Cultivating Authenticity (Part One)

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards: they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.” – Margaret Young

If you’ve read or seen even a shred of motivational work in your lifetime, you’ve certainly heard the phrase “be yourself.” When I hear this, my mind goes back to the quote by E.E. Cummings I mentioned in my last post (“To be yourself in a world….is the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”). Simply “being yourself” can seem to lead to societal pushback, the whispers and murmurs behind our backs. It isn’t so much the act of authenticity that rubs some people the wrong way, it’s more so the guile of it. On one hand, we’re expected to be ourselves. On the other, we’re expected to be people-pleasers, expected to find the balance between honesty and keeping others comfortable. Tell the truth, but don’t say anything to make others too uncomfortable. Have the courage to disagree with the majority, but don’t say anything controversial. Do your best to sound informed, but don’t come across as a know-it-all.

Some may argue that it’s about finding a balance between authenticity and people-pleasing, but I disagree. When we have to courage to be ourselves and nothing but, there will be some resistance, both from others and our own minds. We may fear that others may not like us as much when they see what we truly are and believe. So much of society is expected to put on the chameleon facade, adapting to the situations as they come, even if that means altering our personality and mask we put on for others. But, if life is about connections, then the only way we can cultivate and nurture those connections is to, and I quote, “be ourselves.”

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Many individuals already have problems with maintaining a healthy self-esteem, so to be asked to shed their safety blankets and show their true, imperfect selves can be incredibly daunting. But putting on a mask for everyone has its own risks. When we refuse to put our true ideas, talents, and opinions out into the world, they eat away at us. They fester in our minds and eat away at our worthiness. You can trade in your authenticity, but in return you may experience anxiety, depression, rage, resentment…the list goes on.

Think of authenticity not as a personality quirk, but as an active lifestyle choice. To quote Brené Brown, “Authenticity is a collection of choices that we have to make every day. It’s about the choice to show up and be real. The choice to be honest. The choice to let our true selves be seen.” To quote her again, “Stand on your sacred ground.” Your sacred ground is your true self. Your morals, ideas, opinions, talents, all uniquely yours. Don’t let any disapproving glances or sneers from society throw you off your foundation, your “sacred ground.”

Mrs. Brown also has another invaluable piece of advice on the subject –

“I try to make authenticity my number one goal when I go into a situation where I’m feeling vulnerable. If authenticity is my goal and I keep it real, I never regret it. I might get my feelings hurt, but I rarely feel shame. When acceptance or approval becomes my goal, and it doesn’t work out, that can trigger shame for me: ‘I’m not good enough.’ If the goal is authenticity and they don’t like me, I’m okay. If the goal is being liked and they don’t like me, I’m in trouble.”

You were made specifically to be uniquely you. Don’t let fear of disapproval from others get in the way of what you’re meant to share with the world.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Your Imperfect Self (Introduction)

If I were to ask you to define the word courageous, what would you tell me? Would you perhaps give me some examples of individuals who, despite any fear, risk their lives for the greater good? Or, some smaller-scale examples, such as overcoming a fear of public speaking and giving a speech in front of a crowd?

The word courage is rooted from cor, the Latin word for heart. The original definition of courage was, “to speak one’s mind by telling all one’s heart.” Heroic acts are indeed courageous, but not all courageous acts have to be that of heroism.

Everyone wants to be courageous. We all have our own ideas of what constitutes a courageous act, but true courage lies not necessarily in risking one’s life, but in risking one’s heart. How do we risk our heart? We embrace who we are and what we’re supposed to be, and refuse to let others dictate what we should say, how we should look and, most importantly, how we should feel. To risk one’s heart is to be vulnerable at its most innate definition – we open up everything about who we are.

