FRIEND IN THE GREEN T-SHIRT
Updated: Apr 2
Right, this week I'm interviewing my best mate Tim about our friendship over the last four years. My mental breakdown began not long after our friendship, and Tim has stood by me through absolutely everything, no doubt being the only reason I stayed alive at times. The pressure he was under must have been immense, but he never gave up and he showed me a whole other dimension of friendship I didn't know existed.
To give some context to the following interview I should say that I experience/have experienced depression, panic attacks, dissociation, voices in my head, psychosis, flashbacks, PTSD, and suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Most of this stemmed from an abusive relationship and sexual violence trauma I suffered when I was 16 years old.
Strap in, this is gonna be emosh!
1) Hey Tim, how are you?
2) How are you really?
Really good. Lockdown has been kind to me.
3) How does it feel to be answering personal questions today regarding our friendship over the last four years, especially since I’m the one asking the questions?
A bit weird. I’m not used the formality of it. Like just now I got the urge to type “lol” like I’m writing a text to you. But I can’t. Serious business Tim.
4) How would you describe our friendship?
I feel like if there was a word better than friend, I would use that.
5) How important do you think it is for people to understand mental health issues, even if they’ve never experienced them?
It’s easy enough to pull up the statistics from the government website showing that the number one killer of both men and women aged 20-34 from 2001 to 2018 was “suicide and injury or poisoning of undetermined intent.” I’m a huge, huge advocate for mental health awareness (such as this project!), destigmatisation and funding. I think a large portion of deaths could be prevented if people in suffering could be given support. I once asked a good friend of mine during a political discussion “why is it that the number one killer of men in the UK under the age of 50 is suicide?” His response? “Something has to be.” I think that says a lot about the culture surrounding mental health in this country.
6) What is it like for you to be close friends with someone who struggles with their mental health on a daily basis?
It makes me more empathetic. You are easily the most loving, caring person I’ve ever met. I’ve seen you put on a face. I’ve seen you break down. I’ve seen you lose sight of the love and care. If mental health issues can bring you down, they can bring anyone down. That’s why when someone engages in behaviour that’s out of character for them, I’m able to take a step back and think about what they might be going through rather than take it personally. I used to fear some days that you might hurt yourself. I felt powerless. It’s difficult to know if you’re doing the right thing. Sometimes I blamed myself for your problems. Sometimes it felt like the only thing stopping you from doing something stupid was saying exactly the right words. And I didn’t always get it right. Over time I realised it’s normal to feel all of these things. But it’s important to explore them and understand that I, as much as I love myself, am not a professional. I don’t have all the answers. I find comfort in that, and I know as long as I try my best, I can sleep at night. And no day spent with Jemima is ever boring.
7) Before becoming friends and supporting me through my mental health struggles, did you have prior experience of mental health issues?
I have always had a pinch of anxiety, but I can function in most situations. I was depressed for a few years around the age of 18 that led to suicidal thoughts daily. One day I realised I’d need to change my situation if I’m going to get better. I quit my 9-5 at the age of 21 and went off to America to work at a summer camp. I’m 27 now and I never went back to the 9-5. I believe my depression was caused by a perceived lack of control and lack of joy in my life. I went out and found some and after a few years of working on myself and making decisions for myself, I can wholeheartedly say I’m happy. This isn’t to say that this will work for anyone with depression, but I’m grateful that it worked for me.
8) You’ve helped me through many panic attacks. How did these panic attacks, and trying to help me through them, feel from your perspective?
Omg so much fun! Kidding, they’re pretty horrific if you’ve never seen one before. At first it was a mess. I felt like I was doing more harm than good. I remember when I used to try my best but there was little I could do to help. I’d try to help you sleep and we’d each get a handful of hours. I remember you woke up once and said “I haven’t slept like that in years.” I think I said “oh cool” but I screamed a little inside. Over time, we learned what set them off, how they manifested and cultivated methods of dealing with triggers and I have to say I’m a bit proud of us for how we deal with them these days. They’re nowhere near as bad as they were – I can’t actually remember the last one. Now I feel like a pro. Hit me with whatever you got. I can do everything from heavy breathing to full blow dissociative, knife wielding mania. (Joking by the way, just in case anyone reading was thinking I could help them. I cannot. Seek a professional.)
