A few weeks ago, I did something unusual in a desperate attempt to help my sister and her struggle with bipolar and borderline personality disorder. I asked for help from strangers. I wrote messages on pebbles, which I scattered around my local area. I asked for messages of hope.
Before long, there was an unexpected and huge wave of kindness as more than 300 people I had never met – from all around the world – responded with messages of heartbreaking kindness.
My 38-year-old sister has been struggling with Bipolar (type 2) and Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) for over ten years. The nature of her conditions means that she often experiences conflicting emotions and mood fluctuations, both of which can have profound effects on her emotional and physical wellbeing.
In recent years she has pushed her family and friends away. When she hurts, she hides and there is nothing anyone can seem to do to break into her refuge space – if only to offer a helping hand. This is heartbreaking to watch.
Over time, I have realised that when she goes into hiding like this, it is often because that space is her only source of comfort. To break into it without permission usually makes matters worse.
Two weeks ago, she had another difficult turn with her illness. I knew I had to do something to help her to see that hope and recovery is never far away.
I had to do something I’d never tried before.
I knew there wasn’t much I could do for my sister in terms of a physical intervention (we had all tried that as a family), but raised suddenly that there was something I could do.
For years, I’ve written messages and poetry and drawn pictures on pebbles, leaving them around the countryside where people might find them. It has been a cathartic and purposeful act which has also helped me to manage my own mental health in a positive way. I turned again to the pebbles.
I set about writing a plea and with it, a call to action on three pebbles. I left them on park benches for strangers to find in Heaton park, Manchester.
The pebbles had a simple request: for strangers to send a hopeful message to my sister, to help me show her that the world is still a kind place, full of light and love. I created an email address with the pre-fix “TheKindnessOfStrangers123” and inscribed it on each stone.
My mission was to receive as many messages for my sister as I could, then to publish them in a small book to present to her in the hope that the collective power of others could give her the hope she needed to continue her pursuit of happiness and recovery.
After just 48 hours I received over 300 email messages from people all over the world! The pebbles had been photographed and shared on various social media platforms and messages poured in from every continent – the furthest being Australia!
I was astonished at the response from the public in such a short space of time. The content of the messages really struck a chord with me.
Strangers used the opportunity to describe their own struggles with mental health and shared incredible success stories of recovery. I received poems, photographs of pets and children, anecdotes, quotes, paintings and an abundance of love.
My actions not only brought a much needed sense of hope for my sister, but also for me and my struggling family. More importantly, I had inadvertently given hundreds of people their own chance to show authenticity and honesty about their own difficulties with mental health.
Many well-wishers thanked me for the opportunity to write to someone in need, telling me it helped them better come to terms with what was going on in their own lives.
Since leaving the pebbles on that melancholy morning, I have been contacted by the local press who are keen to run a story about the pebbles and the responses.
I am also working on a plan to bring this story to the attention of the wider public, in support of mental wellness for everyone and to raise funds for the mental health charity, Mind.
Integration and Participation Worker, XenZone