I got a text message from woman I briefly worked with, who wanted to catch up for coffee. Sure, I love a coffee catch up. So we arranged a time and place in our lovely little town. However, I kept wondering why she would bother keeping in touch with me? What did she want to talk about? I felt quite insecure about it to be honest.
When I arrived on my bike, all my concerns dissipated with her friendly wave, smile and a hug. We ordered drinks and sat in the autumn sunshine. Our conversation flowed quite easily from parenting to long weekend traffic. Then somehow quite smoothly we were talking about anxiety, and emotional struggles. It clicked, we clicked.
My openness about my mental illness had given this wonderful women the key to connect, the permission to reach out and ask, the sense of safety to raise an awkward topic.
When things had gotten more stressful in our workplace I had been honest that it was triggering my anxiety. I had said to a couple of colleagues that I had Bipolar Disorder. I hoped by being open about my mental illness it would help alleviate the work stress, and lengthen my period of employment. It sadly didn’t, but that says more about the leaders of the organisation than the employees.
But, and its a Big BUT, it has opened this meaningful connection, this possibility for friendship and mutual support. This is so meaningful and important to me especially as I have only moved to this little town 6 months ago and want to make new friends.
Having friends to talk to about everyday life and the harder things in life is necessary. Women often do this instinctively, we chat at the school gate, we meet up and talk over coffee or lunch, we ring distant friends to stay in touch. But when you are struggling with your mental health, when you are feeling anxious or lonely or stressed, we can withdraw or worry that talking about it won’t be well accepted by others. Are we being a Debbie downer? Will we scare others away with our craziness? or She won’t want to be my friend if I talk about that!
My recent experiences have proved to me that when you do talk about your emotions it builds human connections. I was chatting with a school mum who is also new to town and she opened up about her struggle to make friends. So I invited her over for a cuppa while our kids played. Our conversation easily moved from parenting to stress, frustration and anxiety. I shared my mental illness struggles and some supportive advice.
I believe that honesty and truth build our relationships with others. We all need an opportunity to share, to feel connected. So please remember that its not just a cup of coffee, but opportunity to be a good friend.