I’ve found that people don’t really know how to deal with crazy people. Especially crazy people in crisis. I think that is because most people are “fixers”. The vast majority of people need to do something to feel like they are helping. They need to fix a problem and they need to see results to feel like they have helped. The problem is, depression can’t be “fixed’. It just has to be survived. Kind of like a storm. You buckle down, make it through and when the worst has passed you evaluate the damage, try to pick up the pieces and move on with whatever you can salvage. There is no fixing in the middle of the storm. And there are rarely positive results afterwards to measure your “success”.
I have a lot of experience in being there for people who are struggling and I feel like I have learned a lot in the last couple of years from living through the storm myself. So I am going to share a little bit in the hopes that it can help you if you want to take on the supremely hard but incredibly important work of being there for someone. Here are three things that helped me when I was in crisis.
1. The most important thing you can do is to not do anything. You need only be there. It sounds simple but it is one of the hardest things you will ever do. To just be there for someone. To just sit there steeped in the pain without words, not giving advice, not actively doing anything can feel impossible. Especially when the pain is thick in the air and it hurts your heart just to be close to it. But the best thing you can do is to just be present. We as people want to help, we want to fix, we want to take away the pain. But sometimes there is no helping, there are no words, and you just can’t help with the pain. During my darkest times my husband asked me on so many occasions “What can I do to help?” The answer quite simply is nothing. There is sometimes no helping these dark scary feelings. But you can be there with them. You can stay with them, hold them as they cry, listen to their pain, show them with your presence how important they are to you. It won’t fix anything. But it may just give them the strength to keep trying.
2. Express how important your people are to you. Love is powerful. At my lowest point I felt like I was a burden to everyone around me. My brain lied to me, telling me I was worthless, that nobody loved me, that the world and my family and my friends would be better off without me. And I believed it. All I really wanted was to hear that people loved me to combat the lies my brain was telling me. That they valued me. That I meant something to them. Unfortunately most people don’t say these things. And for some reason “I love you” is so hard for some people to say. It takes vulnerability and I think deep down we are all afraid that others won’t reciprocate so we keep it to ourselves. If you know somebody who is struggling tell them how much you care for them. How much you love them. How important they are to you. How valued they are. There were days where one person reaching out to say “I love you and I am thinking of you” was enough to keep me going.
3. Check in when you are not with them. Check in so they know you are thinking of them. This helps to combat the feelings of being worthless, of feeling unloved. It is a tangible way to show that they are on your mind not just when they are right in front of your face and not just when it is convenient. It shows them how important they are to you. Even a short text can accomplish this. A note here; Check-ins are helpful and important but trust is even more important so if you tell someone you are going to check in later you need to follow through. If someone is in crisis and they feel like nobody cares about them and a friend says “Hey, I’m worried about you, I’ll check in later” and then doesn’t follow through that can wreak havoc in a brain that is already distorting and lying to you about how nobody loves you. One of the worst things that happened when I was in crisis was one of my closest friends saying they were worried and they would check in but never following through. They did this often. It sent me spiraling more than once thinking that if my own best friend didn’t care about me enough to follow through and to check in when they were admittedly worried for my well being how much could they really care? Would they even notice if I wasn’t here anymore? I probably wasn’t as important to them as I thought I was. It reinforced my fears that my brain was right, it wasn’t lying, nobody cared about me. After all If one of my closest friends couldn’t bring themselves to care why would anyone else? If you are saying you care enough to check in be sure you follow through. That trust can be impossible to gain back.
To summarize if you are looking to help someone out… Be there, tell them you care, show them they are important. Three steps that are difficult yet also so simple. If you don’t know what to say you can try “I’m here. I love you. You are important to me.” I think those are the most important words you can ever say to another human. You have no idea how much they can help someone. Even if it gets them through just one more day. That may be enough to gain some momentum for the next. It may be enough for them to feel like they are worth it.
These are just three things that have been on my mind. Things that were helpful to me and that have been helpful to others. There are so many other things and everyone struggles differently so these may not help everyone. If you have advice or things that have helped you please feel free to share in the comments section. I would love to have tools to add to my box. We could all use a little more to help in the fight. Every little bit helps.