The world is full of helpers. I know this to be true because I see the beauty of it every day in the people around me: colleagues, friends, family, people on social media and in the news. The thing that most of humankind seem to have in common is a desire to help others and to reduce suffering. It's easy to become jaded in this world when we see something bad happen but, as Mr. Rogers said so famously, always look for the helpers. They are there.
This week I posted the following on Facebook and it generated a fair amount of discussion:
To be clear, I absolutely do not oppose a wide variety of treatment options when it comes to illness. In fact, a combination of things has been the key to my care plan over the years. And, it should be noted, I do not endorse one form of treatment over another - it's up to you and your health care practitioner to decide what is best for you.
But none of this has anything to do with treatment options and whether or not I think that yoga is a good idea. It's about the need for us to feel that we are helping. We care so when we learn that someone close to us is unwell, we often move quickly to suggesting solutions. We want to make it better. But is that the best thing than we do? Is offering solutions actually helpful? Does it only make the person offering the advice feel better?
Over the years as I have lived through difficult times with my depression, I have received a lot of advice from people. All well-meaning and the majority of it unsolicited. I'll tell you how it makes me feel when someone quickly offers advice: frustrated, annoyed and not very good about myself or the situation. Please don't assume that because I have an invisible illness that I am not actively working with my doctor (sometimes more than one) to treat my illness and that I have not considered many options.
As is often the case when I am working through an idea for a post, the universe sends me something to let me know if I am on the right path. Early this morning I came upon this article written by Parker J. Palmer entitled The Gift of Presence, The Perils of Advice. This is one of those article that I wish I had written because it captures exactly how I feel. One paragraph in particular touched me:
"Here's the deal. The human soul doesn't want to be advised or fixed or saved. It simply wants to be witnessed - to be seen, heard and companioned exactly as it is. When we make the kind of deep bow to the soul of a suffering person, our respect reinforces the soul's healing resources, the only resources that can help the sufferer make it through."
I have provided advice to people when they haven't asked for it. I want to be a good helper, too; to make the pain of someone that I love go away. But the best way to help? It is to listen, to accept the situation for what it is. Sometimes the best thing that I can do is to let it be.
Want to support someone with a chronic illness? Here are some resources:
10 Things You Should Say to Someone with a Chronic Illness
9 Best Ways to Support Someone with Depression