On Sadness Fuelling Creativity

It’s not been a great week. I’ve been seeking distractions for much of it, and some of those distractions have ended up becoming good things in themselves, but still the sadness remains when they peter out and it’s time to go home.

So I am sitting here at midday, drinking whisky far too early, because I’m caught between needing to not think, and needing to get it all out through my writing. Long story short, there are people I love who are in pain and not getting the help they need, and I don’t want to lose them.

I just keep thinking if I could write and make others feel something, maybe my loved ones would end up getting the help they need, maybe the propaganda would shift enough to cause change.

I feel hollow.

But there’s nothing I can do but keep on trying. So this week I’ve been forcing endorphins into my system by going to the gym, putting myself in a mental state where I’m able to keep going and keep creating things, and hopefully change things. It’s painful: with my own illness (EDS) I have a few extra obstacles to get over (this week’s stellar one was dislocating my middle finger, which makes writing hard, and which really reminds me I need to invest in a frogpad). The good thing about being where I am now is that I can actually afford these modifications. Others can’t. Anyway.

On Thursday evening I attended my first proper meetup with the Oslo Writer’s League (the OWLs). It was a fantastic evening, and aside from also being another thing to increase my endorphin levels, it was productive and I ended up making new friends. There were so many lovely people there, and so much good, in-depth discussion on various things. Also, turns out I already met one of the members (kind of) at a backstage event when prog guitarist Steve Hackett came to Oslo last year!

The other nice thing that happened this week is I finally received my proof copy of the story I wrote for my little sister Cara. This was meant to be her Christmas present but ended up a little delayed, and due to shipping problems, her final copy arrived in England before my proof one arrived in Norway. But the important thing is, it came out the printing process looking great, and I’ll probably write a separate thing on that.

Other nice things: it’s been cold and snowing a lot, and I love extreme weather. To top that off, the book I got in the writer’s club jackpot was about the first Western man to climb Mount Everest, so totally up my street. And another friend of mine is writing again with enthusiasm, so I’m watching her progress on her awesome fantasy story with great interest!

Behind all of this I’m trying to ignore the scratching dark tones, and get on with my writing. Considering the bad news of this week, which I’m not going into in any detail, I have not been able to handle writing City of Dis. So Nimbus edits is what we’re on. I’m 28k words in to editing, which is not bad, but god, do I just have to keep going.

I will make a fucking difference. For her sake, for all their sakes.

Can you change the world?

That’s a tall order contained in that question, but it’s something that everyone’s thought about at some point or another. The realisation that you don’t have to settle for being a bystander, that you can do something that will affect the world, is a potent one, and one that forms the basis of most great stories.

On a literal and slightly pedantic level, we are changing the world in minuscule ways every time we buy a coffee or walk past somebody. Those small changes we make – how hard we push past somebody, whether we roll our eyes or look interested when someone talks to us, how much we tip a waiter or waitress – can affect others in small ways that, like sand grains, contribute towards the bigger changes. But that seems obvious – we can’t exist in the world without interacting with it, and even the decision to not interact has implications. So what about the bigger picture?

There’s a story I’ve been wanting to write since I was fourteen. It’s a big undertaking, so it won’t surface for a good few years yet. But the route those characters take ends up with them affecting their world in a big way. And, like most people I’ve met in most jobs and most places in the world I’ve been to, they never set out with that end goal in mind. They sort of stumbled in to it, then tried to make the best they could of it as they discovered more about themselves and the values they hold dear.

I hold my characters up on the road ahead of me when I’m uncertain. When I’m feeling despair – as in the previous blog entry – those moments eventually pass and my mind starts searching for reasons to continue, for motivation, for promise that I can potentially do something about the things that make me sad. So I put the characters from this future story up there and I say, ‘They aren’t particularly special. They lucked out in a few ways, they ended up with some privileges and some misfortunes, but most importantly, along the way, they noticed something was wrong. They noticed people were getting hurt and they tried to do something about it. They had no idea what they were capable of, but they tried anyway.’

