This past weekend, the youth volleyball team I coach competed in a challenging weekend long tournament. My team is passionate and competitive and, though they played hard, we had two tough losses. As with many 13 year old girls, that passion and competitiveness paired with exhaustion and the disappointment of loss led to many tears.
And, as a coach, it is my job to lead them through both the physical AND mental side of sports. But as someone who suffers from PTSD, anxiety, and depression, I did not feel well equipped to handle the situation. Thing is, this could happen in any relationship, not just between a coach and team. It could be your best friend, sibling, spouse, or child that needs support.
As I reflected on the weekend though, I realized that not only was I able to handle the situation effectively, but suffering from mental illness was actually a benefit.
Because no matter if I am having a good or bad day, I am constantly aware of my mental health. But, how do we take our personal experiences and transform it to better help those we care about? I don’t ever think there will be a hard and fast way, but here are some steps I took in helping my team through this experience:
- Acknowledge and Respect your Own Mental Illness: There is something to be said about the courage it takes to be comfortable with your own mental illness. It is like learning to have confidence in your appearance or intelligence, and it takes a lot of work, especially because mental illness is like this constantly evolving and changing blob within you and you don’t always know when it will flare up. There will always be times when you question yourself, and that is OK. Even the smartest people question their intelligence every once in awhile. But, if you get yourself to a level where you respect yourself and your mental illness, then that gives you a very stable foundation to jump off of when providing support for someone who needs it.
- Check In with your own Current Mental State: This is imperative. If you aren’t aware of what your mental state is at the time of the event, it could push you over the edge, whether it is into a panic attack or feeling claustrophobic or however you respond to a higher stress situation. For me, I was feeling good, but I was also in a loud gym jam packed with people and surrounded by flying volleyballs. And while I didn’t have time to find somewhere quiet and basically had to react to the situation in real time, I kept doing little checks in my head to make sure I wasn’t getting overstimulated.
- Use Your Mental Illness as a Superpower: Whatever mental illness you have, you have been through some tough times. And while you don’t have to go around preaching about how you suffer from anxiety or whatever, you can be confident and empathetic. Having confidence in your ability to help is HUGE.
- Listen!! Yes, suffering from mental illness can pose as a benefit when helping others; however, remember that each individual is unique. It is imperative you listen and try to understand what is going on without comparing their situation to your own. As simple as it seems, listening is sometimes the hardest part of helping someone because we don’t take the time to understand everything or we jump to conclusions.
Sometimes, like in my situation, I went through these in a matter of moments. But in some situations you may have the ability to slow down and have a much more thorough awareness of yourself and the other person’s needs. Each person is different and their needs will vary, but hopefully this post will give you some guidance and confidence on stepping in and helping someone when they are in need, especially when dealing with mental health problems or confusion!
Like this article? Check out some of my other mental health posts: