The Self Connection

Be kind. Always.

Robin Williams’ death was tragic news. It was particularly emotional for many people and started lots of discussions about depression and mental health. It’s an extremely difficult thing to accept that someone so wonderful, so brilliant and so loved was so plagued by his own mind. His death was the ultimate tragic culmination of a ruthless disease, but maybe one of the gifts he left behind was the impetus and permission for people to talk about it. Seeing it as too difficult to broach and leaving it in the dark only magnifies its hold over people and makes it more menacing.

 

It’s so important to reach out and connect with people who are struggling. One of the worst things about my own experience with depression is that I lost my ability to connect with people and became very isolated. It wasn’t until I began to get much better that I realised that’s what was going on and indeed that I was even depressed. That’s because you lose your perspective, it’s all you see. My friend described it as if you’re sitting in a room, so dark that you can’t see your own hands. You know there are doors and windows that, if opened, will brighten the room and the door will in fact allow you to leave, but you can’t move because the pain has paralysed you with its tricks and lies. There is no perspective, but your own dark one.

 

Connecting with others can be the thing that offers a perspective you can’t see for yourself. It can be the thing that gives you the courage to open just one window, and then another. It’s also why connection is so important to me now. Connecting with people is like a mirror for the things you can’t see for yourself. You see darkness, but they remind you there is a window, there is hope, there is light. This is especially important when you’re depressed because part of the illness is that your mind distorts everything negatively. It’s not the truth, but you can’t see that - you need other people to give you that message, in small, but persistent ways.

 

There was one discussion in particular that really touched me. One of the people had been struggling with depression for a long time and was only just coming to the point of telling anyone about it. This is incredibly brave and something that I was never really able to do - it’s only fairly recently, with enough distance between that time, that I’ve been able to talk about it at all. Part of the reason is that for me, it was only by coming out of it and getting much, much better, that I was even able to properly recognise that’s what it even was. I understand the distortion of perspective well. This brave person also commented that because feeling like shit was just so familiar, it enabled him to go on for so long without doing anything about it - it had become his usual perspective. I know what he’s talking about. when you feel that terrible all the time, it does become normal. There’s nothing else to compare it to and sadly, eventually for some, that feeling becomes all too much and it really truly does feel like there is indeed no good reason to be alive.

 

Depression will try to isolate you. It will undermine your worth and fill your head with compelling lies about your value as a human being. It can make people withdraw completely from friends and family, indeed life altogether. It can make people self-medicate themselves with drugs, alcohol and other addictions just to get some respite and alleviate the pain. It can make people treat the people they love in ways that hurt and which are extremely hard to live with. It can make people go crazy trying to put on a front and pretend that everything’s ok, everything’s fine, while the internal war rages on incessantly, day after day. And all of this can be going on inside someone without the outside world ever knowing, reiterating the lie that people will only like me, only love me, can only tolerate me if I’m ok. If they knew I wasn’t ok, they wouldn’t want anything to do with me and I wouldn’t want to burden them anyway. 

 

Another person in that conversation shared that he had lost his sister due to mental health issues and reiterated this extremely important point. Sometimes people with mental health issues can’t reach out and they can’t seek the help they need. It’s all part of the disease. This wonderful and caring person also went on to share a list he’d created to help him be a positive influence on this issue. Little things he tries to do every day to make a difference, to make small connections with people who might be unable to do it for themselves. These are not his words exactly because I wasn’t able to ask his permission to publish his actual list, but I’m hoping he won’t mind me re-creating his ideas …

 

1. Smile and say hello to people you see whether you know them or not - you never know how much that small act can mean to someone and whether it might be the only smile they see all day.

2. Engage people you meet through the course of your day in a little bit of conversation (e.g. people at the shop, a neighbour) - why not be something positive in their day?

3. Make an effort to talk to and connect with family, even if you’re not close - family is important and you never know when you may stumble on something they need help with.

4. Ask the opinion of others, even if that means admitting you don’t know everything and need some help yourself - it makes people feel good when they think their opinion is valued and you might learn something!

5. Always offer support, even if it’s only moral support - you don’t need to be able to solve the problem, letting someone know you care often half solves the problem anyway.

6. Offer to spend time with people - even if they don’t take you up on it, it’s usually received as an indication that you care and could make all the difference just by asking.

7. And most importantly of all, if you know someone who is depressed, susceptible to depression, or struggling with mental health issues, never give up on them, even if they hurt you.

 

I know it’s hard to talk about, believe me, but I also know how dangerous it is to become isolated and disconnected from people. I also know that it’s not just the people with depression whose job it is, whose responsibility it is to reach out. The truth is that sometimes and often, they can’t. It’s therefore up to people who are well to reach out to them. Be kind, always, because you never know what someone is struggling with, what internal war they’re battling that you can’t see. I reject wholeheartedly and challenge anyone who says they just can’t understand because they’ve never felt that way, never experienced depression themselves. Sure, maybe not, but everyone, everyone has feelings of inadequacy, self-doubt, low self-esteem, stress, overwhelm, anxiety, even if they’re rare and even if it’s only a glimmer. And good for you too - that really is fabulous if you rarely feel these negative thorns, but that doesn’t mean you have nothing to offer someone who does. Stop for a second and think of a time you felt that way, and then imagine that feeling on steroids. Imagine it didn’t go away, ever. Imagine you lived with it every single day and there was nothing you could do about it. Just imagine. Don’t you think you could spare a smile? Ask how someone’s feeling and really listen to the answer. Let them know there is a window and a door, that there is light. It could make all the difference to someone.