And if only I can catch up to them on the road. I can see them up there, not heroes but just people, and it’s comforting. It feels like there’s hope there. I sometimes wonder if this is why I write – so that the dark feelings of the previous blog entry are not all there is – both for me and for anyone else who might have felt similar dips in their outlook. I have to try anyway.

Last night I walked under the trees by the harbour, and golden leaves showered over my head in the breeze. It felt like being on that path. I wanted to share that with others.

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One Place Left in the World / Optimistic Pessimism

I saved this one from a few days ago, because it’s not good to publish when you’re in a depressive episode. But I think it’s important, as a thought, a concept, one way of looking at the world – one side of a many-sided die. 

—–

Let me preface this by saying that I probably shouldn’t write during a depressive episode, but I would like to get some thoughts out my head. It might help, or something like that.

I like how hopeful Peter Garrett sounds when he sings the lyrics of Antarctica. 

“There must be one place left in the world
Where the skin says it can breathe
There’s gotta be one place left in the world
It’s a solitude of distance and relief.”

It’s something to believe in, even if it doesn’t exist. And today is one of those days where I’m pretty sure it doesn’t. I’m bemused sometimes when I read social commentary these days, particularly around safe spaces and the decrying thereof. Safe spaces have never existed, and they never will. People are too cruel, and that is the honest truth. When have I ever had a safe place to run to?

Never. Not even in my own head, because even if I make imaginary havens, memories still have the power to rush in there, to find me in the dark of my subconscious where I have no control and no way to repress.

Safety is a lie. So it’s funny to see people talking as though it’s something people get too much of. As if it’s something people even get at all. I’ve never been safe, despite the best efforts of those who love me. And I’ve long since given up thinking I ever will be. Like that’s going to happen. I don’t think I deserve anything. It doesn’t matter. We’re not important. Every time an attempt will rise to create safety, the counterbalance will fall and it will be reset. It’s a Sisyphean struggle, and more than a little pointless.

In a way, it was easier getting over things when I was thirteen. Outside of the expected fallout of superficial verbal abuse, I only had to deal with the in-depth cross-analysis from my own brain. I had no way of knowing what another person truly thought without a good few hours of deep conversation. I had limited access to newspapers. And so, I could hold the delusion of the world outside my immediate situation being ultimately a supportive place.

But I think I am grateful, now that I know more. It’s better than not knowing, because life would be shit if you kept moving forward only to have your hopes dashed each time. I’d rather move forward with more certainty. So, some things to remember: Everything is hostile. Don’t expect anything from anyone. Assuming kindness will only make it hurt worse. Assume it’s all terrible, and you might get the odd nice surprise (but don’t hold out for it). Optimistic pessimism. It’s not safe, but nothing is, and it’s better than hope. It might even keep me alive longer too, because apparently that’s a thing people care about.

And yet, I’ll still listen to those songs, because make-believe is nice to indulge in.

Forty eight hours with only half the truth told.

I’ve got stories to finish but the motivation is not there. It’s nice that people say I’m good at stuff, but last weekend my motivation was stolen by a ghost.

Isn’t it sad that old friends hold the power to rewrite your history when they talk to others? Isn’t it sad that those others actually believe it and take it as truth? The truth those others now hold in their heads is a half-light in late autumn; a mirage, and it’s cold. I want to reclaim that truth but I feel I’d just be screaming into a void. At the same time I just don’t want to be a fast-track route for people who once acted horribly to get to feel better about themselves now. I have nothing more to give.

Isn’t it sad that people think ‘being the better person’ is more important than being healthy and getting on with your life? I was so close to being healthy again. There’s people I don’t want to talk to any more and that should be respected. Just like who I have sex with, it’s my choice.

That never maps out to reality though. I mean, in the past, sex has not always been my choice either. And this leads to one final fact. If enough things are forced upon you and enough people keep saying I should forgive, forgive, forgive, it grates enough I want to leave everyone behind.

