May is Mental Health Awareness Month and below is my number one tip for being helpful if your friend opens up to you about something:
After showing your concern, ask your friend what their experience of whatever the label is that they tell you about.
The people who know me and have seen my life eaten away by my sleep disorder become curious when I tell them and ask “woah so what IS narcolepsy?”
When I tell people who haven’t seen the full impact of the disease on my life and/or haven’t read the blog they say “oh that’s so nice that you nap and then you feel rested.”
Nobody I’ve met (who didn’t already know someone with narcolepsy) knew that narcolepsy was chronic debilitating sleep deprivation coupled with random collapses and disruptive hallucinations. Including me, and 20 years worth of doctors.
I hope that as we go into the last week of Mental Health Awareness Month, more people get curious and ask/listen about each other’s experiences.
Doing this will make your friend feel heard and valued, which is what a lot of people with chronic illness and mental illness are seeking. In addition, you listening could help decrease time until diagnosis, particularly for rare diseases like narcolepsy. If everyone I know learns a little bit more about what narcolepsy ACTUALLY is, the next time their friend complains of similar symptoms they can say “hey, this might be crazy, but have you thought about seeing a sleep neurologist?”
Find my sleep disorder posts here.
People battling narcolepsy, other chronic illnesses, and mental illness: what tips would you give?