Ask twice and let them know you’re there to listen

Someone who has shown me they were in my corner was my friend Sandra who I first met at work; we became friends after recognising our similar tastes in books, and penchant for morning coffee.

We'd eventually come to realise we had more in common than initially thought.

I don't know how to explain it fully but when I talked to her, about anything and everything I felt that sense of "this is a safe space, this person gets me".

When my mental health drastically deteriorated by the spring of 2018 I found myself incredibly alone and really struggling to talk about my mental health at home. I didn't want to be a burden to my parents, having been signed off from work for a few weeks.

Sandra reached out to me despite me not having the strength to reply. She stayed in touch when others would have "left me to it".

She persisted, and her persistence in wanting to know how I felt and how I was getting on hugely impacted me in a positive way. It felt so good to be thought of, to be seen when I felt invisible.

Sometimes friendships can be strained by personal difficulties. The fact she didn't shy away from me or avoid me altogether made eventually opening up much easier because I felt safe.

She's not a mental health expert and didn't need to be. She showed me that she was willing and ready to listen, which helped me feel able to talk, face-to-face over dinner.

It was a huge thing for me to leave the house at the time. I'd been so numb, my social anxiety had skyrocketed, I felt so vulnerable, if not just fragile. It was a huge undertaking, but knowing that she actually cared and just wanted to see me gave me so much courage to do what I'd been struggling to do which was get up, get dressed, and leave the house.

I'd managed to avoid the "how are you?" question for a while, so when she asked me I initially froze, I didn't know what to say; all the words in my mind just jumbled up and couldn't make an orderly exit from my mouth. I found myself freaking out.

Understanding that that's not the easiest question to answer, we discussed the book she'd lent me, we'd informally formed our own book club as our friendship blossomed.

Later on, she asked how I really was, and because we'd started out with just casual conversation, I felt much more at ease discussing my struggles. She'd made social contact, one of the fundamental skills I've grown to understand as a Time to Change Champion, and that got me to open up.

I felt safe. Feeling safe is a huge thing for me to be able to open up, having been negatively treated because of my mental health by people in the past.

By asking twice, she enabled me to empower myself to talk, because that pause in conversation is all that is needed to get someone to realise they are going to be heard, rather than being asked once, left to it, and feeling worse.

It helped me to realise that my story wasn't one of shame, it wasn't one to hide. My story is a part of me, it doesn't define me because I define myself, and that means telling my truth, which I do more now than ever that I've found my voice.

I spoke up because Sandra showed me she wanted to listen.

She asked twice.