Wednesday 27 July 2022

Everyone Gets to Be Who They Are

I saw a social media post the other day which invited readers to share a quotation or piece of wisdom that had changed their outlook on life. The first that sprang to my mind was something I learned from Fran in the early days of our friendship.

Everyone gets to be who they are.

Fran had been telling me about someone she knew, and how their behaviour had irritated her. I made a half-joking comment to the effect that maybe she needed better friends.

“No,” she replied. “Everyone gets to be who they are.”

“Even the assholes?” I asked, now less than half joking.

“Even the assholes.”

Something about the exchange stuck with me. Along with other favourite mantras of ours such as no pedestals and baby steps are steps too, Fran and I reprise everyone gets to be who they are from time to time. Why does it resonate with me so much? I think it’s because it’s a healthy reminder that none of us is perfect. We all carry our share of hang-ups and issues around with us. Some of these might be classed as quirks or personality traits. Others are more problematic. We may be aware of them or not. We may be working to change them — or not. But in this moment we get to be who we are.

It’s important to emphasise that this isn’t an excuse for us to behave badly or inconsiderately. Neither should we tolerate abusive or otherwise hurtful behaviour in others just because “that’s how they are.” I’ve touched on this before, in a post titled Is Being “Too Sensitive” a Bad Thing?

[“Everyone gets to be who they are”] reminds me that we’re not responsible for (or able to change) other people, even those we find difficult or have issues with. On the other hand, we don’t have to excuse or condone behaviour that hurts us.

Fundamentally, I’m talking about accepting three things: people make mistakes; people can change but often don’t or haven’t done so yet; and we get to decide if we want people to remain in our lives or not. And it’s not all about other people. We are the “other people” in our friends’ lives. Sometimes, we’re the asshole. This is something I’ve written about previously:

A friend on Twitter shared a link today to her blog article about needing to let go of unhelpful, toxic people and relationships. Her words brought me face-to-face with the realisation that there have been many times in my life when, for one reason or another, someone has needed to let go of me. It’s not an easy thing to admit to oneself, but I don’t have to look too far, or too far back, to find examples.

Acceptance isn’t enough, though. Seeing ourselves clearly — and with compassion — is only the first step on the road to changing inappropriate or unhealthy outlooks, beliefs, or patterns of behaviour. We’re not required to hide or bury our true selves order to please others, but neither are we to use the “this is how I am” defense to excuse riding rough-shod over other people. As I’ve written elsewhere:

We’re each responsible for how we handle, or attempt to handle, the situations in which we find ourselves, but that doesn’t release us from responsibility for how we behave towards, relate to and interract with others. We may not know their histories, their pain, their needs, their triggers, and it is okay to get it honestly wrong sometimes, but we need always to be aware that our lives impinge on others and that good intentions don’t give us the right to wade in, unannounced or heedless of our impact on those around us.

That’s fair enough when it’s our behaviour that needs attention. It’s less straightforward when we’re talking about the impact other people have on those around them. Where do our responsibilities lie then? If someone is at risk of hurting themself or others, I believe we have a responsibility to speak up. Where that’s not the case, it falls to us to check our boundaries. Is this behaviour acceptable to us? If it falls within the allowance of grace we extend to those closest to us — and hope they extend to us — then all is well. They get to be who they are, and we’re ok with that.

Where we’re unable or unwilling to make such an allowance, we have a responsibility to protect our boundaries, ourselves, and our wellbeing. That might mean temporarily putting some distance between us and the other person or finding some other way of mitigating the effect their behaviour is having. A short break may be all that’s needed. In extreme cases we may need to part ways. Whatever happens, the important thing is to act in our best interests. No matter the situation or relationship, it does not serve us to sell ourselves short, make do, or accept less or worse than we deserve. In the words of Maryam Hasnaa At-Tauhidi:

Having compassion and empathy for why someone behaves the way they do based on their experiences, never means you have to tolerate the behavior or hold space for it. You can absolutely have compassion and set a boundary. This is what it means to also have compassion for yourself.

And that is how we get to be who we truly are.

Over to You

In this article I’ve shared a saying that has had a major and lasting impact on my life. Does it resonate with you? What do you think about the topics it brought up for me? Maybe it conjures different ideas and meanings for you.

What are your favourite quotations or sayings? Has something you heard or read had a lasting impact on you?

We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Jacek Dylag at Unsplash.