 

Little things do count and they can make a difference. You may never know the effect, but small kindnesses don’t cost you anything either. In fact, making intentional positive connections with people in everyday life, both with people you do and do not know, makes us all happier, healthier and more mentally resilient. In small ways, we can all make a big difference to someone and over time with the compound effect of others doing the same, we make the world a much, much better place. 

Photo credit: Robin Williams by Hot Gossip Italia via Flickr

Connection as a mirror

My husband said to me this morning that he noticed I was checking my phone in the middle of the night and he wondered if that was really a healthy thing to be doing. I brushed it off. I wasn’t really checking it, it’s just that there was a notification and as I happened to be awake anyway, I quickly glanced at it to see what it was. This was the truth. But then he went on to say that he’d noticed I seemed to be pretty ‘connected’ a lot of the time and even our son had made a comment about mum and 'her phone'. A frown and furrowed brow from me. Hmmmm. I think you could be right, I said.

 

Although I felt a great deal of resistance to what he was saying, I knew that probably part of the reason I was resisting was because there was truth in it. The way I’d seen it was that my connection with people was important, I mean I have a blog about connection, of course it’s important! Especially when much of that connection centred around ‘important stuff’, and things I care a lot about, like my blog, my kids’ school and my role in the P&F, for example. But the truth is that I just like that stuff. I care about what I put out there and how I communicate with people about the things I care about. It’s my way of being connected to the things that matter to me, and this is a good thing … as long as it’s not to the exclusion of the other things I care about … like family.

 

My husband knows I like this stuff and I know I have his unwavering support - he’s my cheer squad, but he’s also my mirror. When he cared enough to point out something he could see I was probably missing, he was holding up the reflection of something I class as the most important thing, family and my role as a mother, and questioning whether I was renegotiating its priority without even knowing it. It’s easy to do with things we like, things we love and which we consider important. Time flies when you’re doing them, they creep into time meant for other things and they’re easy to justify, all without even knowing you’re doing it. Without even knowing you’re changing your priorities by your actions.

 

Balance and flow is important in life so we can somehow juggle our roles and responsibilities and manage our priorities. Part of achieving that flow means connecting with those special people in our lives who can hold the mirror up to the things we can’t see from our internal perspective. I can’t see a bit of parsley or a chia seed stuck in my tooth without a mirror, but the person I’m talking to probably can and they can, and hopefully do, kindly point out that it’s there despite the fact that I couldn’t detect it myself. It might be an uncomfortable moment and I bet I’d wish the stray bit didn’t lodge in the first place, but this resistance doesn’t change the fact that it’s there and now that I know about it, I have the opportunity to do something about it. So what am I going to do? Say it’s not a problem and leave it there???

 

It takes courage to hear and see what our mirrors are showing us sometimes and that’s usually because the mirror reflects something that’s different to the way we see ourselves. When my husband held that mirror up to me this morning, I felt a great deal of resistance because I pride myself on putting my family first - they’re the most important thing in the whole world to me. But what that mirror was showing me was that even though that priority is what I say and certainly what I believe, my actions could be telling a slightly different story. Ouch. And at the end of the day, it is our actions, what we do, that defines us.

 

I’m not proud to say that I needed this to be pointed out to me, but I’m willing to admit it and also glad to say I overcame that initial resistance and found the courage to look into that mirror truthfully. I’m glad I did because what I saw was a truth resistance could have blinded me to. I love writing and I love the groups I’m involved in and my roles in my communities - they bring me great joy and stimulation. I love to be involved and I love doing a job well. But my priority is my family and just because my interests feel good and are important, they’ll never top what matters most. Thankfully I was shown a mirror this morning that perhaps suggested a slightly different picture, or at least the potential to develop into a very different picture. The point is, I couldn’t see it myself, but someone close to me could and now I see more than if I was looking with my eyes only.

 

Make the time to do the things that are important to you, honour your priorities and commit to them fully. When you’re with that thing, or with that person, be with them fully, give them your whole attention. You can’t connect with people fully, you can’t get jobs done properly, neither can you feel the full benefit of the things that are really important to you unless you give them your best. Listen to your mirror holder-upperers, be brave enough to look and have the courage to see resistance as a sign of something you need to address.

 

And on that note, you may notice that this is a shorter post than usual. Well that’s no coincidence - I would love to write all day because I do love it, but have other priorities that also need my best attention ;-) 

Photo credit: Mirrors from Bhaktapur, Nepal, by Sukanto Debnath via Flickr