There’s his voice in the back of my head that says just let it happen. let them tear the skin. let them rip it from you. you’re not important; they are. let them take all your gifts and then take more. will they feel sad if they destroy you? that doesn’t matter – just let them, just let them. it’s easier this way, let them have it. I hate his voice, despite the fact that he saved me many times before, and I want to shut everything out.

The saddest thing of all is, I know of people close to me who have spent years, even decades, trying to get away from unhealthy people, and even when they manage it, start new lives, gain self-esteem again, they get followed by these people who won’t take no for an answer. I don’t want to get to my fifties and still be in this situation.  I wish it wasn’t happening to them. Closure is a bullshit concept and doesn’t taken into account their feelings.

Today, I don’t feel like eating is worth it (his voice is very commanding), but I will try to convince myself. I promise I’ll try. I don’t want to hurt anyone who cares about me.

 

On naïvety

Like many with anxiety, I sometimes worry that the people I know consider me to be too naïve, and too much so to take seriously. I hear it in the little things, the small judgemental phrases they utter, acerbic, to their friends, about certain behaviours or activities that they find naïve which happen to correlate with things I enjoy doing. I hear it in the absence of my own words as I am talked over for the umpteenth time.

Now I’m going to preface this by saying that the anxiety does, undoubtedly, play a large part in my feelings on this issue. Anyone else who has been deeply anxious will understand me when I say that my paranoia about this does not equate to me actually genuinely thinking people are talking about me. That’s the nature of paranoia; it twists beyond what your rational mind thinks. I think highly of those I call my friends, and I have enough common sense to not put too much stock in something a mere acquaintance might think. But still, the worry comes.

I have a tendency to get excited about things. I have a tendency to overuse exclamations in my speech. I err on the side of kindness. And I’m not very judgemental – I find it hard to make up my mind about something unless I’m fully informed on the issue, and in lieu of further information I tend to choose the option that is most considerate of other people (or indeed, of other living creatures full stop). Somehow all of these things combined make people think I’m somehow less intelligent, less worldly. Or, at least, in my mind it is a likely possibility that they think this way, a paranoia that strikes through to old childhood fears.

If it were true that people were currently thinking this, as others have in the past, it would make me a little sad because it would mean they only see the surface layer. I’m often overly-enthusiastic because I’m actually incredibly cynical. Yep, I’m a pessimist. But if I’m not changing things and making others excited, I’ll be exactly like all those things that made me cynical in the first place.

And further, it makes me worry that people are more concerned about appearing stern and cold than about doing the right thing (whatever the hell that is anyway, it’s all subjective, to an extent). Permeating through society there’s an idea of what makes a person wise and learned, just as there’s an idea of what makes a person naïve and innocent. If it wasn’t for these archetypes, people certainly would never have called me naïve in the past. Because I was talking about peace? Talking about reducing poverty? Stopping bullying? Anything with the suggestion of a silver fucking lining? I didn’t fit their model. Often people would interrupt me to tell me, in a harsher tone, the exact same thing I had been telling them.

Oddly enough, the times where I haven’t had the energy to be positive are the times when people seem to consider me incredibly worldly. This is worrying.

A couple of years ago I was writing a scene in which a character commits suicide. The feelings took me down somewhere burning white with emptiness, not a good place to be. But I was surrounded by friends when I wasn’t writing, and my saving grace from the blank terror was having the kind of bubbly personality that, I have since discovered, people love to take the mick out of. I had fun drinking with friends, and being sciencey types we soon turned the conversation to extinction events and natural disasters. Well, I got rather animated about this subject and was, to my complete surprise, shot down by an acquaintance, who told me I was ‘too happy about everything all the time, and was lucky to not understand what it was like to have suffered.’ It knocked me sideways, and it was no wonder after that that she had blocked out any possibility of me ever becoming close enough to confide in her about the dark things I was writing, or indeed about any real-world problems I was having. Needless to say, the rest of that suicide scene I was writing went fantastically.

