Beautiful Servant, Dangerous Master
It was World Mental Health Day on the 10th October. A day of raising awareness about the multitude of illnesses under the mental health umbrella. A global attempt at increasing understanding of the still stigmatised neurological afflictions and maybe educate a few of the ‘snap out of it’ brigade.
Additionally, its a day to give mental health first aid to sufferers, supporting them in their fight with their faceless nemesis.
I’ve written before about a friend, whom for anonymity purpose I shall call Jerome Toothpick. He’s an old acquaintance who suffers from recurring mental health issues.
Ordinarily, he’s not normally that forthcoming about his struggle with his hellions. However, after a beer or two, he opens up about his visits to a dark place lacking in warmth with demons aplenty….. I’ve told him on numerous occasions he should avoid visiting my wife’s parents house, but he wont listen!
Seriously, though, it’s no laughing matter. He talks of clouded judgement at times, anger and frustration at his enduring challenging circumstances, self loathing, other people loathing, helplessness and being marginalised.
Rightly or wrongly, Jerome perceives his support network to have been lacking through his family’s fraught times. Not to mention his displeasure at me for giving him the alias surname of Toothpick!
Although a man of humanity, old school values and unconditional love for his family, Jerome seems not to focus on the many good things he’s undertaken in his adult life. Instead he mulls over stupid mistakes, dwelling on misguided actions, not to mention the vitriolic jibes of people whose behaviour has influenced his life negatively.
Despite advice to the contrary from intelligent people who he respects, he is not prepared to give his antagonists the behavioural ‘free pass’ everyone else bestows on them. He deems much of his treatment as unwarranted and isn’t prepared to unconditionally forgive it.
His neurosis even extends to constant worrying about his floors. Incidentally that isn’t a typing error, I do mean floors not flaws……. His floorboards have dry rot and he’s concerned they may give way at any minute!
Our discussions in the pub are certainly an eye opener as to how the mentally unwell mind functions. In fact last time we were out, I advised him that his words had taught me a invaluable lesson.
“What’s that, Gary?” he responded, looking pleased that I was investing my time listening intently to his story.
“I’ve learned not to come out for a drink with you. You’re a right miserable get!” I jokingly responded.
Thankfully Jerome took the gag as it was meant and my off colour quip didn’t push him over the edge. He just gave a wry smile before, for some reason, googling ‘Tall buildings in Leeds area’.
Seriously, though, I’d like to think I’m a supportive friend to the Toothpickmeister. From experience the most important qualities as a sounding board are to be a good listener, show empathy and contribute occasionally with potential solutions to try counter his demons.
It appears that he gains a lot just from venting and getting things off his chest. The fact someone appears to care about his predicament appears to lift some of those dark clouds, even if it is only on a temporary basis.
Speaking as a guy who’s had experience of engaging with those who struggle with illnesses of the mind, I’d say don’t suffer covertly. Share your torment by seek redemption from people trained in the field of counselling.
If you don’t find that beneficial, under no circumstances play the 1970’s song ‘Seasons in the Sun’ or Phil Collins debut solo album ‘Face Value’!