Does having a mental health problem mean I need to help others?
This is a conundrum that I've struggled with for years. I've gone through periods of spending all my energy trying to help others with similar issues to what I've struggled with, and then periods of avoiding the same situation with a barge pole. Ultimately, I've finally come to the realisation that either is totally okay, as long as it is what you want to do, and it doesn't impact your own mental health.
In my first year of university I was at the lowest point in my life. Add into that equation starting to drink alcohol for the first time, living with people I'd never met before, who knew nothing about my past, and having to balance academic work on top of things, and things weren't looking good. It was tough, but I had a best friend who looked after me through everything that was changing. The problem was, I wasn't looking after her too. We both suffered with incredibly similar mental health problems, but lived far away from each other; contact was almost always through social media or our phones in some way.
My poor mental health took over, and if I'm completely honest, it made me a selfish bitch. I stopped replying to some messages from this girl who was just trying to look after me because I wanted to go out drinking, and find solace flirting on the dancefloor after a lot of drinks. If anyone knows me, they'll know that that's not really 'me'. I'm someone who's much happier curled up with a book in a snuggly nest of blankets. My mental illness had taken over, and suddenly I didn't really know who I was anymore.
One day, I was truly struggling, and she wasn't at the other end of the phone for me. It was a position I'd put her in time and time again, but she'd never done it to me. I was angry and upset and confused and took it all out on her. It was wrong, and it ultimately cost me the best friendship I've ever made, and the ensuing fights had me crying for months. For years afterwards I'd dream (as in in my sleep at night) that we'd get back in contact with each other, and things would get back to how they used to be. Obviously that never happened.
What I should have realised at the time, and what I failed to realise, is that we were both suffering, and it shouldn't have been an expectation to be hand-held every day. Our mental health problems didn't mean we were responsible for each other. And that's what I didn't get. I thought she'd let me down, but she never really did.
For eons after that, I rarely spoke up about my mental illness, and didn't, or even couldn't become close friends with someone who had suffered with similar problems as me. I was trying to recover from self-harm, and it took so much mental energy that I didn't have any leftover to spare for anyone else. Anyone who got in contact with me online was honestly left with a message saying that I couldn't help them. It was harsh, but it was true. I'd put myself first in order to recover, and I wasn't going to jeapordise that for the sake of a stranger, or even someone I knew.
What I'm trying to say here, is that if you're going through a similar period you are under no obligation whatsoever to help others. It's not your job to help people because you've suffered with the same mental illness, and it should not be expected of you. There are trained professionals that are there to help people (you can always talk to the Samaritans) and it's okay to say no. It's not something to feel guilty about, or agonise over (I know I have).
If you want to help people, or talk about your experiences then that's great as well. You should feel as though you can cover the topic, especially if you blog. It's cathartic, and can often be much more helpful for you too to let it all out.
All in all, what I'm trying to say is you do you. Having a mental illness does not mean you have to be a therapist to the internet.