9) Can you remember the scariest point for you with regards to my mental health over the last few years?
The scariest point for me was when you did everything you could to get help and your GP slapped you on some meds, then ripped you off them and slapped you on some other ones with no weening in between. You were WILD. It felt like there was nothing I could do to help in those weeks. It felt like a year – I can only imagine what it must have been like for you. That was the scariest because I know, from personal experience, there is only so long a person can feel that desperate and continue living. The panic attacks and dissociation were bad, but I kind of knew that if we could get through those moments, you would ‘come to'. When you were on those meds though, it wasn’t a moment. It was weeks and it was terrifying.
10) What did you think at the time when you saw me at my lowest point?
I couldn’t even pick out your lowest. Every time I thought “this is it, this has to be the bottom of the canyon.” You were like, NOPE, let’s absolutely smash through this chasm to reveal the Mariana trench below. You were like the opposite of a rocket. I felt a bit of anger at people who might have caused you to be this way. I felt scared that I wasn’t going to be able to help. Mostly, I felt sad. I felt sad that you didn’t get to feel the joy that I feel and I had to help in any way I could.
11) Did you ever feel helpless? And, if so, how did you manage to continue supporting me despite not knowing what to do next?
Kind of. There were flickering moments of helplessness but I like to think I’m quite good in a pinch. I knew that if you thought I didn’t know what I was doing, the game was up and you wouldn’t trust me. So, sometimes I had to blag it. I might not have known exactly what to do or say but when someone is in need, they don’t need to know that. Sometimes all a person needs is to feel reassured and like they’re not alone. Which is what I always fell back on when I didn’t know what to do.
12) What would you say is the most important quality to have when supporting someone through mental health issues?
Understanding. Which is a bit vague. What I mean is, when you invite someone out and they decline for no ‘good’ reason. It might not be because they don’t like you. Maybe they’re anxious. Or maybe they’re unable to get out of bed that day. Maybe the reason they snapped at you is because they haven’t slept at all in 2 days. There is so much power in being a comforting presence in someone’s life, without pressuring.
13) What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced during our friendship due to my mental health?
By far, the hardest thing is knowing the difference between enabling behaviour and being a positive influence. It got the point where I felt like I was the only outlet for you and I became what you perceived as therapy because I made you feel good about yourself, even though we weren’t actually helping you to solve any problems. Knowing when to distance yourself and how much by is so painful and there are times when I thought we wouldn’t recover from it.
14) You’ve always been so understanding and accepting of me and have always said the right things, even when you’ve admitted yourself that you didn’t actually understand. How have you managed to be so understanding regardless of not always knowing what to do or what was happening?
So first of all, you’re too nice to say it, but I definitely didn’t always say the right things. But that’s ok, I’m human. It’s impossible to fully understand any person. Everyone is so complex and unique that no one can ever truly perfectly empathise with any other person. First step is to admit to the person you’re talking to that you’ll never truly understand what they’re going through. I remember when I first said something to this effect to you and you went “OMG YES YOU GET IT!” The next step, and this is super important (because without it the first step can be just really mean), is to reassure them and tell them that even though you can’t understand, you will try and you will be there for them no matter what. I think my inherent desire to be compassionate comes from my parents, in every interaction I’ve ever seen them have with another person, they’ve always had this trait.
15) Has supporting me through my mental health issues affected your own mental health in any way? If so, have you found any ways of keeping your own mental health stable whilst also supporting a friend?
I think if anything, it’s helped my mental health improve. I guess you could say I borrowed some of yours. I’d give it back if I could. I think the key thing to remember is that sometimes, to a person who is vulnerable, you kind of become the be all and end all. And that’s not fair. It took me many years to realise that for me to be the best friend that I can, I need to be healthy too and sometimes I need to take a step back. It seems really sad but I think it can be sort of summarised by a phrase I read once, attributed to Penny Reid, “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep someone else warm.”
