I’ve been writing a lot lately about my own struggle to stay balanced while managing a migraine, my Functional Neurological Disorder(FND) symptoms, my cat Rorschach’s health, and my own emotional response to the threat of losing BiRequest, one of my primary social supports and resources.
While all of this has been going on, a friend of mine has been going through some really difficult life stresses and is now acknowledging the severity of his own mental health issues.
Things have come to a head this week, and besides fighting off my usual holiday depressive tendencies, and trying a new treatment for my migraine (yay botox), I spent a day trying to help my friend stay in the psych ward of a hospital, and have put time and energy into trying to find the supports he’s going to be needing in the near future.
Since I’m currently working on keeping myself on track while helping him to the appropriate degree, I figured I’d share what I’m aiming for and trying to do, and why.
Put on your own life jacket first
So, the first and most important thing is following some form of radical self-care when helping or considering helping, your friend.
If you try to help your friend with their problem, and you end up in worse shape for it, that may be a net loss, as you now need somebody to help you, and for many of us, it can take a lot longer to balance ourselves or heal or recover from stress.
So, if you know that a friend needs help, step back a moment and make sure that you’re emotionally able to handle their problems or concerns without neglecting yourself and your own needs.
In this case, I’ve been through milder but similar stresses and symptoms as he is dealing with, so am in a situation where I can deeply understand him and have more potential to help.
While I am not feeling 100%, my main limitation is the migraine, which primarily translates into trying not to overdo it on using phones, computers and TV.
Spending time with him is more likely to reduce that time rather than add to it, and the bits of research I am doing to help him are also potentially helpful for me for this blog in the future and to connect more with others in the disabled community.
I have found https://howtogeton.wordpress.com/ to be an amazing resource, and Lily Silver, the author, also has a very supportive Facebook group built around HUD and section 8 housing. If you are disabled and looking for housing support, I highly recommend the group!
Also, while I am worried about him and his mental health, I will feel that way whether I am helping him or not, and the issues he is dealing with are associated with experiences I’ve already processed and no longer find triggering.
So, having considered it, I know I need to keep up my meditation practices and gratitude exercises and be extra aware of the possibility of falling into a bit of a depressive funk, but as long as I can keep myself focused and take care of myself, I should be able to help him without making my life more difficult!
Set and protect your boundaries
Before you throw yourself into helping your friend out, think about what boundaries and priorities you need to protect – what you need to get done to take care of yourself and keep your own mental and physical health on track.
For example, I wouldn’t cancel any doctor’s appointments or similar commitments to help my friend. However, I have made trips up to the city specifically to support him, have done some research to help find resources to help him, and am keeping in touch with him through check-in texts.
I know that going into the city can be tiring for me, no matter what I’m doing up there. The past few months, every time I have gone up for anything else, I’ve reached out to this friend to see if he wants to spend some time together while I’m up there.
Until this week, though, I always planned to see him with additional plans, as a way to protect my mental and emotional health.
I was fine with going up to spend time with him on Monday, because I didn’t have any competing plans(other than a general ‘work on my blog post’), and I knew that the support he was depending on was being denied, so I wanted to both comfort him and see if I could advocate for him and help him make a plan.
I did make it clear that I wasn’t able to go back up again before or during Thanksgiving,
While I am very concerned about his mental and emotional health, I knew that if I can’t afford to get too distracted by his situation.
I recognize that if I focus so much on him that I ignore my own needs, I’m going to crash and also not be able to help him.
Give yourself recuperation time
I am helping him to make sure that he consistently has supportive company as much as possible. However, that doesn’t mean that I am going to see him every day.
I went up and kept him company at the hospital on Monday, then spent Tuesday going to appointments, and on Wednesday, Al and I took Rorschach to the vet for a followup.
Thursday is Thanksgiving, and we’re doing dinner with Al’s family, and Friday we’re doing a belated Thanksgiving celebration with my family. I’ve got rest time and writing time most of these days, though I have been finding it a bit hard to stay focused on my work.
In the meantime, I know that my friend was released from the hospital on Tuesday(and had a friend bring him home), saw his therapist Wednesday and spent time with another friend- who he is also celebrating Thanksgiving with.
He has plans with other friends on Friday and Sunday too, so I may go up to see him again on Saturday.
In between, I’ve been doing my best to take care of myself, rest up, with just getting a few suggestions from facebook connections for things to look into for him, and the occasional text.
I’m finding myself a little distracted but this is always an emotionally tough time of year for me. I know that if I get too emotionally affected by my friend’s situation, I won’t be able to help him because I’ll need to focus on myself.
To combat that, I’m making sure that I have time at home, can enjoy time with Al’s and my families, and doing my best to keep up a self-care routine.
Have a plan for disengaging if necessary
If I notice this situation becomes too exhausting or challenging, or if I feel that trying to help him isn’t working, I will need to take a step back. I don’t want to abandon him, or feeling like I am doing so.
I have connected with mutual friends so that I can recruit some of them to do things I might not be up to, or help make plans with others for either recuperative support after I see him, or to make sure he has company without me making the trip.
I also have pulled together information and sent it to him so that he already has been helped by me in the sense that I’ve given him ways to connect with helpful supports that aren’t me, so that even if I have to back down later, I knew that I have done what I can to help him.
Along similar lines, I’ve shared most of the program information I found with a mutual friend, so I don’t need to be the only one to mention it.
If I hit an emotional fatigue point and need to take some time for myself, I have not committed to specific additional plans and I can take a few days without feeling like I have let my friend down.
If you are worried about a friend but find that you are overcommitted or overwhelmed, make sure you have a way to back down without feeling like you feel like you’ve abandoned your friend, and preferably so that they don’t feel abandoned either.
You can keep yourself together while helping friends
As I’m trying to help and support my friend through his crisis, I’m also carefully monitoring how I’m doing and making sure that helping him doesn’t hurt me.
If you face a similar situation, please first make sure that you are okay and that you are physically and/or emotionally ready to take these actions without it hurting you.
You also need to think about your personal boundaries – they may be emotional or energetic or mental. Whatever boundaries you need to protect yourself, be sure to have them and respect them.
As you help somebody else, make sure that you also have the recuperation time and space you need. You deserve to continue to enjoy your life while helping others.
Finally, protect yourself by having a plan to extricate yourself if it becomes too much. Whether you need more time to take care of yourself, feel emotionally overwhelmed, or just have a lot of other commitments, do your best to put yourself in the position of being able to step back and take a break if you need to.
Having friends and supporting them is important. However, to really be able to protect yourself and your friends, it’s important to recognize and work with your own limitations and protect yourself from being overwhelmed by your friend’s problems.