Wednesday, 14 August 2013

"No Casseroles"

 
 You are not #alone. #Friends #Family #SupportBoard #DisabilityNinjas #Support #Understand #SupportGroup #Forum #Bond #Disability #ChronicIllness #ChronicPain #InvisibleIllness #MentalIllness #MentalHealth
 
A friend posted a really interesting article from the LA Times on facebook today. It was about what not to say to people with a serious illness such as cancer. The author, who had fought breast cancer, had heard everything from "This illness isn't just about you. It's about me, too." to "I am not sure I can handle this diagnosis." Remember, these are things that friends and colleagues said to her, not the other way around. I was struck by how personal the reactions were. I couldn't help but compare this to my own experiences with severe depression.
 
There is a stark contrast between how people with a physical disease are perceived and treated and those who are diagnosed with a brain illness. Society still gives more weight to physical illness. Make no mistake, depression is a disease. It's a deadly disease. But it's one that people find it difficult to wrap their head around (no pun intended). Instead of feeling it personally and deeply when a friend is diagnosed with depression, many people withdraw and pull away. It's the opposite reaction to what the author experienced during cancer and described in her story.
 
We think we know what to do if someone dies or if a loved one is seriously ill. We bake cookies, we make casseroles, we send a card or flowers, we call to check in and see how they are doing. Another blog about mental illness that I once read said that mental illness is not a 'casserole' illness - don't expect anyone to show up at your door with a home-cooked casserole. How true.
 
I have never received that homemade casserole and only once received flowers during any of the three major depressive episodes that I have endured. Let me be clear - I am absolutely not complaining about lack of said casserole. I just think it's important to highlight the reality, the loneliness and feeling of alienation that people who are fighting depression go through. How many of those around you will withdraw and slowly disappear.

I have been incredibly lucky to have the love and unwavering support from my family and a small group of close friends. But many colleagues and friends just didn't know what to do or say so they chose not to do anything. That was just sad to me and, in some cases, heartbreaking.

Someone said a really honest thing to me the other day. This person, who is going through some challenging times personally, said, "You know, I just didn't have any empathy for what you were going through until now. Now I understand better." I kind of appreciate that honesty. But here's the thing. I may have never experienced cancer or diabetes or a broken leg but I am still able to feel and show empathy towards someone who has. Why is it different for people with mental illness?

Yes, I have felt let down by people at times. But I also understand that it's difficult to really support someone through something if you just don't understand it. And why don't we understand mental illnesses? Because we still don't talk about them enough. Broken record, I know.
 
“We are not primarily on earth to see through one another, but to see one another through” ~ Anonymous
 
So what do you do or say if you just aren't sure what will help someone diagnosed with a mental illness? I would say start with that. A simple, "I don't know exactly what you are feeling but I know that you are going through something difficult and I will be here for you" speaks volumes.

So what helped me? What would I recommend that you do if you have someone whom you care about who is depressed? Here are some of the things, the gestures and kind words, that have helped me along the way:

* The friends who told me that I could call them at any time, night or day, were invaluable to me. I never made any middle of the night calls but just knowing that I could was huge. And, believe it or not, only a couple of people actually said this to me.

* My best friend made sure that I knew that I was welcome for family dinner with her, her hubby, and two small boys every Monday night. Knowing that I had a standing date with my second family was incredibly comforting. And all I had to do was sit at the table and be loved.

* A few wonderful friends and colleagues would send me texts and emails with silly knock knock jokes or simple notes to say that they missed me and were thinking of me. That never failed to make me smile, even on days when my smile was loathe to make an appearance.

* Some people told me that they were praying for me or sent me spiritual words of support. Now, I am absolutely not religious. But I respect those who have made the choice to have religion in their lives and I feel very honoured when I have been told that I am in someone's prayers. I consider that a huge gift.

* Perhaps most importantly, my family has given me exactly what I have needed and when I have needed it. My dad slept on my couch one night because he didn't want me to be alone. My brother listened to me. And my mom has held me through my tears.

Even after all my years living with the disease of depression I still never presume to know exactly what another person with the illness is going through - we are all unique and have different experiences. But I try to show empathy in ways that I hope will provide some sort of support and comfort. It's not always easy and sometimes I don't get it right, either. But I still try. You know that old saying? Treat others as you would like them to treat you. It still rings true.

I may not have received a casserole or been inundated with flowers but I must share one final thing. A dear colleague sent me perhaps the most thoughtful gift that I have ever received. I was on short term disability leave and staying with my parents, experiencing one of my darkest days. My dad returned from getting the mail and handed me a small package. In it was a lovely bracelet with a note that read, "Something beautiful on the outside for someone beautiful on the inside." I'll take that over a casserole any day!

KB xo

P.S. Random acts of kindness? Nah! Watch Jamie D. Grant's TedX talk and be specific with your kindness!
 


6 comments:

  1. I'll say it again Kristin. You are simply amazing.
    B

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  2. Always inspiring...and maybe more importantly, your words always make me think...thanks, Kristin...

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  3. This is truly inspiring. I can relate to a lot of what you say. It feels so good not only to be not alone but to also have someone address a few things that do help even if they are specific to you. These issues and ways to help those who are in emotional pain, though they differ between people, have some universality and I think you wrote them out beautifully. I very much admire you for posting this and am inspired by it.

    And how true is it that mental illness is so different from physical illness! (No casserole here, either!) Like you, however, so grateful to have my family, my kitty, and a few close friends. That is worth more than any casserole!

    :)

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  4. Good article, just when I was thinking about that (the casserole-and-flowers phenomenon!) Thank you & best of luck. I agree speaking about stuff is the way forward -- outta the closet, skeletons: Yee-haw!

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