Our society is one of chameleons; we are experts at fitting in where we think we need to. We can alter our personalities to suit the situation we’re in, saying some things and holding others back. When we do this, we swap out one mask for another, wearing whichever one will get us through the situation with the least amount of collateral damage – without hurting others or ourselves. What’s more, this is encouraged by our society. We are told time and time again to put others before ourselves, and while this is a noble goal, the way we’re told to do this is ultimately self-destructive. Put your true self away, and bring out the you that can make it through this situation with no harm done to others. You may forget yourself in the process, but it’s okay, everyone does it.

So, if we take the concept of being vulnerable and being chameleons, they butt heads. We cannot be ourselves at every turn and please everyone. On the flipside, we cannot please everyone, but also be true to who we are as a person. E.E. Cummings once wrote,

“To be nobody-but-yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody but yourself – means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight.”

In order to truly deepen human connection and find a love for yourself, it is completely necessary to be vulnerable. It isn’t optional. To be anything less than vulnerable is to be a chameleon once more – putting on the color scheme that will please others, and “switching it up” as need be. Compared to what I’m asking you to do, being a chameleon is incredibly easy. It takes the “no harm, no foul” approach of making it through situations, quick and easy. In return, however, you sacrifice meaningful connections and a sense of peace with yourself and who you truly are.

No, being vulnerable isn’t easy. It’s incredibly uncomfortable, unnerving, and, like many good habits, is very hard to stick with. Even the word itself, vulnerable, has a stigma attached to it – to be “vulnerable” is to leave yourself open to attack. Being a chameleon, when it comes down to it, is as much about protecting yourself as it is pleasing others.

It’s tough, there’s no getting around that. But how do you learn how to ride a bike? You practice riding a bike. How do you study for a test? You look over your materials, and practice your knowledge of it. How do you learn to be vulnerable? You practice being vulnerable. You learn courage by being courageous.

Great, you say. I’d love to be vulnerable. I’d love to be courageous and my true self and all of that cheesy stuff, but there’s one thing getting in the way. One large, looming, intimidating obstacle that stands in the way of pushing against the grain:

Shame.

The very first thing that anyone needs to understand about shame is this: everyone experiences it. Shame is a real and powerful human emotion, and the only ones who can’t feel shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame keeps us from being vulnerable by convincing us that, when people see our true selves, they won’t like what they see. While guilt is your mind saying, “I did something bad,” shame is your mind saying, “am bad.” Our true selves aren’t enough of what other people want to see, so we fall into the chameleon mindset – “I’ll become who they want me to be.”

That isn’t what our lives are about. We don’t live our lives for others, and so we shouldn’t live our lives according to others, despite what society sees fit to tell us. But shame is the single biggest factor in preventing us from doing just that. So, the obvious answer is to combat this shame.

How? The same way we open ourselves to being vulnerable: we practice. We build ourselves up to be shame-resilient, and work to convince our mind as best we can that those feelings won’t have nearly as much as an effect on us and how we live our own lives. In order to do this, we need to let go of certain mindsets that have been ingrained in our society to further support the chameleon mindset. And, in my upcoming posts, that’s what I hope to elaborate on.

To love ourselves and others is to be vulnerable. To be vulnerable is to be courageous. To be courageous is to be vulnerable, despite the fear of shame threatening to push us back to our chameleon ways. If we combat shame, the rest will fall into place. Over the next ten-or-so posts, I want to go into more detail about certain things that invite shame into our lives and therefore, discourage being our true selves.

All of these concepts are things that I struggle with, and I know too well that many, many others do as well. I would love for you to join me on this journey of reaching a point of self compassion and love. As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions, or anything else, feel free to post a comment or use the contact form on my site to send me an email and I will always get back to you. Ideally, my next post on the subject will be up in a few days’ time, but life is unpredictable, so if it takes a bit longer, I apologize! I always look forward to sharing my thoughts with you, and hearing some of your own.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Add: Much of the inspiration for this upcoming series of posts comes from Brené Brown, Ph.D., L.M.S.W., a writer and researcher who has written multiple books on shame and courage. Her TED talks are available on her website, and she’s also available on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. I would highly suggest checking out her work.