I had another friend who also used to think bubbliness equated innocence, and she used to routinely not give any worth to my feelings. After she found my modelling photos, she had this thing she’d always say, which was ‘You’re far too innocent to do anything sexual,’ (and god, we were twenty two at the time). It didn’t really stop after that, and it was a very effective way to belittle me. Anyway, it turns out putting your own assumptions about someone on a higher pedestal than their feelings is not a sustainable way to maintain a relationship.

The bottom line is: it’s not a healthy idea to put so much stock in the idea of naïvety and its significantly cooler-sounding counterpart, hard-assed worldliness. More often than not it won’t match up to reality.

The other bottom line of course is that it’s really none of my concern what other people might think. For anyone with anxiety it seems like the kind of throwaway statement someone without anxiety might say. ‘If only I’d known it was as easy as just telling my brain not to be shit!’ I want to say sarcastically when I hear things like that. It’s incredibly difficult but ultimately I have to keep being ‘optimistic from my pessimism’ and keep on trucking despite the potholes.

And finally, I will say this for the writers: the above discussed is a great way to introduce realistic relationship dynamics between your characters!

Dropped the binge-eating, gained some binge-writing.

I’m not sure which came first, the realisation that I hadn’t been eating or that I had been writing far more than is common.

I’ve got a relationship with food that mostly focuses around excess. When you’re down a lot of the time, sometimes embracing the fact that mudpie and cheesy crisps exist can be a lifesaving thing. When you’re experiencing the joys of a chronic physical illness, the fear of eating too much is overridden by the desire to eat enough to be strong, to have enough calories to get through the day and not be in pain. And when a person with this mindset and these needs is put on antidepressant medication that is also used as an appetite stimulant, the results can be gastronomically apocalyptic. I’m off those pills now, but years on it’s still hard for someone who already had a stimulated appetite to wean themselves off the urge even further. Not that I need to reduce this habit too much – I’m a healthy ten stone, which is a perfect weight for a bodybuilder and amateur runner, and I still would rather get through a day being strong and able enough to walk the five kilometres into work than worrying about getting a beach body. Put it this way: some people want to be gazelles and that’s totally cool. I, on the other hand, want to be a hefty horse.

But that aside, the point is that the excess around food can only be replaced by a few things. There’s not much that can make me feel satisfied enough in such a sustained way aside from when the creative urge takes me. And while the eating is taking stuff in, the creating is more throwing stuff out. Usually my creativity is a nice backbeat to my life, but every so often the urge grips me and it feels almost self-destructive because it threatens to make me stop anything else important I might be doing.

I noticed recently when I had foregone meals in favour of getting the next chapter down, without even thinking about it.

If I’m having a solid writing day I get through about a thousand words at best. The number is higher for non-fiction – that I can do two or three thousand. I’m a slow writer either way. It takes me years to write a novel. Sometimes I speed-write in a frenzy but usually I try to avoid it because I feel like I’m not doing the words justice by hurrying it up. I take my time.

So the fact that I’m almost twenty thousand words into Trees in November in the very first week of writing it is something that has caught me off-guard.

I had even gone out and bought food, but it had been laying around the house for days.

It was just far more fulfilling, no, necessary to write.

I can feel the urge to return to the novel now, scratching just behind my eyelids, promising fulfilment.

And these are the things that make me take a step back and promise I’ll keep a close eye on it. I’ll make sure I’m eating what I need to while I get this demon purged from me and onto the page. I’ll try and cultivate some kind of way to not constantly swing from excess to excess (even though I’m conflicted by the fact that this behaviour seems to unlock creativity). I’ll get my projects done and I’ll do them well.

The bottom line is, it’s interesting that it’s not necessarily the thing I’m doing to excess that’s the problem, but the fact I’m getting some kind of feeling of necessity, of absolutism from it. I thought that was worth a mention.

Coping strategies for caregivers: mental health

It was World Suicide Prevention Day yesterday. I’d have written something then, but things got in the way. Anyway, it’s important that people are made more aware of how others think, and react, to things, since everyone has different mental states and experiences. I think the word is Neurodiversity. But knowing more can help stop potentially dangerous situations and states of mind. At least, I hope so. I don’t want to come off as prescriptive here, it’s more just things that are popping into my head and it might not work for everyone. It certainly doesn’t cover the full gamut of mental issues, but it covers some things that I think about. Maybe it’ll be helpful for someone.

