me because she was having a hard time sleeping. We would talk, and eventually, she would fall asleep, and I would end the call.
Did you have an intervention, a conversation, or receive a “plea for help” with this individual? And if so how did you respond?
Eventually, we stopped talking as much. It was hard to be there for her when I lived multiple states away. My life was also moving forward towards marriage, while she progressed through another year of high school. Our schedules were completely different. I still did my best to reach out whenever I could, though.
Trigger Warning: At this point in the story, the author goes into description about when her friend told her she was suicidal and how she helped her.
Finally, we were talking one evening, and she told me about having suicidal thoughts. I didn’t really know what to do since I lived so far away, but I knew I needed to know how serious the situation was, so I continued asking questions to see if she had a plan. She did. At the same time I was messaging her, I called and asked my mom what I should do. She told me I needed to tell her mom. I didn’t know how to do that because I didn’t have access to her phone number, so while I talked with my friend, my mother contacted one of the leaders in my friends church congregation, and they went over and told her mom and talked to my friend about what she was experiencing.
She got the help she needed, but she also didn’t want anything to do with me anymore. She was mad at me for tattling on her. I completely understand her point of view. But I did it because I wanted her to be safe. Even though we weren’t as close anymore, I still loved and cared about her. I would have had an extremely difficult time forgiving myself if something bad had happened because I wasn’t willing to help her get the help she needed.
And even though we still don’t talk very often, I regularly think of her and wish her all the best that life has to offer.
Do you feel that you’ve played a role in their treatment and healing process? If so, how?
In some ways, I guess. But ultimately no. There are a lot of other experiences that she has gone through without me there. I think I might have been the initial spark to get her to notice that she was struggling, and I think I might have figuratively called 911 when she told me about feeling suicidal, but other than that I haven’t done a single thing – unless loving someone from a distance counts.
Has this experience made you more aware of those around you who may also be struggling? And if so, what actions are you taking to be there for love and support?
I have always been aware since most of my friends have struggled in some way or another. But I think it made me more aware of “how much” I CAN do. I may live 5 or 6 states away, but I could still find a way to get help for my friend
Looking back on this experience, I am grateful for my own friends and family who though states away have taken equally good care of me. And I hope that if any of them need help I can be there.
What advice would you give someone who is witnessing the mental/emotional struggles of someone they love?
First – Love them unconditionally.
Second – Even if you can’t be there for them 100% 24/7, make sure they have a circle of people they can count on.
Third – Make sure you take time to take care of yourself. You can’t help someone else unless you are taken care of first. This doesn’t mean you act selfishly and take away from their experience. But it does mean that if you need to unwind and unload from spending time with them, cause let’s be honest it can be exhausting, then do it! Take a nap, practice yoga, soak in the tub, watch your favorite show, and make sure you are grounded and strong before you return to their aid.
Fourth – Push and encourage them to get better. If you know they haven’t been eating, ask. Cook a meal and eat with them or drive them to get their favorite ice cream with a side of french fries. They haven’t been showering – tell them, “Hi friend, I love you, but you stink. It’s time to take a shower. I’ll turn the water on. I’ll get you some clean clothes to put on. All you have to do is hop in and soap up. I’ll be here in the house with you, and I won’t leave until you get out. Sometimes, they just need to know they aren’t alone and that someone cares.
Is there anything else you want to say about this experience of witnessing and caring for someone with mental/emotional health struggles?
You, the caregiver, are not alone! And, you are making the BIGGEST difference as you care for someone with mental and emotional struggles. Thank you so, so, so much! You who are struggling…YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN! And once more for the people sleeping in the back – YOU ARE NOT A BURDEN! We do this because we care. We love you. And we know you will get better someday.
Thank you for sharing, and thank you for caring!
Continuing the Conversation
Feel free to continue the conversation on mental and emotional health in the comments below. But please understand that your comments are being moderated and will be deleted if they are hurtful, hateful, or inappropriate in any way. This is a safe space to share your story about mental and emotional health and disabilities. Please do what you can to keep it as such.
A Note For Readers
If this story has inspired you to share your own story, please click here to be taken to the introductory post where you will learn where the inspiration for this blog series came from as well as how to participate.