Her website

Her Twitter

Romantic relationships and Depression

It’s no secret that depression can negatively impact a great many relationships, and in my experience, romantic relationships can take a large brunt of the heat. Romantic relationships are built on mutual affection – “if you love and accept me for who I am, then I’ll do the same for you.” But what happens if, instead of not being able to accept your partner, you can’t accept yourself?

This goes without saying, but one of the biggest impacts that depression has on us psychologically is an overarching feeling of self-doubt. It makes us question whether or not we’re smart enough, or generous enough, or, quite simply good enough. As such, it only makes sense that these feelings find a way to interfere in relationships. Those suffering from depression tell themselves: “If I’m not [insert positive adjective here] enough, why should my partner spend any time with me?” Depression makes us question whether or not we’re actually deserving of a romantic relationship. If we can’t love and accept ourselves, how can we ask somebody else to love and accept us?

Then there’s the blow to communication. Ask any couples counselor and they’ll tell you that communication is one of the most important aspects in any relationship. However, communicate is one of the many things people with depression are least inclined to do. Generally, when people are in the depths of depression, the last thing they want to do is talk about it. Psychologically, there’s a plethora of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is because they’re convinced nobody else will know how they feel. Despite the facts showing that more than 350 million people worldwide suffer from the illness, depression has the uncanny ability to make people believe that their problems and way of looking at things are theirs along to deal with.

As a result, depressive thoughts and emotions are a subject not often brought up, even between partners. This often causes the one in the relationship not suffering from depression to interpret this as keeping secrets, or feeling like they aren’t trusted. Obviously, trust is a major component in any relationship, so for one person to feel like they don’t have it can damage that relationship immensely.

Building off of that, this lack of communication can lead to unneeded drama. If one person in a relationship is not communicating with the other due to depression, the other may decide to take matters in to their own hands. Quite frankly, it’s hard to stay mature and level-headed when it seems your partner has no desire to communicate to you what they’re feeling.

If you’re dating or married to someone with depression, please don’t take any of these actions (or inactions) to heart. Understand that any lack of communication or presumptions is not out of spite for you, but instead a natural part of the mental illness that is clinical depression.

One of my favorite things to say is “understand that you will never fully understand.” Without trying to sound pompous, if you don’t have depression, you will never understand how someone with depression feels. Those who have depression know that fact, and only want for you to acknowledge it too. Even if they don’t show it, people are incredibly appreciative when you make an effort to try and “work with them,” even when you don’t completely understand the way their mind works.

Depression is hard enough on its own – adding another person to the mix can make it even trickier. But this isn’t a reason to avoid relationships. Having another support figure in life who not only loves you, but accepts you and makes an active effort to be compassionate and stick with you to the bitter end can do wonders for a mind suffering from depression. It isn’t easy, I know. But few things in life worth doing ever are.

Stay strong.

– Ryan

Why Mental Health is so Important

Just for a moment, I want you to imagine being trapped inside your own mind.

Imagine that, despite any evidence to the contrary, your mind constantly takes situations and turns them into disasters. Imagine being so incredibly paralyzed by fear, anguish, guilt, jealousy, and every other terrible emotion under the sun, that it’s almost all you can bear just to pull yourself out of bed in the morning. Imagine believing, with barely a sliver of doubt, that the most worthless, undeserving person you know…is yourself.

Imagine yourself dealing with nearly every situation with the knife of anxiety at your throat, giving you the choice of either suffering from panic attacks, or coping with those situations in unsavory ways. Imagine feeling inferior to everyone else, because you can’t deal with simple, everyday situations. Imagine feeling like no one else could possibly get why you think the way you do.

Imagine being so wrought in despair, self-loathing, and guilt, you seriously consider taking your own life.

