This article first featured in a very successful fundraising campaign for Maine-based mental health non-profit Family Hope (www.familyhopeme.org).
The power of family and friends’ encouragement and support when someone has a mental health issue cannot be overestimated. Even though Marty and Fran live 3,000 miles apart, their friendship has blossomed over the past four years.
Many of us don’t know what to say to someone who may be living with the effects of their illness, but the truth is we don't have to know the “right” thing to say.
Marty’s gift to Fran has been his calm, constant presence, his willingness to “be there” for her no matter what. Please take a few minutes to read about these two amazing people and the power of their friendship.
Donna Betts, Executive Director, Family Hope
Kindness is the key
Marty and I met four years ago on a mutual friend’s Facebook wall. She wanted to take her life. We didn’t want to let her. She is still here today. I was headed toward the crest of mania at the time and wanted not only to save her but the whole world. That’s how my friendship with Marty began. Even though Marty lives in the United Kingdom and I live in the US, he has become my best friend.
Four years ago, I was going through a hard time. I lived in a small community and my behavior led most people to assume that I must be drinking, that I’d stopped taking my meds, or perhaps I was just plain crazy. I’ve been told that everyone was worried about me at the time. However, apart from a very few, no one phoned to see how I was or came to visit. Mental illness is like that. No calls. No cards. No casseroles. I guess people were scared. So was I.
Marty was different. We chatted and emailed and did Skype calls daily (we still do). He didn’t try to change me. He didn’t try to fix me. He was simply there, listening, being a friend. He believed in me when I couldn’t believe in myself. One thing he said was that he wouldn’t go away no matter what I said or did. That enabled me to share freely with him. Without that safe container it’s much harder to share with people because boundaries are unclear.
I started a non-profit to change the world. It was my Grand Manic Scheme. Marty helped me with it at first, until we realized it wasn’t healthy. Then he helped me let it go. New meds, and my mania receded. I started to see the devastation and destruction I’d created while I was manic. A horrific shameful depression descended and engulfed me for the next eight months. Moment by moment thoughts of suicide pummelled me. Yet there was Marty, “holding my hand”. There were times when I hated him for being there, for not giving up on me. He was patient. Gentle. Funny. He saw the spark for life inside me and kept fanning it, never asking me to change or be different than I was.
If it wasn’t for him I would not be alive. It’s that simple. Our friendship is part of my wellness toolbox, as important as meds and other strategies I use to stay as well as possible. I take responsibility for my illness very seriously. Despite how it appeared to some people four years ago, I never missed an appointment or went off my meds at any time. They simply stopped working. That happens sometimes.
Social interactions can be lifesaving or death provoking. When people are aware and understanding they can be the tipping point between life and death. Kindness is the key.