An open letter to my friends about why I don’t feel OK, but that’s OK

I’ve reposted this from FaceBook because I think there are more people who need to see it than can see it there. This is not just for my friends. It’s also for everyone else who feels this way, but can’t – for whatever reason – talk about it. You’re not alone. – R

Dear friends,

mountain-shadowI’ve had a lot of ups and downs over the past few months. My wife lost her job (hello Major Life Change!) but found a new one. I started a new company (always stressful), but our first project was a huge success. My role at the charity I run expanded (and so did our commitments), but we found new allies and opportunities. I travelled for work three times in as many months, juggling four major projects for two separate companies, but all of that came out OK in the end. Better than OK, if I’m not being modest.

The truth is, everything is great right now. So what’s the problem? My brain doesn’t believe that. In my mind, things are still not OK, even though they are, and that’s the way it always is for me.

Here’s what I need you to understand: The list of obstacles my family has faced (and surmounted) in just the first two and a half months of 2015 looks as big as a mountain, and in my head I’m still at the bottom looking up, not at the top enjoying the view. When I close my eyes, or have time to rest, I don’t see the accomplishments, I still see the challenges, or worse, what might have happened had things gone poorly.

I know that I should feel awesome, but I don’t. I feel exhausted and afraid and haunted by the shadow of that mountain. Everything is great but I still feel terrible. How do I explain that to those of you who don’t understand mental health issues? Better question: How do you accept that even if you don’t understand?

Let’s change the conversation: This is how I feel. This is how my brain works. It’s not great, and it can be helped, some. But for me this is normal. This is how I live, and what I struggle with every day. If we’re going to be friends, then it’s not for me to have to apologize for that. It’s for you to try to understand. And understanding begins with listening. So listen now.

Everything is great, but I feel terrible. And that’s OK. Because I’m OK. I just don’t feel that way right now. I know that will pass. Knowing you understand that, accept that and are willing to let me get through that without trying to fix me, lecture me or humiliate me might help it pass more quickly. If we are going to be friends (and I hope we are, because I need friends even if I don’t always act like it), then I need you to understand and accept that my brain works differently from yours. And I need you to be OK with the fact it always will, that you can’t change it and that I don’t want you to try.

I need you to try to see me as a complete and actual person who just happens to be different, and not a problem for you to solve. In short, all need from you, my friend, is understanding, acceptance and maybe a little space.

If it worries you that I am aloof, or that you haven’t heard from me in a while, you can check in with me, but try not to ask too much of me. I’d be happy to let you know I’m OK, and it will help me to know you care, but I might not be able to handle a conversation much more involved than “Hi, yes I’m OK.” For now, anyway. But that will pass. And when it does pass, I’ll be an even better friend to you than I can be right now. And maybe then we can talk about things or go do things or just hang.

Until then, knowing you’ll still be there for me when I’m ready to face the world again would be the best gift you can give me. And I hope that the friendship I can offer you in return is enough.

Thank you,

Your friend who struggles with mental health issues.