Society puts so much time, money, and effort into researching a great number of physical diseases and illnesses…cancer, HIV/AIDS, cerebral palsy, leukemia, and countless others. All of this attention directed at these physical afflictions is completely, 100% needed and deserved. In my opinion, the researchers who have made it their life goal to find a cure for, as of now, incurable diseases, are the best types of people. It goes without saying, but a wife shouldn’t have to lose her husband of many years to cancer. A child shouldn’t have to spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair simply because she was fated to. Attention to physical illnesses and diseases is absolutely warranted.

Then, there’s mental illness. Individuals who suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, Alzheimer’s disease, anxiety, PTSD, and dementia (and that’s a small list of the illnesses we know about) often suffer from symptoms just as bad (and sometimes worse) as those who suffer from physical debilitation. There are some who argue that we put so much effort into researching physical diseases because there are many that are terminal – being “overly anxious” never hurt anyone, right?

Wrong. Statistics show that more than 1,000,000 people commit suicide per year. One million people, gone from the Earth, no more life to live, simply because they decided life wasn’t worth it. Granted, not all suicide stems from mental illnesses, but a great deal of it does. Suicide is the second leading cause of death for people aged 10-24 worldwide. That is tragically incredible. For such a young age range, for so many people to be convinced that life isn’t worth living, even with so much life laid out in front of them…it’s heartbreaking.

just cancer

Oftentimes we can see the effects of physical diseases: a cancer patient undergoing chemotherapy may lose his hair, or a woman suffering from Parkinson’s disease may have shaking hands. For mental diseases, it’s so much harder for the unwary eye to see. A man can put on a smile, make it through a work day, and laugh with his friends, but the next morning his depression threatens to have him stay in bed all day. A small girl may be seen as simply shy and quiet, but in secret she wants to communicate so many things, it’s simply her autism preventing her from doing so.

For those unaware of how many ways mental illnesses can affect people, symptoms are often misunderstood. Depression is seen as being “down in the dumps.” Anorexia is seen as someone having a skinny celebrity as a role model and wanting to look like them. Anxiety is seen as being a “worrywart” or “cowardly.” There is stigma attached to mental illness because so many people are unequipped to deal with it, and, quite simply, because many people don’t realize it’s a serious, attention-worthy problem in many people’s lives.

You see, that’s just it. People don’t realize. They’re unequippedUnaware. How are we supposed to help mental illness sufferers deal with their problems if they don’t speak about them?

To start with, many individuals suffering from mental illnesses aren’t speaking about their problems not because they don’t want help, but because they don’t think they’re worth it, or fear of being judged or, all too often, not even the one suffering from the mental illness realizes it’s an actual, medical problem. We live in an era where more and more light is being brought to mental illnesses every day, and as a result, more of society is becoming aware of the debilitating effect these “invisible” diseases have on people’s lives. But, as a worldwide community, we aren’t quite where we need to be yet.

To be turned against by your own body is a terrible thing. To be turned against by your own mind is just as bad. This is why I write on these topics. These dark, depressing, and oftentimes uncomfortable topics are real things that real people deal with, on a daily basis. The uncomfortable conversations are the ones we need to be having, if we’re to get anywhere in making those affected by mental illnesses have lives not plagued by uncertainty.

The next time someone entrusts in you that they suffer from any sort of mental illness, don’t think about how they may not be in any significant physical pain. Instead, remember that they’re in mental pain, whether it be self-loathing, anxiety, hallucinations, memory loss…they deal with this on a daily basis. But do not let this change your opinion of them for the worse. Instead, respect them for having the strength and fortitude to deal with whatever their mind heaps upon them. Understand that you will never fully understand the way their mind works, but have compassion for them regardless. And, most importantly, love them for who they are, not for whoever their illness is so desperately trying to make them be. Do this simple thing, and the world is one step closer to combating mental illness.

not okay

Stay strong.

– Ryan

 

Take care of yourself – first.