*Someone I love is having a nervous breakdown, how do I help?

Well, a nervous breakdown can manifest in a range of different ways. For some, it’s shaking and forcing far too many distractions and cups of coffee as possible in the hopes they can shove the reality of the breakdown away from them. For others, it’s clamming up and slowing down, feeling like stone and not knowing how to move, how to continue on with daily tasks. Others yet it’s a sort of mania that is accompanied by a range of shifting extroverted emotions from anger to enthusiasm. Often the best thing you can do for someone is to be there for them, and not get frustrated by their actions. Reassurance works for a lot of people, but others might prefer you to avoid reassuring and just distract them with things (like, ‘let’s go and cook dinner / go to a football match / do some other thing’). It really depends, but you won’t know unless you try. Avoid doing things that might make the whole thing worse and add extra stress, so definitely don’t bring up a grudge or a problem you’ve been having with them, even if it’s just something as stupid as not putting their dirty underwear in the wash basket. That stuff can wait for later. A person having a breakdown is in a precarious mental state that they can’t fully control and that oftentimes makes their mind race at breakneck pace. It’s something that can make a person feel cast out to sea in a storm, and longing for some firm ground, so you can’t start taking away planks from their raft, and certainly never seek to do so in an attempt to ‘shock’ them into acting normal again. This very rarely works in a positive way; it’s far more likely to exacerbate their nerves and impact recovery time.

*The person I want to support isn’t having a breakdown, but they’re sad about stuff. I want to help but don’t know how.

Asking how they feel usually doesn’t go amiss. Even if they answer disparagingly, it’s really good to check in and give them space to open up. If someone’s depressed they might not feel important enough to bring up how their day was straight off the bat. Even on depressed days, people can see good things, even if it’s a silly thing like a pigeon walking funnily on the sidewalk. A warm smile, accompanied by bringing someone a cup of tea, and showing an interest in how their day was can go a long way in providing space to focus on good things. Or something new, like planning an interesting dinner. The goal isn’t to get rid of the sad feelings, but to provide a space for them to take a backseat while still acknowledging that they exist, which really is the best way to make them abate.

*Okay, so I thought I’d make them a cup of tea but they just can’t make up their mind. What now?

It can be really hard to do decision-making when you’re depressed. It could be that there’s already a whirlwind in your head and you can’t bear adding to it. It could be that everything’s just empty and raising the question of choice seems pointless. It could just be something currently unreachable. So, if the person you want to help looks like they’re struggling to make up their mind, it sometimes helps to reassure them that you’re not going to get mad if they don’t decide quickly, that you decided to do this thing for them and that you don’t mind how long it takes. Make them feel welcome and release the burden of potentially upsetting you from their shoulders. It might also be a good idea to suggest things for them. Like, ‘How about this tea?’ They might sort of nod, and you can take control of the steering wheel, ‘Okay, that sounds good, then. I’m going to make you this, okay?’ And go and do it. If they don’t drink that tea, it’s okay, and you can let them know this too.

*They’re not eating well, and I want to respect their decisions but not hurt them too much.

If you’re taking care of someone you have to do what you can to ensure they’re eating well. Sometimes taking control of the steering wheel in the conversation is necessary again, as your loved one may not be in a place where they can be trusted to take care of themselves going by what they wish or do not wish to do. You should try to get them to eat, or bathe, or dress, but do keep watch for emotional distress. Make sure they are aware that you don’t want to push them, but that you’re concerned for their health. Don’t emotionally compromise them by saying ‘Do it for me’ – this can put undue pressure on their emotional connection to you.

*They’re really responsive to criticism. How do I talk to them about things?

