Helping someone who is suffering

Don’t walk behind me; I may not lead. Don’t walk in front of me; I may not follow. Just walk beside me and be my friend.             

                                                                Albert Camus

Forget everything you THINK you know about being helpful…I’m just going to be BLUNT here… I can almost guarantee you…what you THINK is being helpful… will NOT help one bit… and quite likely… it will just make things worse. 

I know from experience that people ( even though well meaning ) usually ALWAYS missed the mark regarding “helping” me when I was really down… I eventually learned to keep quiet when I was in my downhill spiral… and I learned to cope alone. To this day… I find it difficult to open up about my struggles.

First of all… I will talk about the things NOT to do… That list is probably just as long as the list of things TO DO… But… it is equally important to cover… In all honesty… doing the wrong thing is worse than doing nothing at all. It just adds frustration and unnecessary stress onto the person who is already feeling down and out. 

NEVER tell someone to just get over it… OH my goodness… that is like spitting at… and slapping someone across the face at the SAME time.  Honestly… if this is all you can come up with for a QUICK FIX of “SACRED” ADVICE… PLEASE… I beg of you… STAY HOME… and SHUT UP!!! ( sorry if this sounds rude… but seriously…. I will buy you the duct tape… just call me LOL ).

All joking aside… telling someone to get over a mood or episode is not only NOT HELPFUL… it is actually HARMFUL to the person who is suffering… because it causes extra stress and adds a ton load of guilt and shame. I could go on and on about this… but I think you get the picture… It’s just NOT COOL.

DO NOT ASSUME your help is wanted. Yep… you heard me… If you come into a situation THINKING you can fix everything… STOP!!! You are entering this with the wrong perspective… It is NOT you who is ill… it is someone else… Often times we try to force others to take our own medicine… Do not touch those curtains to let the sun in… don’t put on the tv so they can get their mind off their troubles… don’t tell them to get dressed or out of bed. This kind of “helping” is simply being a BULLY… and again… NOT HELPFUL.

DO NOT YELL or SCREAM at someone who is suffering… If you are losing patience with someone… WALK AWAY. This is not the time or place to be pulling rank on someone. 

Do NOT NAG… The definition of nagging is repeating something over and over again. It is annoying and again… USELESS. 

You can’t fix it so don’t even bother trying. This is not your job… or your responsibility. 

Ok… so…. Moving right along… These are the things that are actually HELPFUL.

ACCEPT that the person you care for and are wanting to help… is SICK… the same kind of sick as someone who has cancer and is lying in a hospital bed. Because mental illness is invisible… it is often mis-understood and mis-treated. 

BE KIND… BE COMPASSIONATE… BE GENTLE… If you enter into a situation with this kind of desire… you are at a good place to actually be helpful.

***REMEMBER*** If you are privileged enough to be entering into a private glimpse of someone at their worst… you had better be worthy of the position. If you enter in with judgement and disgust… you have absolutely FAILED your mission and lost the right to be there. 

ACCEPTING SOMEONE WHERE THEY’RE AT… EXACTLY where they are at… whether in a dirty bed… on the floor… on the couch… dressed in pyjamas… in a dirty apartment.

Take a deep breath and join them… sit with them… sit beside them… climb into the bed to be beside them… and just BE THERE… I will talk about this in another separate post because it is important. 

SILENCE… Sometimes silence is the most beautiful thing. JUST BE THERE with them… at their level.

( I learned this valuable lesson working on the streets with the homeless… My favorite thing to do was simply to pluck myself down on the sidewalk beside my  little “pet” drunk… and just sit with him… on the ground… sometimes he would rest his head on my shoulders… we would just hold hands and watch the people walk by. ) 

HELPING OUT AT HOME… If you desire to help someone with household chores that need to be done such as dishes etc… ASK FIRST… helping someone with cleaning can be a gift indeed… but again… this is a delicate matter… If you are visiting someone who is sick… and they don’t mind your help… then do a few things before you leave… it will be appreciated. 

PAMPERING THE SICK ONE… Bring cards… flowers… meals… gift baskets…. BRING it all… It may not seem like this is appropriate or even appreciated… but do it… THIS is the time to pamper someone… whether they want it or not… I assure you… they absolutely NEED the ACT of CARING… 

BE YOURSELF… Bring the patient… caring… gentle and kind version of YOU.

LEARN TO WEEP WITH SOMEONE… There is nothing more beautiful than someone who is moved by another’s pain… and allows themselves to FEEL IT.  

Part 2 coming Friday!

-Momma Bear


Momma Bear’s Story

I don’t like my story… and sharing it is something very difficult for me… BUT… I will share it because I want to be REAL and I need to be HONEST… If the purpose of this blog is to support and encourage those who suffer with mental illness… then it has to start with me. 