Growing up, a majority of us are taught to always put others before ourselves. This isn’t a bad thing – this mindset has the tendency to not only teach us compassion, but see it received firsthand. We’re told to treat others the way we want to be treated, and that our experiences with others will go towards shaping ourselves as individuals. In my opinion this is most certainly true – human beings are infinitely shaped by contact with other human beings (among many other things). The intent of putting others first is a great one, as it promotes compassion, acceptance, and patience. But is there a point where this becomes too much?

As crude as it may be to compare human beings to machines, hear me out for a moment: our bodies and minds are much like them. A machine for, let’s say, manufacturing, exists to manufacture goods. As such, it puts all of its energy into pumping out these products, as long as it receives some sort of energy from another source. Electricity, water, wind, etc. These pieces of metal, which are designed specifically to pour their energy into these tasks, still need that energy from somewhere. So, everything else aside, let’s say humans are “compassion machines.” Put aside your personal beliefs for a moment and pretend that humans are specifically meant to pour out compassion unto others. These “compassion machines” put every ounce of their energy into being kind to others, being selfless, being patient, and every other way of “being good” to others. However, if they don’t receive energy from elsewhere, as an actual machine does, it crashes and burns. It overheats, it smokes, it starts sleeping all day, it might start throwing back a few beers each night to help it forget…not only are humans much more complicated than machines, humans deal with their problems in many different ways than machines.

Being good to others is good. It’s great, it’s fantastic, it’s what we should all strive for each and every day we’re on this earth. But in order to do this effectively, we need to step back and realize that we aren’t some sort of “infinite-power” machine. We need rest and recuperation, we need to hit the power button at the end of the night. Plug in and recharge, however you feel it best to do that (it goes without saying that there are healthy and unhealthy ways of recharging, but that’s a different subject entirely).

Here’s the part that will make me sound selfish: make sure you’re happy before you start making sure others are happy. Again, I can’t stress enough how important I believe it is to be selfless and compassionate – but only where it’s reasonable. As admirable as it is to throw all of your energy into being good to others, if you don’t have any energy left to make sure you’re happy, it’s a lose-lose situation: you’re burnt out because you spend all your time on others’ wants and desires, and the people you’re trying so desperately to make happy often notice your weariness, and this could have the exact opposite effect of what you intended.

I’m not telling you to cut in line, eat the last cookie, or lie to your parents to get out of trouble. I’m not telling you to be selfish. I’m just telling you that you don’t always have to be selfless. We are all equals in this world – no one person deserves to feel more or less happy than another – and that includes you.

Being selfish is rude, hurtful, and discouraging, but always being selfless is simply unhealthy.

Stay strong

– Ryan

A Perverse Jealousy

Jealousy is such a powerful emotion. Whether talking about it in the sense of the Christian faith or not, it isn’t hard to see why it’s considered a sin. Personally, in times where I find myself jealous, it overtakes me in a way very few other emotions do. It clouds my judgement – I find my decision-making revolving around what I can do to achieve that goal that I’m envious of. There’s a fine line between jealousy and determination, and for me that gap is bridged when I find myself having negative feelings towards others who have achieved that goal. If I ever find myself thinking lesser of a person because they have something I do not, that’s my cue to take a step back and look at the situation from a level head.

Not that that’s always easy. In fact, it rarely is – it takes such dedication to this way of thinking that a whole form of therapy has risen up around it (mindfulness). It’s made especially hard on the occasions where the person you’re jealous of brings up their achievement or property like it’s nothing. “You bring this up so nonchalantly, but do you realize what I would do to have what you have? Achieve what you’ve achieved? Do you even realize how much of a standard I hold myself to based on what you have?”

Like so many other facets of life, for some reasons our brains often tell us that it’s easier to get bitter over these things, than it is to simply be grateful for another’s accomplishments. Scowl over smile, bitterness over contentment. It’s hard to pinpoint why this is, but there are a thousand different answers from a thousand different cultures, religions, and psychologists. Perhaps it stems from the competitive mindset of first-world countries, or maybe when Adam and Eve bit into the apple of knowledge, human sin came pre-packaged with jealousy.

