Wednesday 19 January 2022

Helping People Helps You Too (But Don't Lose Sight of Your Needs)

“We rise by lifting others” — Robert Ingersoll

I’ve written quite a bit over the past year or so about how low I get at times, including how my baseline mood has dropped significantly from where it used to be. There are periods when I doubt the value of what I do, both in the workplace and in other aspects of my life. That includes my connections, friendships, and relationships; my writing; and other work in the mental health arena.

When I’m in this kind of “what’s the point?” slump, as I have been recently, nothing seems worth the effort because it feels like nothing is going to make a difference. It’s tempting to just give up on things, or at least contemplate doing so. The scary thing is how easily slumps like this can creep up on you, and how tough it can be to shake those self-defeating thoughts and feelings. The good news is, they can and do shift, and sometimes it’s the little things that make a difference.

I was reminded of this last week. I’d like to share a few of the details because it helps to remember how much difference a word or two of thanks, an offer of help, or indeed a request for help can make.

Checking my social media one morning last week, I saw I’d been tagged in a Facebook group run by bp Magazine which focuses on support for the loved ones of people living with bipolar disorder. In response to a request for advice on how to help a friend, a member I’ve spoken to before suggested the Gum on My Shoe Facebook page that Fran and I maintain, our blog, and our book High Tide, Low Tide: The Caring Friend’s Guide to Bipolar Disorder. They went on to say our work was the first they’d encountered that wasn’t from the perspective of a spouse or parent, that they’d learned a lot from it, and that their relationship with their loved one would not be what it is today without my help. Needless to say, this meant a huge amount, and was (and is) profoundly validating. I hope our book and other resources might help the person who asked for guidance, and others who are in need.

Something similar occurred the next day. I’d posted a link to an article of mine titled Supportive Disengagement: How to Be There for Your Friend When They Need Space. The same person who’d recommended our book replied to thank me. “I needed to read this today,” she said. “Thank you.”

Two opportunities to be of help and support arose later that day. One was from a friend who was in need of practical assistance. I was more than happy to say yes to her request, especially as I was the only person available to do so. The second involved keeping a friend company on chat and encouraging them as they moved into their day and began working through the things they needed to accomplish. I was proud of my friend’s achievements but didn’t realise just how valuable my presence had been until she thanked me later.

The mutuality of support came up in a conversation with Fran in which she shared how much she’d valued the chance to spend a couple of days with a close friend. I suggested that the time she’d spent with her friend had been a gift to them both, and would be something they’d remember for a long time.

As valuable as it can be to help others, it’s important to pay attention to your own needs, and I was reminded of this too last week. One specific thing that’s been on my mind recently is whether I need to step back from my workplace role as a Mental Health First Aider. It’s not something I want to do and I’ve felt I’d be letting myself and others down if I were to step down for even a short while. On the other hand, I’ve felt very drained of late — physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I mentioned this to one of my fellow MHFAs. She replied with such empathy and compassion that I was moved deeply. She understood. Two things she said resonated with me in particular. The first recognised how valuable and validating it can be to offer support to others: “Helping people is a satisfaction which is sometimes unmeasurable, it is also a blessing to be able to offer that support.” She’s wise enough and experienced enough to realise how much supporting others can take out of us at times, and how important it is to pay attention to our needs. As she pointed out, “[k]nowing the difference between loving ourselves and validating ourselves is sometimes a very hard thin line.” I’ve yet to decide about my MHFA role, but her words reminded me it’s ok if I need to take a break, whether for a short time or more permanently.

My mood hasn’t lifted dramatically as a result of these exchanges, and I still have my doubts and uncertainties about what I ought to be focusing on. The comments and conversations I’ve described, though, did help me move through what I was feeling, and gave me some degree of reassurance that I’m not totally on the wrong path. As I said to Fran when I told her about the Facebook group comments, “Little things like this are good to see. They help me feel I’m doing something useful.”


Photo by Nick Fewings on Unsplash.



  1. I think it is fitting that I tack on an excerpt from page 166 of High Tide, Low Tide. Having read the blog post I turned to the bookshelf and picked up the book. I have just read the words Marty wrote to himself, "Do not pressure Fran about our time together. Be flexible, graceful, adapting. Fran's needs come first right now."

    Eric Russell