tips for when someone you love has wonky brain

Having someone you love battle with depression and/or anxiety (aka wonky brain around this blog) can be heart wrenching and heavy, especially if it’s a particularly bad or long season of it. I imagine it can feel extra overwhelming if you’ve never dealt with wonky brain or if you’ve never dealt with it to the extent the person you love is.

But let’s start by getting this out of the way: It’s probably not your fault their brain is wonky and it’s not your fault if it’s not getting better. I say probably because if we’re being technical, if you’re being abusive or a generally yucky person to them…then it might be your fault. You might want to reconsider your understanding of love and might think about finding ways to get your insides better so you can treat people you love better.

So, it’s not your fault. But there are things you can do to make that person you love feel loved and potentially assist them in functioning until they can go back to doing that by themselves. And I’m going to share a few of them with you. I would like to add though that I am not a mental health professional. The tips I’m going to share with you are based on my own times of wonkiness and what helped me, what I needed. Everyone is different. You know the person you love, you likely have way more insight into them than I do (trust yourself). But maybe sharing what has been/is good from people in my life when I’ve been/am wonky, will give you a tiny bit of foundation to work with.

Help me with the basics.

Wonky brain can be paralyzing. The simplest tasks like making dinner, washing the dishes, getting ready for the day or for bed can seem too intimidating to bear. It doesn’t make sense, but when my brain gets wonky, it’s comparable to using my grandparents’ computer. It’s agonizingly slow and keeps freezing, even when you’re only trying to click the start menu. In times like these, as patronizing as it might seem for you to do, I really need you to drag me to grocery store to buy food I will realistically eat/make in this wonky spell. Help me pick out some healthy food and also some freezer meals that I can zap in the microwave (something is better than nothing) when my brain is freezing. Drag me to fill up my car with gas. Help me do my laundry, take out my trash, do my dishes. When I’m depressed,  all these things begin to pile up, which makes doing them seem even more daunting and makes me feel so rotten. Do them with me. Help me get that inspiring fresh start. It can be empowering. This applies to lots of “basic” things that don’t feel so basic to a wonky brain. I remember feeling really sluggish and bad, and my mom made adult me eat a bowl of cereal and go to bed. It’s what I needed. The fact you would care enough to help me with these not so glamorous things means so much to me and makes me feel cared for. Don’t underestimate the simplest acts of love.

Ask me what I need.

You are an expert on your loved one, but they are even more of an expert. If mental health has never been a struggle of yours, you might assume that person needs you to give an inspiring speech or give them a kick in the rear to get them going, when all they really need is a hug or a kind text message or to go on a walk. I remember going through a pretty bad existential crisis (I seem to always be in one, in one way or another) that had made my anxiety, and therefore my depression, sky rocket. One my best friends, after I had tried to articulate my thoughts, asked me, “What can I do?” She couldn’t really relate to what I was going through, with my wonky brain or with my crisis. But she loved me and genuinely wanted to know what she could do. So she asked! It made me dig deep and think about what I needed and it gave her insight into a tangible way she could help. It was good for both of us. I still remember that moment clearly. I felt very loved. And love cannot be underestimated.

Don’t come with an agenda.

We can tell. No matter how well meaning you are, it can hurt deeply if it feels like you have come with an agenda. If your loved one (and you) is a person of faith, they might be carrying some serious doubts about God’s existence, goodness, or love for them. If you’re coming with the agenda of convincing them God is real, God is good, having faith in God, etc. you’re probably just making things worse. They probably already feel bad or conflicted about having those thoughts, and it ends up coming across like you care more about their belief in that moment than you do about them. Without meaning to, it can add this expectation that unless they agree with you, you’ll give up on them. It’s natural to wrestle with these things when your brain is wonky. If you’re a person of faith, than I assume you believe God is good and God is truth. If God is truth, God can be scrutinized and survive. If God is just, God will reward the person who seeks truth. If God is steadfast love, your loved one is safe in their doubt, in their resentment. Let them feel. Maybe your loved one will really benefit from the scripture or sermons you share–like I said, you know your loved one more than I do. However, from what I’ve seen, it tends to make matters worse.

I remember the greatest human assets in my worst season of wonky brain were those who listened to my ramblings and didn’t look at me differently. They didn’t come with a mission to make sure I stayed the “ideal” person of faith in my trials, convincing me of a light I didn’t see. They simply sat with me in the dark and let me share the warmth of their light. My parents did a lot of listening over the phone back then. I recall fiddling with my sleeve and saying out loud for the first time to one of my friends (now husband) that I wasn’t sure God was real and that if God was real, I wasn’t sure how good that God could be. He didn’t look at me different. He just looked at me with kindness, with love. It shook me, thawed me, in a good way. Don’t underestimate love.

Brainstorm actions with me.

Having a wonky brain can make a person feel helpless. I can be pretty mean to myself when I’m wonky. I feel like I can’t do anything right, sometimes like I can’t do anything at all. As I said earlier, the simplest of things can seem daunting. Help me brainstorm ways to make these things or the things I’m afraid of/depressed about, seem a little bit easier to tackle. For example, if I’m lonely, help me brainstorm places I can meet people. If I’m afraid to talk to people in class or at work, help me set a goal to look one person in the eye. If I need to see a counselor, help me set a goal to call or email 3 centers to try to make an appointment. And when I say a goal, I mean assist your loved one in making a comically low goal to meet within a set amount of time.

I say comically low because to you, making a call to a counselor might be easy as pie, but to your loved one, it might be the most courageous thing they have done in quite some time. And taking a microscopic step and then celebrating it is often the fuel needed to take a little bit bigger of a step. It can also make a day or week seem like it has more purpose. Your loved one is the captain of their own ship. They get to navigate, but you can help give them some ideas of where to go and how to get there. Your presence at the wheel is valuable. Don’t underestimate loving guidance.

Tell me things you like about my brain.

When I’m wonky, I get mad at my brain. I hate my brain. I wish my brain were different, I feel like it’s broken. One time my husband told me, “I like your brain. It makes me laugh.” He wasn’t trying to be profound. He was just being matter of fact. But that stuck with me. It was like glue that seeped down into some of the cracks and held part of me together.  Tell your loved one what you love about the very brain that’s giving them so much trouble. Maybe you like the music or words their brains writes. Maybe you like the art or food it creates. Maybe you like the stories or jokes it tells. Or the deep conversations it lets you have with that person. I don’t think it’s possible for you to tell them too many things you love about their brain. You don’t have to persuade them to love their brain right then, but do remind them that their wonky brain is also a loved brain, even if it’s not by them. Don’t underestimate love.

{Side note: I didn’t intend for this whole “don’t underestimate love” thing to be a theme, but I guess it naturally is, isn’t it? So what are you waiting for? Go love that wonky-brained soul you care so deeply about!}


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