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