How to Be A Good Friend to Crazyfolk

I’m crazy. And I’m okay with that. I’m learning how to live as a crazy person, how to take care of myself, and I’m learning what I want and need in various friendships and relationships. There are so many aspects of my craziness that I need to share (and some I’d rather keep to myself), and it’s important for us – crazyfolk, and our allies and pals and potential friends – to have meaningful discussions, to have compassion and understanding, and to be open to all these things and more. I also think that those of us with mental health conditions need to seek out one another, befriend one another, get together and strategize/organize. How do we take care of ourselves? How do we take care of one another? Are there times when we need to admit that we are not always capable of those things?

Support is a really big word. And it’s different for all of us. I’m writing as someone who has been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, and chronic pain, among other things, and I’m writing as someone who grew up in and continues to live in poverty. I’m also writing as a queer, an introvert, and someone whose life has been consistently inconsistent. So that’s where I’m coming from, that’s part of my history. What I’ve written isn’t going to be true for everyone, but it’s what I know for myself, and I hope it will help you navigate your own conditions and boundaries, and those of your friends as well. I hope it will open discussions and I hope it will inspire you.

I’m going to begin with ideas on how to support us while we are in the hospital, and then move on to how to support us in our daily lives. And then I’ll provide some self-care tips for crazyfolk as well.

When We’re in the Hospital

Last Spring, I was in Homewood for two months, participating in a treatment program for those with depression and anxiety. Homewood is a treatment centre in Guelph with various inpatient and outpatient programs for people with mental health conditions, addictions, eating disorders, and so on. It’s been around for more than one hundred years. Although I’ve always been aware that treatment is, unfortunately, a privilege, not a right, I really had that drilled into me after I was referred to their depression and anxiety program. My first suicide attempt was in November 2006. I spent a few days at Guelph General Hospital having my stomach pumped, regaining consciousness, and talking to various nurses, counsellors, and psychiatrists. From there, I was moved across the street to Homewood Health Centre, where I was admitted to inpatient for one week. I was added to the waitlist for IMAP (Integrated Mood and Anxiety Program), and told that, since I didn’t have money or insurance, the waitlist would be quite long; maybe three to six months. I needed help immediately, and I freaked out. Instead, the waitlist turned out to be four and a half years. In the meantime, I fell apart a few times, put some of the pieces back together, and learned a hell of a lot. Nine months after being discharged, my life continues to be in a wonderful, adventurous state of transition, and my learning processes and self-care processes continue to develop. That’s where I’m at right now.

How can we support our friends when they/we are in the hospital?

1. Ask if we’d like visitors! And if we say yes, show up! When I was in Homewood, almost nobody visited me. A few people talked about visiting, asked about visiting hours, sent well wishes, but when it came right down to it, they did not show up. That’s not useful; it’s disappointing. You don’t need to be afraid of making plans with us, of coming onto hospital grounds, of hanging out. We are still human! We can still have conversations, we can sit down and drink coffee together, talk about our days, share stories, and it doesn’t have to be this weird, awkward thing. If you think it is, that’s your problem, not ours. Investigate those feelings. Talk about them. Get rid of them.

2. If you’re comfortable with visiting, please also understand that we will have days when we don’t want to see anyone. Don’t take it personally. Our days are mostly spent talking about difficult things. When I was in Homewood, a lot of my time and energy were spent on anger, depression, confusion, rage, and regret. Many of my conversations revolved around depression, anxiety, abuse, self-harm, trauma, and so on. By the end of the day, I was exhausted. I sat in my bed reading, journaling, napping, or daydreaming. The majority of our days on inpatient are spent in group therapy settings, and, for me, carving alone-time in each day was absolutely crucial.

3. Don’t forget we exist! Maybe we can’t participate in everything that’s happening on the outside, but we are still here. We probably miss you, but we need to take a break and take care of ourselves right now. Please don’t create unnecessary distances between us, or treat us like we are somehow different than we used to be. I don’t want to feel like a total freak when I come back to my supposed supportive communities (at least not anymore than I already do!).

