When Depression Meets Compassion

DISCLAIMER: The following blog post may be triggering to those who struggle with depression or suicidal thoughts. If you feel you are in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or send a text message to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. If you are experiencing an emergency, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room.

We all have good days and bad days. For some of us, our bad days are worse than for others, and for those individuals living with Major Depressive Disorder, those bad days can run into each other, stretching on and on until all hope feels lost. Our society carries a lot of stigma around being open about mental illness, but it is essential that we work to #EndTheStigma. According to the NIMH, an estimated 16.1 million adults had at least one major depressive episode in 2015 alone, accounting for 6.7% of the adult population in the United States (Source), making Major Depressive Disorder the leading cause of disability for individuals aged 15-44. It is also important to remember that major depressive episodes often include intense suicidal thoughts, and according to the CDC, in 2015 alone, suicide took the lives of over 44,000 people in the US, making it the second leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 34 (source). With data like this, it seems well past time to step up and have an open conversation about the topic. Today (11/27/2017) is World Compassion Day, and in the spirit of that day, I would like to share a personal experience that involves depression and compassion.

Not long ago, I had been having a particularly bad day. This bad day was preceded by many prior bad days, and I had reached an all-time low. Thoughts of abandonment and feelings of being both unwanted and unloved were high, not to mention feelings of being overworked and underappreciated. Things were volatile, and I had put a lot of stock into the need to have a pleasant and peaceful day. Instead of peace and calm, an argument broke out between myself and my partner, and any remaining threads of hope were severed. Not knowing where to go or who to turn to, and being overwhelmed with feelings of terror, pain, rejection, and panic, I found somewhere to sit down, knowing that standing much longer would probably lead to collapsing and further injuring myself.

I sat out of the way, trying to hide from the world that had turned itself against me, doing everything I could to hold myself and grasping for some thread of hope or some light in the darkness. To my surprise, that light came in the form of a stranger. I had no idea who she was, or even what she looked like (my vision was a blur from the intensity of my tears), but her voice spoke kind words and she held my hand with a gentleness that can only come from someone with a giant heart. Those soft words and that caring touch reminded me that there is indeed some good in the world, even when it’s hard to see it. She was, in that moment, the beacon of light that I needed in a sea of darkness.

At some point in this, another individual appeared to help as well, although my memory of how he got involved is very fuzzy. I gave both of them my number, and we discussed briefly the need to make new friends. I am still waiting to hear back from the second kind individual, but both of them took a few moments out of their day to show kindness to a complete stranger in a time of intense emotional pain, and for that, they are both the greatest kind of hero in my book — heroes of the heart. The first person that came to my aid called me and left a voicemail checking on me later that day, and then she texted me as well. In our first few text messages back and forth, she said to me, “you’re allowed to fall apart, you’re only human.” And that is the key that I always need to try to remember: that we are all fully human in all of the best and worst ways — and that I am allowed to be that. That moment of kindness didn’t magically make everything in my world better, but it did, for just a moment, give a small reminder that it is okay to be human.

The Dalai Lama has been quoted as saying, “love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” Love and compassion are essential for humanity, but they are just as essential for the survival of each of us as individual humans, and indeed, our capacity for love and compassion are the greatest qualities we can have as one that is fully human. To use this quality for just a moment can make a bad day just a little better, or maybe, it could even save a life.

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