I don’t mean criticism in the ‘my artwork got critiqued’ sort of way. Often, people with aversion to interpersonal criticism can handle work-based criticism because it’s detached, removed from themselves as a person (unless the critic uses ad hominems – insults on a person’s character), but can severely stumble when dealing with people on a relationship level. This is a common feature in avoidant personality disorders (which feature more withdrawal), and also in narcissistic disorders (which feature more extraversion but similar in the hostility towards criticism). It can feel like a double-bind having a relationship with someone with one of these varieties of issues, because you might start to feel afraid of bringing up problems you’re having. But the answer is not to bottle up your problems, nor is it to just bring them up and get stressed at the fallout they suffer each time. There is most definitely a way to talk about things without making a criticism-sensitive person feel on guard. The method differs slightly from person to person, but at its core it revolves around making sure the person knows you’re not trying to make them feel bad, and that it’s not a judgement on them as a person. They may also seek continual reassurance while discussions are going on, even if they might be afraid to ask for this.

People can be sensitive to criticism for a whole host of reasons. Some have been bullied badly, others suffered excessive criticism at a young age while their sense of identity and self-worth was still developing. Others have had traumatic experiences later on in life. Others still have no environmental triggers at all. It’s important to remember as much as you know about this person you’re helping, and using what you know to ensure you don’t repeat any adverse situations they might have been subjected to in the past.

It’s extremely important to remember that if someone suddenly starts to look scared while you’re talking to them about something serious, it’s not necessarily a judgement on your behaviour. Even raising your voice a little in a way that you don’t consider to be threatening might call up connections in their mind of a time this happened before, with someone else, and with less amicable intentions / results. So they’re not trying to make you feel bad, they’re just dealing with stuff, and if you’re more concerned about letting them know how annoying it is that you have to talk a certain way with them, you might want to seriously reconsider how you relate to them entirely.

*I think they want to be alone so I’m not engaging with them.

Sometimes, a person with self-destructive feelings can feel like they’re not worth reaching out to, that they’re not deserving of attention, so they won’t take steps to seek help. One of the worst things a person can do is take this behaviour at its word and give them the cold shoulder. Self-destructive feelings accompanied by a need for human comfort are an anachronistic and difficult mix for the person who’s feeling them. To feel guilty and angry about the fact that you need human contact and love is a cruel mental block to be stuck in, and many times it can only be pushed through to from the other side.

*Well, I tried that, but they’re being rude to me now. They’re still not responding.

It gets tricky when you’re trying to be comforting and the person you’re comforting is still sort of pushing away, or is still unable to break their shell. Sometimes it’s frustrating when you’re trying hard to get through to them and they seem to be shunning you. It can sometimes make you want to lash out and say ‘Well fine, I’m trying but you’re making me feel bad. Fine, go and leave me alone then,’ but please don’t. This only puts more blame and guilt onto the person you’re trying to help. They’ve got a long journey out of self-destructive feelings, and coping strategies that involve hiding themselves away aren’t just going to disappear following one incident of niceness. It takes much, much longer than that.

*But it’s stressing me out, and I need time to myself too. I’m not strong enough.

Very few people are strong enough, but there’s no race here. It’s not about ‘being strong’, it’s about showing that you have empathy, and showing it in a way that is receptive, so that the other person knows they’re in a good enough environment to share it back with you. Sometimes dealing with someone with mental health issues can be taxing, and you really do have to take care of yourself as you do this, but hashing out your feelings with an emotionally compromised person can increase the damage to you both. This isn’t to say you have to baby them. Sometimes it can be appropriate to talk about your feelings, but pick and choose your battles on this one. For many people it may be a bad idea to talk about your feelings that are to do with them, purely because it can exacerbate guilt or self-hatred. For others it may be cathartic, and a way for them to feel more able to open up about their own feelings. But as before, watch for distress cues. I’d err on the side of hashing your issues out with them being a rather risky option. It’s best to find someone who’s in a position to listen to you, and often this person will not be the person you’re trying to help.

If you and the person you’re trying to support are both mentally ill, or just in a bad place, it is a good idea to seek external help for you both. You don’t want to turn things into an echo chamber; you might set up loops that you both can’t get out of.

