Like a lot of people, I wear a lot of hats in life. I’m a parent, a partner, a writer, an avid coffee-drinker, and a terrible dishwasher-loader, to name a few.
But there is one thing I do, above all else, that comes to mind this time of year, as the days are darker in the northern hemisphere and talk of mental health is pervasive: I’m a person who loves you through it.
If you’re someone who loves people through it – and my guess is, you probably are – then you know exactly what “it” is. It’s hardship. It’s struggle. It’s pain. And it comes in many forms.
In the last few months, I’ve been loving the folks in my life through a host of things, from relationship breakups to scary medical diagnoses, from job losses to schoolyard bullying. Many people are going through many things, and as a support person, I need to be many things to many people. No small task.
And that’s okay. These folks are the same ones who are always there for me and my family when we need them. I mean, they haven’t taught me to load the dishwasher less terribly, which is pretty selfish of them, but they’re great people otherwise. Reciprocating on the support front is the right thing to do, especially when life is handing them lemons and is all, “Here you go, bitch” with a smirk on its face, and I just happen to know how to make some sweet lemonade with that.
I’ve been through a lot of my own struggles. Situationally, things have really sucked sometimes. I also have a lifelong anxiety disorder that’s exacerbated by bad situations, and have had three diagnosed bouts of depression (that’s just the diagnosed ones.) Each time, I’m caught off guard when life chucks the lemons at me, and each time someone I love will come by and say, “Oh, hey! Are you thirsty? Let me see those.” And whip out a juicer.
Life is a circle, where sometimes you’re the person going through it, and sometimes you’re the person loving someone through it. And I’m cool with being the one lugging around the juicer for others. I really am. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy work. Small appliances are heavy, yo.
At this time of year, there are a lot of kind words out there for those who are going through it, particularly those whose mental health is affected. That’s good, because when you’re in it – whatever it might be – you need those words.
But I want to take a moment to talk to the ones loving others through it. The caretakers. The supporters. The juicer-holders. The assistant lemonade-makers. Because when you’re caring for someone else, it’s easy to forget you need some care, too.
So, I’m going to remind you, as the days are still dark up here in the northern hemisphere, as many of us are dealing with cold and snow, and at the yearly height of mental health talk, to take damn good care of yourself.
This is me, using my best mom voice. Listen closely, caretaker:
Don’t forget to take time for you.
What's that look like? It varies. Some people have weird hobbies like macramé or fantasy dodgeball or watching The Bachelor, and I’m not here to judge.
Okay, except for The Bachelor. I’m judging that.
Do whatever makes you happy. I bathe in Epsom salts and read YA novels and play with the dog and go the gym. Not all at the same time, obviously. I’m not a super mutant. But these are things I carve into my schedule. The more emotional labour I’m putting in, the more I insist on taking that time whenever I can. And if that makes me selfish, so be it. It means that what I can give back to the world of a much higher calibre. So, do your weird hobbies or take a bath. Get sleep and eat good food as much as possible. And don’t feel even a little bit bad about it.
Self-care is paramount. It resets us, makes us stronger, and helps us be far better support people.
Allow space for your own feelings.
When those we love are in crisis, it’s easy to compare what they’re going through to anything we might be feeling – and then to shove our own feelings way, way down. (I’ve been known to do this with cupcakes; a most delicious avoidance food.)
If your friend is very ill, for example, that’s going to be hard on them and their immediate family members. But that doesn’t mean you’re not having a hard time with it, too. That’s your person, after all. It’s okay to be upset, to feel helpless, to get angry, and to make time to process all those feelings. It’s okay to feel tired and overwhelmed, even if it’s not to the same degree. This is not a competition, it’s merely an acknowledgement of where you’re at.
You can be a good support system and honour your feelings, too. In fact, I’d argue it’s terribly healthy, unlike the cupcakes. (But I still like cupcakes. I will always like cupcakes.)
Call in your troops.
No matter how often you go to the gym, that juicer is still going to be heavy. So, while you’re throwing lemons in it for a person in crisis, call another buddy (or a therapist) over to lighten the load. If you’re helping someone who’s struggling, you might need someone else around to help you process it all. Help for the helper is 100% okay.
The best support people have people supporting them. I’m incredibly grateful for mine. Some of them even bake cupcakes.
(Not my therapist, though. Or, at least, she’s not sharing.)
Recognize the early signs of trouble in you.
Yes, you. The person doing all the things for all the people. Don’t burn yourself out. Look for warning signs of depression or anxiety. Mental illness is insidious, wrapping itself around our brains quietly and suffocating out the joy before we even realize it. I’ve been there, done that, and have a drawer full of t-shirts.
Be aware, check in with people, and know where to get help if you need it. Sometimes, we hold ourselves to different standards. We’re supportive of other people getting help for mental illness, but not ourselves. We’re stronger than that. That’s why we’re support people!
No. Don’t be that guy. Treat yourself with the same care, kindness and open-mindedness you show others. You deserve that.
I’m a person who loves you through it, and so are you. So, while we’re busy googling the very best lemonade recipes (and, uh, maybe how to load a dishwasher), let’s also take good care of ourselves, okay? Okay.