Wednesday 20 July 2022

Brass Taps and Watering Cans: a Few Thoughts on Friendship, Duty, and Sacrifice

This post was inspired by a recent call with Fran, in which she described the house- and cat-sitting she was doing for a friend. The cat was no problem at all, but the house plants were a different matter. There were plants in her friend’s third floor apartment, on the balcony, and on the ground floor. Those on the ground floor were a particular concern. There was a hosepipe but it didn’t work. Keeping the plants alive in the hot weather would mean many trips up and down stairs to fetch water from the apartment in the watering can.

I listened as Fran shared how she was feeling about it all. I asked for clarification here and there, but I tried not to burden her with questions. (Fran will laugh when she reads this; to her it probably seems as though I do little but ask questions!) I agreed it was a lot to expect her to carry water down from the apartment, but didn’t pursue the matter. If there was a viable alternative, Fran would have thought of it. She was sharing her frustration at the situation, not asking me to fix it.

We were about to end our call when Fran said she felt anxious in case she hadn’t turned the garden tap off properly. I was confused. I’d assumed the hose couldn’t be used because the tap was faulty. Fran said no. The tap was fine, but she hadn’t been able to get the hosepipe to work. In that case, I ventured, could she fill the watering can from the garden tap?

A light came on for Fran. Yes! Of course she could do that! In her frustration and exasperation, she’d missed the connection; and I’d almost missed it too. If she hadn’t mentioned her anxiety, it might have gone unresolved throughout her friend’s time away. That moment changed everything for Fran. She felt relieved and far more confident about discharging her responsibilities. I felt relieved for her, and happy to have been of help.

You might wonder why I’ve chosen to write about what was — surely — a pretty mundane exchange. Significant to Fran and me, yes, but why share it? What’s the message? The bigger picture? I’ll let you judge if it was worth the effort, but even before Fran and I ended our call I knew something significant had happened, and that I’d blog about it.

To begin, it’s a great example of how Fran and I do our day-to-day conversations. We talk about what’s going on for us and share how we’re feeling, whether that’s good or not so good. On this occasion, Fran needed to share her frustrations. It’s how she processes things and lets go of them so she can move on. I do it too, although I mostly use my journal and blogging to process what’s happening for me. It also shows how important it is to pay attention, and to offer input and suggestions at the appropriate time.

More generally, the story explores three themes that are the foundation of our connection and almost everything I do in the mental health sphere: friendship, support, and responsibility. Being in a position to help someone is a blessing, but it does mean actually stepping up to the task. It might be something quick and easy, like a supportive phone call or a practical task you can complete and then get back to whatever else you were doing. Sometimes, though, being a supportive friend takes time and effort. Sometimes considerable time and effort. Sometimes, it gets in the way of whatever else you might be doing.

Mostly, you’ll know what’s involved when you offer help or accept the request for support. Not always, though. Maybe you didn’t think it through or ask the right questions. Maybe the full implications weren’t obvious to either of you at the time, or the situation changed in ways that rendered the request more time consuming or difficult than it seemed. Whatever the circumstances, support means stepping up (literally so, if your friend lives on the third floor!) and following through on what you committed to. That’s what friendship is.

That doesn’t mean you have to love every bit of it. It’s ok to find the task challenging, tiring, or inconvenient. You’re entitled to those feelings, and entitled to process them any way you need to, whether that’s sharing with someone you trust, or getting things out in the safe space of your journal. You process things, and move on. Maybe you learn something about yourself, your friend, and the nature of your friendship along the way.

Our conversation also reminded me of a short story I wrote several years ago exploring service, responsibility, and sacrifice. It doesn’t have a cat, but it does have lot of grumbling (usually I prefer to say someone is “sharing their feelings” but this is definitely grumbling!), plants, a watering can, and a temperamental standpipe. Here's a short excerpt:

William took a small plastic watering can from the holdall at his feet and made his way across to the standpipe. It stood a little way off beneath a tree where two of the gravel paths crossed. For some reason it always made him think of gallows: didn’t they used to hang people at crossroads?

Despite the sunshine the brass tap was icy cold in his hand. It was stiff and he gripped it tightly, straining to turn it on. His exertions were rewarded with the usual trickle of water. He held the can, another of his home gardening accessories, beneath the uncertain stream. From past experience William stood back from the spout as far as he could, leaning on it with one hand as he held the watering can in place with the other. The awkwardness of the stance made his neck ache to look about him and so it was that he heard their approach before he saw them.

