Who You Should Keep Close (And Very Far Away) If You’re Coping With Mental Illness

Posted by Sandhya Sriram in #LetsTalk, Mental Health
May 1, 2017

Educating a person about your mental health issue is like teaching a child to spell the word ‘onomatopoeia’. The word reads nothing like it sounds. So, you ask them to unlearn the rules of the language they have learnt before. You teach them the concept of silent letters. The child then spends the first half of his/her life hating the word and wishing that it was spelt somewhat easier.

In short, the process of explaining to someone what your mental health is doing to you is difficult. People need to be told why it is an issue in the first place and why it is making you exhausted. More specifically, why you need help either in the form of understanding, or mere words of support from them. Sometimes, a gesture is enough to assure you that you are being encouraged, even though you are alone on this journey.

It is hard to explain why you are what you are, especially to those who have zero knowledge about mental health issues.

Your journey is precious. You need all the strength and energy you have got in you, to channelise it entirely into the battle at hand. Therefore, it is important that you choose your people because even one person’s, ‘So? Big deal‘ can make you feel like you have been pushed to the starting point, especially if that person was someone you thought you could trust. You do not deserve that.

Based on the experience of some of my close friends and my own, I have categorised people into two broad categories, which then branch out to two more under each. This categorisation is only for those who have not walked in similar shoes before or are not very acquainted with mental health issues.


The first category consists of the ones who are ‘ignorant’. It might be frustrating at first, but you need to remind yourself that it is not their problem. Refrain from subjecting them to what you have been subjected to and the superiority of knowing more than them.

Out of the ones who are ignorant, some of them are ‘passive’. They are the ones who are not aware of the things you go through, predominantly because they have not walked on a journey similar to yours. However, they are willing to listen and understand. These are the people who listen to, respond and not react or give solutions. These are the people you hold on to. They might not be able to actively help, but be rest assured, they will never disappoint you.

On the other hand, there are people who are ‘active’ and ‘ignorant’. They are the ones who realise they are ignorant about your issues, but also choose to remain so. There can be a variety of reasons for this. The inability to process so much information. They may be too worked up with their own troubles and may be trying to find their way out of it and do not want their peace to be disrupted.

Even though they sympathise with you, they might trigger strong negative emotions in you, at first. Until you finally realise that they are fighting their own battles too. It might have nothing to do with their mental health and perhaps be far less in magnitude than yours, but it is their personal battle. Do not make that judgement. When you fall, they will be there. They just cannot be your person. And that’s okay!

Now, we enter the category of people who are interesting. The folks who are ‘arrogant’. The ones who only care about themselves and lack maturity. Sometimes, it is hard to notice the difference, but they too are divided into two sub-categories.

They are meticulous in the way they think and work through their problems and believe that all problems have a solution without any exception. If there is no solution, they ask you to make one. Otherwise, you are not strong enough. The reason why I call them ‘passive’ is because they do not know they are being arrogant. They have a unidimensional vision and have not seen much in their life. They were part of the cool gang in their high schools, had a bunch of friends who supported them throughout, made their way out of their insecurities (which, by the way, is great). But only because they could. The nature of problems was such that they could weave their way out of it with nothing but reasoning. They care. They want to help.

However, their inability to curb that arrogance often ends up in them starting their sentences with, “If I were you…” Well now, that’s the point. You are not me and heaven knows whether you would have even survived this far if you had to walk my path. For people belonging to this category – forgive them. Acknowledge that their intent is to help you even though it may feel like they end up blowing their own trumpets each time. They are not just strong enough. Remind yourself you have your people. It helps!

The ones who are ‘active’ and ‘arrogant’ are the ones whose only intention is to tell you how awesome they are and how weak you are. “Oh grow up… What now? Depressed again?”

I am not going to waste my time in writing about them. Word of caution: if you spot them, chin up. Look into their eyes and give them your best smile. Not a happy one. The proud one. Though a little too dramatic, I sometimes repeat the lines of Sia’s “Titanium” in my head when these people are around me. It helps to keep their germs away from my soul.

Next time you are getting acquainted with someone new and you want to get close to them, immediately try and put them into one of the four categories. It helps to choose your people this way to minimise damage. You might be wrong at first, so it is indeed about trial and error. You start with little details about yourself. Just give them a peek into your darkness. If you think they are strong enough to handle that, you get your cue. Sometimes, people have a way of surprising you. Someone very special to me recently made their way from ‘passive arrogance’ to ‘passive ignorance’ and eventually, became my person! It’s beautiful to watch that happen.

In conclusion, this is certainly a hard battle that you have to fight. In the process of looking for support, do not attach a part of your soul in too many people’s hearts. When they break your soul, it will be too hard for you to assimilate the pieces back together.

My obsession with “Grey’s Anatomy” has helped me pick up a few good examples. Before performing a complex, life-changing surgery on a fellow doctor, we see the chief neurosurgeon place her hands on her waist, chest and shoulders and with her head held high. She stands in a pose similar to that of Superman. The theory she mentions states that standing in this pose for a few minutes strengthens and helps you go on with your battle when there is no one else to hold on to. I have tried it and it works remarkably!

Keep in mind, there will always be a child who, despite all efforts, will not be able to spell ‘onomatopoeia’. Some others who won’t care to learn it in the first place. That’s their problem, not yours.

Be proud. March on. You are nearly there!