4. Remember that these lists can and will change for different people at different times. The best you can do is ask us where we’re at, ask us if we’d like visitors, ask us if we want to talk about our mental health or anything but our mental health. Ask if you can share stories from your own life on the outside as well; we still care!

I feel like I would have had more visitors if I had been at the Regular Hospital instead of the Mental Hospital. Mental health conditions are obviously treated different than physical health conditions and injuries and whatnot, and while in some situations, that makes sense, I think that when we are in an institution where we are isolated from our friends and our communities and the routines of our daily lives, we need support and comfort no matter what the reasons are for us being there. If your friend was confined to a hospital bed because they’d broken their leg, you’d probably visit, and you probably wouldn’t pretend that the cast on their leg was invisible. So if your friend is in the hospital because they’re being treated for a mental health condition, visit. Talk to them. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening.

When We’re at Home

For those of us dealing with mental health conditions, and many others as well, communication can be really hard. I am shy. I find it difficult to initiate plans and conversations with my friends, though I am trying and I feel like I am getting better at it. Sometimes it’s easier for me to hide behind my computer screen and talk to you on the internet, or to write a zine and photocopy it and hand it to you, than it is for me to simply call you up and invite you over. I also have a difficult time making plans because my moods change rapidly and unpredictably, so I might make plans when I’m feeling super-pumped about life, then wake up the day of our get-together and feel pretty much unable to get out of bed. I don’t like cancelling plans, but sometimes it’s necessary. I’m learning what kinds of communications and conversations I need in my daily life, and I want to help others learn about their own needs and boundaries as well. I want to share these things, talk about these things, develop awareness about our various kinds of so-called crazy.

How can we support our friends in our daily lives?

1. Come visit, or invite us over to your place! I am not always comfortable in crowded places, and I’m usually broke, so while I do enjoy going out from time to time, it’s not something I like to do overly often, and I am usually too broke anyway. I like meeting up and hanging out at cafés, but can’t always afford a cup of coffee, so I’d rather just hang around at my place or yours, drink coffee or tea, and have good talks. You don’t need to worry about keeping me entertained or being the most interesting person in the world, and hopefully neither do I. I’m into cheap hangouts and good conversations, but then again, I’ve never turned down a trip to the bookstore either.

2. On a broke-related note: Disability! I’m on disability, and so are many other folks with mental health conditions and/or chronic pain. Please don’t judge us for a) where our income comes from, or b) what we choose to do with it. ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) is well-known for not providing a reasonable living wage. So I can’t always go out and spend a lot of money, see all the shows I want to see and buy all the records I want to listen to and all the books I want to read and eat out at restaurants all the time and buy a latté everyday. So please don’t expect me to. Let’s hang out without feeling pressured to spend money!

3. Please respect our boundaries. For example, I often need to go to bed early because I take meds that make me tired and make me require more sleep than the average person to function in my daily life, and I also have histories of insomnia and mania, so encouraging me to stay up all night is not always a fantastic idea. I do like to stay up late sometimes, and I miss my past night-owl-ism now and then, but it’s best for my mental and physical health if I try to maintain a fairly regular sleep schedule. Similarly, I require quite a bit of alone-time to recover from social situations, and I also require quiet-time and one-on-one time with my pals in general, so please respect that.

4. Listen to our stories. Don’t imply that we are Too Crazy or Not Crazy Enough. Both of these responses are incredibly invalidating and judgemental. Treat us with respect and compassion and care.

5. Don’t take the effects of our treatments personally. For example, a lot of the meds I’ve been on over the years have caused memory loss. I am not good at remembering names, sometimes I ask questions that were just answered five minutes ago, sometimes I forget the plans we just confirmed, and sometimes I am simply very scatter-brained or very groggy and blurry. It’s got nothing to do with you, just my weird moods and the chemicals in my body and my brain and my thoughts moving too rapidly to catch up with.