There’s a moment of sudden enlightenment in the story which I’ve referenced previously in an article titled The Constant Gardener: How to Be Someone Your Friends Can Rely On. That article covers trust, dependability, and steadfastness, as well as some of the unhealthy sides of supportive relationships such as co-dependency and over-reliance.

The most fascinating thing for me about my conversation with Fran was how so many of these themes came together in the space of maybe fifteen minutes. Fran was frustrated that the task she’d taken on appeared far more arduous than she’d anticipated. She didn’t say so, but I imagine she was thinking she’d not have offered if she’d known what it would entail. She’d given her word, though, and was committed to fulfilling the task for her friend. At the same time, I fulfilled my role as Fran’s friend by providing space for her to process her feelings. I almost missed the opportunity to help her find a solution, but we got there in the end.

Beyond the conversation itself, it gave me an opportunity to examine these themes in a new light, not least the importance of holding and maintaining healthy boundaries. Fran’s. Mine. Other people’s. It’s helped me figure out a few things. Maybe I’ll share some thoughts on that in a future article.

I’ll close with another excerpt from my short story. As William discovers, those outdoor taps can be tricky.

Water splashed across his hand. He reached to turn off the tap but as he did so the breeze caught the last guttering stream and spattered it across his legs. He stared down at his trousers, watching as the material darkened in irregular patches. Clumsy sod.

Hopefully, Fran won’t get soaked while she’s watering her friend’s plants!

Over to You

So, was it worth the effort? For me, yes! You’ll have to answer for yourself! Have there been times when you’ve offered to help someone, only to find the task was much bigger, longer, or harder than you expected? How did you feel about that? What did you do? What are your boundaries concerning giving, or receiving, help? We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or through our contact page.


Photo by Filip Urban at Unsplash.


Wednesday 13 July 2022

21 Image Prompts for the Mental Health Blogger

As bloggers, we tend to write first and then look for images to enhance or accompany what we’ve written. While searching for that perfect image I’ve frequently come across pictures which weren’t what I was looking for, but nevertheless spoke to me. I realised that images can serve as blog prompts or inspirations in their own right. With that in mind, I’ve selected 21 images from Unsplash which I feel could be useful as prompts for mental health blog posts.

Each is free to use and the Unsplash licence means no permission is needed to use the images for commercial and non-commercial purposes, although an attribution to the creator is appreciated. I’ve added a few thoughts of my own below each image, but if one moves you in a completely different direction, follow your inspiration!

You’ll find these images and more in my Mental Health Blog Prompts collection at Unsplash, so check back there from time to time for more ideas.

1. Pawel Czerwinski

Image by Pawel Czerwinski | Image details and download links

Loneliness. Isolation. Abandonment. Sadness. Loss. Turning your back on the world. Feeling the world has turned its back on you. Loneliness vs. being on your own.

2. Dustin Belt

Image by Dustin Belt | Image details and download links

Connection. Communication. Support. Keeping in touch. Reaching out for help. Reaching out to help. Crisis and support lines. Who do you reach out to for support, and why?

3. Finn

Image by Finn | Image details and download links

Hiding our true feelings. Putting on a show. Faking it. Asking the right questions. Lifting the mask to reveal who we really are. The walls we construct to keep us safe, and how to let people in when we need to.

4. Sammie Chaffin

Image by Sammie Chaffin | Image details and download links

Friendship. Who are your true friends? Feeling alone even when you are with people. Different views on life. Which of these people do you think is depressed / anxious / suicidal?

5. Nicole Baster

Image by Nicole Baster | Image details and download links

Togetherness. We are in this together. Life gets messy. Art and creativity. What does togetherness mean to you? Community. Belonging. Allyship.

6. charlesdeluvio

Image by charlesdeluvio | Image details and download links

Listening to others. Listening skills. How to hold space for someone. My favourite coffee shop conversations. Looking in on life from the outside. Feeling isolated. Sharing different perspectives on life, mental health, trauma, or challenge. Can men ever truly understand what it’s like for a woman? Can women ever truly understand what it’s like for a man?

7. Vonecia Carswell

Image by Vonecia Carswell | Image details and download links

Friendship. Supporting one another. Solidarity. Security. Who do you have on your team? Three people I know I can count on. New friends and old friends; who do you turn to most?

