This is one of those posts where I try to explain to non-sufferers some of what seems so obvious to those of us who have to deal with mental illness. Here’s hoping that it’ll help some people to understand even a little better.
Some people who suffer from depression (and other mental illnesses) are lucky enough to have safe people. That is to say, there are certain people around whom they feel secure, and who can calm them down when they get panicked, and who pick them up when they’re feeling down. As someone lucky enough to have many safe people I can safely say that I’ve found nothing else in the world that helps so much as these people do.
This may seem like a straightforward topic: there are people around whom you feel safe. And, for the sufferer, it is. This blog is also aimed towards the friends and families of sufferers, however, and it doesn’t always seems so simple to them. As such there some points I would like to speak about:
Other people are not “unsafe”.
Sometimes when you’re in the middle of a panic attack or a depressive streak it’s easy to slip into a state of mind where the world is a terrifying place. Safe People, for some reason or another, can sometimes pull you back from that state of mind (or at least help you through it). It’s not that other people are unsafe, but that the world on a whole is a scary or difficult place and it takes a specific attitude or set of attributes to break through that. Or time. Sometimes it also takes time. Having safe people doesn’t mean that you’re somehow scared of the other people, just that they aren’t as well equipped to help you right now.
Safe People aren’t always who you expect.
I have many safe people. I have many close friends. These people aren’t always the same. It may seem at a glance that this isn’t important, and that I feel safe with whoever I feel safe with (and I do believe that that’s true) but it’s also important to explain to close friends or family who aren’t my safe people that that’s okay too. It doesn’t mean you’re any less close, or less well thought of. I still have no idea what exactly makes me feel better about having some people around when I’m freaking out. I just know that the company of some people helps me more than others.
It’s hard to define why they’re safe.
If you find that you are or aren’t someone’s safe person and this surprises you then you may want to ask *why* that’s the case. In and of itself there’s nothing wrong with asking, but be aware that it may not be anything that they can put into words, and it may not be something that you could change even if they could. Perhaps for some reason a deep voice reaches them better when they’re upset. Perhaps it’s someone’s patience, or their bubbly attitude, or their friendly jibes. Perhaps it’s a blend of all these things and more. Perhaps it’s just that there have been previous situations where they were around and it turned out okay, so now they’re associated with getting through troubles. I don’t know. They may not either.
You don’t necessarily have to do anything to be a safe person.
I’ve had people ask me if it’s okay for them to consider me one of their safe people. The first time was strange, because I hadn’t thought about it before and didn’t know what was expected of me, or why they were asking. After a while I realised that if they’re asking me then they clearly already feel safe around me, so there wasn’t really anything I had to do other than keep being myself. The people in question just wanted to know that I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable about them coming to me if they had trouble, so as long as I wasn’t uncomfortable then it was all shiny.
If you’re uncomfortable… say it.
If you feel uncomfortable about anything bring it up with the person in question. This goes as much for being considered a safe person as it does for anything else. It’s okay to clarify what you are and aren’t comfortable with. If you’re okay being there for someone whenever you’re around but worry that you can’t be there all the time, let them know! If you’re okay with being called for help any time during the day but know you’re a total bitch if you’re woken at night, tell them! If someone has approached you about being a safe person for them then they’re most likely trying to build up a good support network, and it’s more useful for them to know exactly when they can count on your help than it is to get well-meaning promises that aren’t practical, or reassurances that you’re uncomfortable about but give because you feel you should.
If someone’s talking to you about their safe people, chances are there’s something they feel unsafe about. Feeling unsafe is a scary thing, and admitting you’re scared and asking for help is really hard. Even if you don’t feel that you can be there for them you can be kind and patient about the way you explain it. They’re probably coping with a lot right now.
Whether you’re a safe person for someone in need or not, you’re awesome just for reading this far. I see no reason why you’d stick through my ramblings here if you didn’t hope it would help you help others, and that’s pretty darned amazing. Thank you all!