Setting alone-time for each of you might also be helpful. Even for some dependency disorders, alone time isn’t nearly so bad if you know that someone’s there to pick you up if you are having a crisis or need them. This behaviour can also foster independence.

*The person I’m trying to help actually doesn’t respond to warmth the way I understand it. How do I help them in this case?

There are a host of mental states that mean that people exhibit more detachment from emotion, and not because they’re missing closeness or anything like that. They still have emotions (they’re not robots, and please don’t call them that, it’s hurtful) but they might relate to the whole concept differently to you. This is very different from taking care of someone who might be dependent-avoidant, or from someone who cuts themselves off because they feel they deserve it but secretly want closeness in a very conventional way. In these more distanced cases, it’s important to learn how your loved one relates to others, what values they hold important. It might not be hugs and cups of tea, it might be sitting apart and listening to a forty-minute piano sonata in silence. It might be not talking about it at all. It might be knocking back five shots and not talking about emotions, but sharing a smile. This can get tricky if your emotional needs are more centred around closeness than theirs, because they may say or do things during their recovery process that can sting. It’s best to put yourself in a mental state where you can deal with this (see the above point for tips) because if you don’t you run the risk of frustrating them and damaging their mental state. Someone who reacts more ‘coldly’ than you and who has mental health problems may feel a pressure to perform, and in this it’s not different at all from those with self-confidence issues feeling pressure to respond when they don’t feel brave enough,   It’s not nice to feel like you have to be someone you’re not out of fear of being ‘too mad’ or ‘too broken’ for someone you love to deal with. We care for those we love, we don’t want them to be hurt

*The person I’m trying to help has a disorder that involves fluctuating mental states. How do I do the right thing?

Doing the right thing in every single situation would require near-telepathic abilities, so you have to accept that sometimes you’ll misread a state of mind and do the ‘wrong thing’. It can be incredibly difficult but please don’t give up on them. Seeing someone you love going from warm to cold can be confusing to experience, but all the same it’s going to be far more conflicting in their heads. Whichever state they happen to be in, ultimately they care about the fact that you care, and you still have a relationship to them, so try to foster that relationship in every situation. They might say or do things in one state that they don’t remember in another, but they’ve chosen to associate themselves with you for a reason, so hold on to it. These cases nearly always involve a more bespoke solution that only you can come up with from experience, but remember there is not a catch-all solution. The human mind – both yours and the person you’re caring for – can be surprising.

*The person I’m supporting won’t believe me when I say I care. It’s actually starting to make me sad. How do I convince them?

The thing about mental illness is that it can make a person feel irrational things. It’s the great persuader, and your attempts at persuasion might pale in comparison to this beastie. But it’s also important to remember that a person suffering irrational thoughts can be experiencing cognitive dissonance. Complete belief in irrational thoughts is just one far end of a large spectrum. It’s actually quite common to have something in your mind telling you everyone hates you while the other half of your brain is saying that this is ridiculous and knows that you are loved. So those parts where you tell your loved one that you care and they break down saying that everyone hates them and they want to die? That’s the thing they’re up against saying that. Don’t take it as something against you, rather, help them fight that thing. Be a bulwark against it, something reliable that they can hold on to when it gets real dark. And if it does make you feel sad to constantly hear these things, try not to rub their face in it. It’s probably a good idea to find someone not experiencing mind-altering paranoia to talk to about how you feel on this. Because you have to stay healthy too.

There is no wrong way to feel. This is very important.

And some things can only come about by trying. Sometimes you’ll try and you’ll end up hurting someone more. But if you keep trying different things around this, if you keep on being there for them, it’s extremely likely that you’ll be helping far more than not.

I suppose this all can be distilled down to a few key points.

Ask how people feel. Give them space. Be considerate that they might have different needs than you.

The last one is one I always need reminding of. I forget that people have different needs to me, and sometimes start being overly close to people that really could do without quite that many hugs. It takes time to learn different people’s systems, but it’s so much better to try and make that space than to not. The people who you care about will appreciate it, and they will remember. It might save a life.