8. Hello I'm Nik

Image by Hello I'm Nik | Image details and download links

What it’s like to live with anxiety. Positive (or negative) coverage of anxiety or other mental health conditions in movies, TV shows, and on social media. Online resources and support. Review mental health apps you’ve found helpful.

9. Sydney Sims

Image by Sydney Sims | Image details and download links

Positive and negative stereotypes relating to mental illness. Stigma and self-stigma. The things we tell ourselves about who we are, compared to how others see us. The power of labels and language. The words we use affect people, including ourselves, so use them wisely.

10. Keagan Henman

Image by Keagan Henman | Image details and download links

Who are you, really? Men’s mental health. This is what depression (or anxiety, or another mental health condition) looks like. Feeling different. Looking different. Feeling smothered by the expectations of others. Write a personal statement as if you were applying for your ideal job. This is who I am.

11. Nathan McDine

Image by Nathan McDine | Image details and download links

BOYS GET SAD TOO ( Men’s mental health. Isolation. Feeling alone. Can fashion help spread positive messages about mental health? Specific challenges facing teenagers and young adults. Mental health services in urban settings compared to in rural communities.

12. Sydney Sims

Image by Sydney Sims | Image details and download links

The masks we wear. Pretending that we’re ok when we’re not. Three reasons your friend or loved one may be hiding the truth from you. Look beyond the smile. Strategies we use to hide our pain and navigate a world that is not always kind to people living with mental illness.

13. hannah grace

Image by hannah grace | Image details and download links

How to blog your truth. Do you tailor your writing for your audience? Are there topics you’d never write about? What are you afraid of? Describe something intensely personal that you’ve blogged about: how did it feel? Do you always tell the truth in your blogging? How important is editing and proofreading to you? Describe your blogging approach or process. What makes a good blogger?

14. Mohammad Metri

Image by Mohammad Metri | Image details and download links

Ten songs that motivate you. What music do you listen to when you are depressed (or manic, or anxious, etc)? Song lyrics that mean a lot to you, and why. Write about a famous artist or musician who lives or lived with mental health issues. Mental health and creativity.

15. Tim Mossholder

Image by Tim Mossholder | Image details and download links

Share your experiences volunteering. What does helping someone mean to you? What is the best way to ask for support if you need it? If you are or have been unemployed, how did it affect your mental health? Is it possible to help people too much? Do you need to be needed by others?

16. James Orr

Image by James Orr | Image details and download links

Just do it (or not). Social pressure to do certain things or behave in certain ways: is it healthy or not? What does success mean to you? Can you be successful and happy? Setting and keeping healthy boundaries.

17. Matthew Ball

Image by Matthew Ball | Image details and download links

Why does mental health matter? What do mental health and mental illness mean to you? Being honest and open about who we are. Is it wise to share about your mental health on social media, with family and friends, at work, etc? Do mental health awareness days and events make any difference?

18. S O C I A L . C U T

Image by S O C I A L . C U T | Image details and download links

Challenging the stories we tell ourselves about who we are. Nature vs. nurture. How much is our mental health affected by genetics and upbringing? Sharing our lived experience to help others. Tell the story of something that happened to you, but write it from a different perspective, or as fiction rather than fact.

19. Maegan Martin

Image by Maegan Martin | Image details and download links

Three books that changed how you feel about mental illness in general or one mental health condition in particular. Invite guest bloggers to share their stories and experiences. Collaborate on a joint post where you compare and contrast your personal stories. How are mental health and stigma presented in books and media? What responsibility do writers and bloggers have to counter stigma and negative attitudes towards mental illness?

20. Jukan Tateisi

Image by Jukan Tateisi | Image details and download links

One step at a time. Baby steps are steps too. Three strategies for breaking major change into manageable steps. How it felt when you started your blog, compared to how far you’ve come. Advice for someone thinking of starting a mental health blog.

21. Jonas Jacobsson

Image by Jonas Jacobsson | Image details and download links

Healthy boundaries for helpful people. How to be there for others without being overwhelmed. Three things that have helped you help yourself or others. Ten things to say (or not say) to someone living with mental illness.

Over to You

I hope you found these ideas interesting and useful. As with my list of 40 Mental Health Blog Topics From the Caring Friend’s Perspective, there’s no need to link back to this article if you decide to use any of these images, though I’d love it if you did! Please do credit the creator if you can.