16) Can you describe one of the worst nights during my illness?
I’m going to preface this one by saying again that you are the most loving and caring person I have ever met. What happened this night was the product of a highly potent medication cocktail prescribed to you by your good old GP, copious amounts of alcohol and, of course, one of the most vicious bouts of mental illness you’d dealt with thus far. We’d gotten back from a gathering at a friends around Christmas 2017 and you were annoyed at me for some reason. You ended up aggressively shoving my head backwards with your hand. Yes, you readers read that right. Jemima Hughes performed an act of aggression, I’m quite certain, her first and only. For anyone that knows her, at any level, you will almost certainly think that I am lying but I assure you, it happened and I was... Well, it turns out I was in the midst of an attack of appendicitis and I was vomiting profusely. It’s a bloody good job as well because we’d have had a right scrap if I could have just stopped vomiting. This brings me to my point I made earlier about how mental health issues can break who you are as a person. They make you do things you would never knowingly do. This was the day I knew that mental health issues could make anyone do just about anything. I feel it’s only fair to finish this by telling you that when I met with you the next day, you had absolutely no recollection and was HORRIFIED, I mean sobbing, mortified. I think I ended up feeling bad because you felt awful. I wouldn’t mind but you didn’t even swing for me properly.
17) What is your favourite thing about our friendship?
I know anything I say to you will be met with kindness, compassion and free of judgment.
18) If someone is reading this today and they’re trying to support a friend through mental health struggles, what would you say to them?
Encourage them to seek professional assistance wherever possible. If you help them, they’ll be the best friend you’ll ever have. They’re worth it. You won’t always get it right. That’s ok. Don’t set yourself on fire to keep them warm.
Get yourself a green t-shirt (for when they snot on you).
Finally, you’re a fucking hero. Good on you for trying to help someone even though you don’t have to. A friend of mine once said he was proud of me for what I did, and even though it’s not why I did it, it nearly broke me to hear that someone else noticed. It takes strength, character and compassion to do what you do.
19) I just want to say thank you for being the most incredible friend, your support truly defines the word ‘unconditional’. After going through so many mental health battles together, do you feel more equipped to deal with them in the future? Whether that be your own battles or a friend’s?
Absolutely. I work with kids and being able to recognise the signs of mental health issues has helped me to understand behaviour (as best I can) and really make an impact on some people’s lives.
20) How do you feel after answering all these questions?
I feel like I’ve talked a lot about me and you’ve said so many nice things about me and all I got to do was expose some of your darkest moments. It seems only fair that I get to say some nice things back.
In a world full of hopelessness, pain and despair, you are a shining light that gives me hope. Whenever I read about a war torn country or corrupt politicians and I get down, it is the knowledge that people like you exist that helps me come to peace with all of it.
Fred Rogers said it best, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”
You light up people’s lives with your boundless optimism and ceaseless desire to help people. It inspires me every day to be a better person.
You’ve asked me before how I helped you through those dark times and I always think, how could I not? When I know you would do the same for me, as you would anyone else.
You talk about people that you love like the moon would disappear if they didn’t exist. I have never known anyone with so much love to give, and willing to give it so vehemently, like it’s pouring from you.
People of your calibre are so rare and I am honoured and privileged to call you my friend.
Finally, I am supremely proud of you for your progress, your attitude and the work that you do. You are so important to me and so many others.
Thank you for who you are and for constantly trying to improve, I will forever be in your debt.
Nuff said? I hope so because I'm speechless. Thank you for doing this Tim.
If you're reading this today and you're struggling with your mental health in any way, please reach out for help. See a doctor, speak to someone you trust, or go to the 'support' page on this website for a list of useful contacts.
If you're reading this today and you know someone who is struggling with their mental health, encourage them to seek help. And try to be someone's friend in the green t-shirt.