Remember the last time you had a dose of the flu? You were, understandably, obsessed with yourself. What’s my temperature? Am I due for my medication? Am I getting enough fluids? What about rest? Will I be able to go to work tomorrow? Why is tele so shit during the day?

And, if you’re a bloke, why doesn’t my partner appreciate just how close to death I really am? One or two weeks later, you’re back from the dead as if nothing had happened and your focus, hopefully, is no longer purely on yourself.

Being down with a mental illness however is a little different. Firstly, if you’re calling for a sickie you may be wondering whether to tell your employer the truth or opt for the flu/gastric/migraine excuse.

The only problem with this is that while influenza might hang around for a few weeks mental illness can be a matter of months, years or even life. And that might take a pretty long sickie.

Now relying on someone to pick you up some chicken soup on the way home when you have the flu is one thing. Asking for help when you have bipolar, depression, anxiety or whatever, is another thing altogether – it’s a big ask. I’ve had months at a time when I operated as if via a remote control held in the secure hands of my wife while at home or exceptionally close colleagues while at work.

Without these people in my life I would’ve been useless. I would’ve crawled into bed and stayed there until being reported in the local paper as having been found half eaten by my now no longer starving dog. Thing is, I was so obsessed with my own welfare that I had no real understanding of what my wife and colleagues were going through. I was 99.9% obsessed with my life and .1% interested in anybody else’s.

Ever so gradually I came to understand just how much I had relied on others in order to live my life. After 50-something years on this planet I was maturing. I was becoming self-aware and it had been a long and painful experience.

Years after his help, I delivered a heartfelt thanks to one of my colleagues who had helped me so selflessly. It felt good and I think it did for him too. As for my wife, I’ve said my thanks many times but I know it will never be enough. If the shoe had been on the other foot I think I would’ve said goodbye many years ago. All I can say with certainty is that without such wonderful people, my life would be a train wreck and yet it took me so long to see this and acknowledge their devotion.

So if you suffer from a mental illness and have special people who watch out for you, tie some string around your finger, write a reminder on your hand, put a note in your diary or a tattoo on your forehead. All it has to say is, “Remember to say thanks”. They’ll love you for it.

They’ll love you even more if you avoid making you and your illness your only topic of conversation. They’ll also appreciate it if you take care of yourself as much as possible rather than leaving it to others. Get exercise, sleep and eat well, take your meds. Don’t just lie back in the expectation that others are champing at the bit to do the hard work for you. The more you do, the better you’ll feel. And so will everybody else.

If you really want to be convinced of the need for self-awareness read the article, Why is it so hard to be around mentally ill people? Along with being a wonderfully politically-incorrect heading, it’s also pretty deep and harsh but well worthwhile:

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