I could go into the whole “this isn’t the right way to think,” and “comparison with others only leads to bad things” tangent, but I already have in some of my past posts. Make no mistake, I still very much believe in what I’ve said on that topic: comparison does only lead to destructive habits. To be the best us we can be, we needn’t hold ourselves to the standards of others. But I can talk and talk about why this isn’t the healthiest way of thinking, spouting factoids and studies supporting this hypothesis, but the fact of the matter is this: factoids and studies very rarely help us actually deal with these things. Comparison. Jealousy. Bitterness. Whilst it’s certainly important to understand why these feelings come about, in my opinion (and it’s just that), the world would be a better place if we actually focused on how to deal with these problems as opposed to just explaining their origins.

I’ve found myself getting overly jealous and bitter the past couple of weeks. I find myself around this entirely pleasant, enjoyable person, who has nothing but kind things to say to me. nine times out of 10, I find myself being pleasant back, but recently my depression has begun to take over and, instead of exchanging pleasantries both ways, the kindness seems to become one-sided. This individual will be kind to me, and I’m indifferent towards them. I’m passive-aggressively resentful, bitter, and simply angry. All of those negative emotions, simply because my mind tells me it’s somehow easier to resent this perfectly nice person for what they have, rather than be happy for them and realize everybody has different things at different times, as is life.

As I mentioned before, this jealousy overtakes me. I find my mind so occupied with this incredibly useless emotion that it’s difficult for me to think about much else. I’ve heard of some individuals using jealousy as a type of drive – motivation to get to a better place in their lives where they’re more content. As I feel jealousy coursing its way through me, however, I find it incredibly hard to think that some people could use this to motivate them, because for me it causes nothing but destructive thinking habits. Where one person may say, “I want what that person has, so I’m going to use this jealousy of them to push myself harder,” I generally say, “I want what that person has, but I’m not skilled or charming or innovative enough, otherwise I would have it by now.” You don’t need to tell me there are about 17 logical inconsistencies with this way of thinking – believe me, I know. But depression often overrides logic.

So, for those like me, where jealousy doesn’t motivate you, but instead breaks you, what do you do? What is the best way to deal with this poisonous mindset? Simply put, I don’t know. I practice mindfulness, and that helps to an extent, but I’m by no means a master at the craft – it takes months upon months of practice and dedication (it makes sense, though, you’re literally training your brain to subscribe to an entirely new way of thinking). For what good it does, there is one thing in particular I’ve been trying to tell myself in moments of jealousy:

Each and every person is unique. No two people accomplish the same things at the same time in the same way under the same circumstances. We all have different walks through life, regardless of how similar our circumstances may seem at first glance. In fact, I’m willing to bet someone in your own life is looking at you and saying “I wish I had that,” just as you may be with others. Do not take pride in this, but instead use it as a reminder that nobody is ever perfectly content with life – we all fall prey to wishing we have more than we already do. You aren’t alone in this.

How do you deal with jealousy? Do you have certain coping methods that help pull you through? I’d love to hear what you have to say, so comment or shoot me an email and I’d love to converse with you! All the best to you in whatever struggles you may face.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan

Depression and Friendship

“It’s hard to be a friend to someone who is depressed, but it is one of the kindest, noblest, and best things you will ever do.” – Stephen Fry

There’s something to be said about being an introverted, depressed, overly-anxious individual, but still having those friends who can relate so intensely with your struggles. When you have a brain that works every day to convince itself it’s so messed up, so incredibly beyond repair, having friends who can still talk you back from the brink seems like a miracle of nature.

I bring this up for a reason. It’s easy for me to say “I’ve had a bad past few days,” and then go into details about why woe is me. But the truth is, my past few days really haven’t been terrible at all – it’s just my mind that’s trying to tell me that. Objectively, I haven’t experienced any terrible days at work, nobody has been particularly cruel or indifferent towards me…this week has been alright. But again, objectively.