6. Ask us what’s going on in our lives, ask us how we’re feeling today. Ask us if we’d like a hug!

7. Do not give us unsolicited advice! It’s annoying and condescending. While I am totally open to listening to your stories and discussing what has helped you or what has helped your friends and family, I am absolutely not okay with the assumption that those are the things that are going to help me, too. I’ve tried many treatments; some have been helpful, some have not. Some of the treatments I’d like to try are entirely inaccessible to me due to my low income and lack of coverage. I don’t like being recommended treatments that cost money; that goes for various therapies and “alternative” treatments, as well as diets, vitamins, and supplements as well. If I could try them, I would, but that’s not where I’m at right now. If your next sentence begins with, “You should…”, then maybe just keep it to yourself, please and thank you. (But if I ask you for advice, hopefully you’ll be willing to share!)

8. Say and do things that let us know you value our friendship.

9. Discuss these lists with your pals. Talk about what you’d add, what you’d take away. Write your own lists. Share them.

Notes About Self-Care for Crazyfolk (and Everyone Else)

Self-care is the most important of all! I can’t stay sane or functional if I’m not making efforts to take good care of myself. Self-care means so many things to so many people, and it can change and evolve everyday. For example, sometimes I take care of myself by recognizing when I need alone-time, and staying home. Other times, I take care of myself by recognizing that I am using alone-time as a way of hibernating and isolating, so I instead force myself to go outside, or make plans with friends.

The following is a small list of some of my methods of self-care. The trick is not only to recognize when you need to devote some time and effort to taking care of yourself, but to actually do it instead of just thinking about it, writing lists, procrastinating, etc. It took me a long time to figure that out, and I feel like I am re-learning it everyday.

Ideas for Providing Self-Care

1. Write it down: journals, fiction, zines, letters, whatever, I need to write to get stuff out of my system, and sometimes I communicate better through writing than talking.

2. Turn off all technology: internet, radio, music, cell phones… Give yourself a break from life by creating a silent, calm atmosphere.

3. Keep up your basic daily self-care rituals, like having a shower, brushing your teeth, eating a decent breakfast, even if you’re not planning on leaving the house.

4. If you have animal companions, take time to snuggle with them and talk to them.

5. Slow down. When I am rushing through my activities and my days, I start to feel really crazy and jittery and like I’m constantly running out of time. When I make the effort to simply walk slower, prepare my food slower, focus on one thing at a time, I feel more calm and safe in my own body.

6. If you are doing things that are harmful to your psyche or your body, ask yourself why. Ask yourself what you are trying to accomplish, what feelings you would like to be experiencing, and then search for less harmful ways to find those things.

7. If you need to get out of the house, but don’t want to talk to anyone, go to the library. I like wandering the aisles and seeing what catches my eye, and I feel really great when I come home with my backpack filled with free books.

8. Declare a Self-Care Day! I do this sometimes when I really need to. A Self-Care Day means I get to do whatever I want all day long – within reason – and I don’t allow myself to feel guilty about not running important errands, or cancelling plans so I can stay home, or ignoring my to-do list in order to drink lots of coffee and make art, or whatever. Self-Care Days, for me, usually involve staying home, daydreaming, working on writing projects, not bothering to respond to emails and whatnot, reflecting on the state of my life in my paper journal, and burning yummy-smelling candles. I especially like to declare Self-Care Days on what I call Bad Anniversaries – certain dates that roll around each year and make you feel bad because something terrible happened that day however many years ago. Those are the days that I really need to be aware and take care of myself. Your Self-Care Days might look way, way different from mine, and that is absolutely okay. Do whatever you need to do to keep yourself alive.

These lists could go on forever, and they will vary and warp and change and grow for each person. I highly encourage you to try out some of the things on these lists, to write your own lists, and to discuss them with your friends and family. It takes an incredible amount of time and energy to figure out what you want and need, and it takes even more effort and guts to share these things with people in your life. It’s gonna be hard, but it’s also gonna be wonderful.

Crazily Yours,

P.S.: If you’ve benefited from my writing in any way – if my words have inspired you, helped you feel less alone, or sparked some weird feeling within you; if you’ve felt encouraged, or curious, or comforted – please consider compensating me by offering a donation of any amount. Whether you’ve been reading my writing for years, or just stumbled into me this afternoon, I invite you to help me sustain the process!

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