It's hard for both the person who is ill and the people around us, because part of a lot of mental disorders is a tendency is isolate oneself. I'm a nightmare for it, and as a result most of my friends were pushed away and so, in a way, we form our own crosses. That doesn't make it any easier and I know at times trying to be there for me can either be really heavy or feel like I'm being false, depending upon my mood. There are things you can do though, and just general support you can offer that really means something. I thought I'd share some of the things people have done for me and how they've helped, just little things that mean a lot.
You might feel like a visit might be too difficult, but how about starting a conversation on Facebook? It's free, it's easy, and if you're feeling a bit awkward you can spend some time thinking about what to reply. I personally find phone calls really overwhelming, so check first. It doesn't even have to be anything heavy, just don't fall into the bit where you both say you're fine and that's about it. Offer something that's going on, good or bad, for you, because not everything has to be about us, the ill ones. It doesn't even matter if you don't particularly know somebody but you notice they're struggling, just drop them a line. Harriet is a girl I knew at college but I've only recently been able to really think of her as a friend, because she pops up pretty regularly on Facebook with support and every time I'm amazed by her.
Cards and post and whatnot.
The walls of my hospital bedroom are almost covered. There are a few posters, hundreds of photos and then random letters, notes and drawings all over the place. I love it, because every direction I look, I can see something relating to somebody incredible. I've got a million page letter of hilarious nothing-ness from Alex that I read repeatedly when I'm struggling. Get your felt-tips out and draw a happy picture, pop it into the post and I can guarantee that you'll raise a teeny tiny semblance of a smile, AT LEAST. Even if your friend isn't in hospital, everybody loves fun post, especially when they don't have much other fun going on.
Popping over for a cuppa.
I keep my medication downstairs when I'm home, deliberately so I know that at least a few times a day I'm forced to get out of bed. There was a time just before this admission where, as a result of my Anorexia, I couldn't really walk, and so I'd slide downstairs and then have to sit, exhausted, to rest. Getting dressed was completely out of the question, and don't even ask about showering. But still, my friend Ce came around, and never commented on the state of me, to chat general life. By doing this, she reminded me that there was a world outside of my failing body that I could be a part of, even if just vicariously at that point, and she offered her ever-logical and understanding perspectives on my state at the time (I was refusing treatment, over-dosing, drinking alcohol all day, starving). She saved me at that time by reminding me there was more than just the diseased bubble in which I lived, and made me feel loved by somebody I didn't feel HAD to love me.
I suppose this is an obvious one, but, actually... I get upset at times when I think of family members and the such who haven't visited over the last year, although those thoughts are always gone when Emily (cousin by blood, little sister by life) comes. The lengths some people have come to visit me are astounding. Even the fact that my mum spends every single Sunday in Bradford with me, which must be knackering both physically and mentally. It's not just about the difficulty of the journey, it's about the courage to enter this kind of environment and to not know how I'll be when you get there. From my perspective, I can't describe the excitement of seeing an 'outsider' and how much it means. I wouldn't expect people to go out of their way, but it's always lovely when I'm in in Scunny and old friends pop over. Don't be too intimidated to go visit, but make sure the person is open to seeing you and call their unit, or your lovely gesture might thrown back.
The awkward moments will come, they always will, but they'll also pass, if you let them. Because behind the mental illness, there's a person. And that person is complex and beautiful, just like you. It might be hard to start a conversation, or to see a person in a bad way (there were few people I'd have let come around to my house when I was really ill), but it's harder still to live thinking that you're forgotten.