Depression, which has the unfortunate ability to turn spilled milk into a flood, will over-analyze every little part of the few “bad” parts of my day, and stretch them out to last for far longer than they should. Something happened during the morning that has put me in a bad way? You can bet I’ll be dwelling on it most of the day, regardless of whether that thing is over and done with or not. As such, despite having an okay week by most peoples’ standards, my mind is telling me to be depressed.

So, my mind is in tumble-dry mode, flipping things over again and again, making sure every speck of every slightly upsetting situation has been thoroughly analyzed (and then some). There seem to be very few things that can get my mind out of this cycle, but as I’ve been reminded the past few days, good friends are one of them.

For the longest time, I was so convinced that “talking it out” was a cheesy, unhelpful way of getting through tough times. I can spill my problems to you, sure, but you don’t understand the way my mind works. I can’t just “explain” to you the way my mind goes from Point A to Point B, because there isn’t any logic behind it. It just happens. If you can’t understand where I’m coming from with these internal struggles, how can you possibly help me overcome them?

Over time, I’ve realized that there were two big flaws with this way of thinking. First, there are people who feel the way I do. No matter how I may feel on crappy days, there are millions, I repeat, millions of others out there who suffer from this depressive thinking each day, just like I do. Unfortunately, depression isn’t a rare diagnosis: over 350 million people suffer from it worldwide, I’m just one in 7 zeroes. These numbers don’t make my (or your) struggles any less real or undeserving of acknowledgement, it just shows that there are others who have minds that work incredibly similar to mine (and yours).

Second, understanding isn’t necessary for compassion towards others. The person I consider my best friend doesn’t suffer from depression. She isn’t overly anxious or prone to self-deprecation, she is, in a mental way, unhindered. But she gets me. She can calm me down and talk me out of my harmful mindsets better than almost anybody else I know. She understands that she will never be able to fully understand me, and that’s a helpful observation for the both of us. She knows that she won’t understand why my mind tells me the things it does, and I know that, despite my inability to be oftentimes understood, there are people out there who make an attempt to be good to me anyway. Simply put, it’s a blessing.

At the risk of getting all Disney-esque here, friendships were something I often took for granted in the past. I told myself that everyone has friends, it’s just a common thing. Even when I finish high school and college, I’ll still have friends, so there’s no need to particularly cherish them right now. But as my depression manifested and left me mentally secluded, I had friends who tried to help me, to break down the walls of my depression-addled mind and understand me to the best of their ability. By the time I realized this fact, I was too late. Many of the friends who tried to be friends to me simply gave up, because I wasn’t reciprocating. I was going through the motions of a bare-minimum friendship, but I wasn’t particularly working to keep it enjoyable. I lost so many friends as a result.

But I’m older now, hopefully wiser (or as wise as a 23-year old can be), and I understand more about my mental illnesses, and I’m grateful to live in an era where light is being shed on mental illnesses more so than the past. Despite my depression, friendship is still a two-way street. If I have friends who are willing to look past my mental health and accept and even cherish me for who I am, then the very least I can do is be there for them as they are for me. Mental illnesses or not, we all have problems. The world is a better place when we are there for each other, even when understanding evades us.

So, on this particular subject, I’m a convert. I like talking with friends. It does wonders for me – it gives me a chance to temporarily drown out the hurtful voices in my own head, and even later on, those voices are a little less convincing. Whether it’s having a meaningful, one-on-one conversation with a co-worker about something serious, or sharing some laughs over breakfast with wonderful people as I did this morning, compassion in the face of adversity is a force to be reckoned with.

Humans are, by nature, social creatures. We need food, water and shelter to survive, but we need interaction with others to live. We aren’t meant to carry our burdens alone. There’s a reason solitary confinement is for the nastiest of prison inmates – seclusion cripples us. Depression or no, we need others, and others need us.

Stay strong.

  • Ryan