I was born an unwanted child… and when I say that… I mean my mother did not plan me or desire to have me… I just showed up… As a result of this… I became and remained an only child. 

My mother also suffered with mental illness and tried on numerous occasions to take her own life when I was very young. My mother was also an alcoholic and I grew up in a home where strangers came into my house to “party” on a frequent basis. Because of this… I spent most of my time alone and very lonely. I have often said that I raised myself… and that is basically true. Special occasions ( especially Christmas ) were always terrible… because mom was too drunk to pay attention to me. 

My father did not appear to suffer with any mental health issues but he was also an absent parent. He was not often home due to work and/or night classes that he would enroll in to further his education. When I was 14 years old… I came home to a terrible fight that my parents were having… My father had my mother pinned to the floor and told me to call the police. The police came and took my mother away to a psychiatric hospital… Once they left… my father soon followed without even a good-bye to me… and he walked out of our lives. I spent two months staying with friends of my parents… and for me… that is when the real nightmare began.

For about a year… I waited for my father to return… I simply could not believe he had left me. I was stuck living with a “crazy” woman… and on top of her being mentally unstable… she had suddenly “found” God. I am not able to describe the sheer agony I went through for the following years… It was bad… really bad… I have no idea how I managed to finish highschool… but I did and I even went to College.

By the time I graduated from College… I was living on my own and life should have been wonderful… It should have been my time to spread my wings and fly… But… sadly… it was the beginning of another nightmare. Shortly after graduating from College… I discovered where my father was after 6 years of hoping and wishing.

I took a train from Ontario to Alberta for this long awaited reunion… I was sure that I was going to FINALLY get the explanation of what happened and why he did not come for me all those years ago… I will never forget my excitement on that train… I was bubbling over with such joy… as I was going to be reunited with the ONE person who actually loved me… and made me feel special. I quickly found myself totally DISAPPOINTED as he was NOT sorry he had left… I doubt he really even thought about me and he assured me that he was not interested in being a father.

From that moment on… my life took a turn for the very worst… I started to drink…  I was so filled with RAGE… so filled with DISAPPOINTMENT… HURT… and ABANDONMENT… I felt ALONE… and so very LOST…

My drinking lasted for about 5 years… I can’t even tell you how many times I would be put in a cab and sent to DETOX… only to sign myself out and start all over again. It was HELL… but… I was on a mission to find LOVE… to find someone to LOVE me… and I was going to SHOW my dad… that I was loveable… even if he did not think so. I find talking about this very hard… and so without going into details… I will simply say that my father and I parted ways shortly after we met up again… I got notice that he had hung himself several years after that… and I did not attend his funeral.

Fast forward a few years… I finally got clean… but my life did not get better… I was sober but so very miserable… When I was 28 years old… I got pregnant… I had a son… and I suddenly found myself in a position of being responsible for another life. My son lived with me until he was 2.5 years old and then I made the decision to allow him to go live with his father… because I thought he would be much better off. Sadly… to this very day… my son will not speak to me… he absolutely refuses to believe I am sick… He simply thinks I am a terrible monster. I cannot begin to express the unbelievable guilt and shame I have carried around because of the hatred of my son towards me… It has consumed me and paralyzed me… and prevented me from being well… My son is now 30 years old… he has two children… and I don’t even know their names… We have not spoken in 12 years. 

Several years later… I got pregnant again… and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl. I remember feeling such guilt… and more shame… here I was… still alone and about to be a mother again… except this time… I had no family to fall back on… I was all alone… When she was born I remember saying to God… PLEASE don’t make her sick like me… and PLEASE help me to raise her. 

I am happy to report that my daughter is the one who raised me… LOL… She has been my saving GRACE… she has walked with me… supported me… and FORGIVEN me for all my mistakes… She understands that I am sick… and through all her own pain and suffering has become my biggest supporter. 

This blog is about two people who have been deeply affected by mental illness… and we lived through it… I am so proud of my daughter… I am honoured that she would want to take this journey and also want to include me. Like I stated in my introduction… her story is very different than mine… but somehow… together… we are stronger and better.

~ Momma Bear

Lady D here….I would like to add a thank you to Momma Bear for all her hard work these last few years of learning to accept herself and love herself more. I am so incredibly grateful that we have a great relationship today, and that working on this blog has made me want to understand all mental health in a better way. To be able to encourage others who are struggling, and to bring a voice to those who are struggling. We are all special and unique in our own way, we all have our own stories, we are each different, but together we can help create dialogue in our “circles.” Let’s make mental health a “normal” topic, something that once can feel comfortable to share. We are all overcomers!