Joining the BringChange2Mind team has allowed me to focus my attention on issues that I never really address on my personal mental health blog. This week I want to take a broader look at something that applies to everyone, not just those of us struggling to manage mental health disorders: friendship.
Earlier this week one of my very best friends called me and shared some harrowing news. She had just found out that her Dad has cancer and that it could not be treated by chemotherapy. Radiation was also unlikely to have much, if any, effect. He’s scheduled for surgery, but the prognosis does not look promising. Now even in isolation that would be a lot for any of us to handle. However, my friend had three or four other family emergencies arise the same day. She gave me the headlines and then had to hang up to go and start putting out fires.
My mind started racing. I was at a loss for what, if anything, I could do for this person whom I love in a time of great need. Finally, I settled on trying and find a flight from Arkansas to Maryland. If that was too cost prohibitive I decided that I would drive across the country, overnight, to be there for my friend. Thankfully, I found a reasonable flight and am actually writing this from the plane right now. I’m only going to get to spend a day with my friend before having to turn right around and head back to graduate school, but when I told her that I was doing it, I could tell from the tone in her voice how appreciative she was and how much it meant to her that I would drop everything just to be by her side. Now I don’t expect that I can fix anything that is going wrong or offer any profound advice. I’m going because I don’t know what else to do. I’m going because I think it will help her to have someone who will listen. I’m going because when I heard what was going on, I was feeling so much emotional hurt that my body ached. It’s not even my life and I feel that way. I can’t imagine how she must feel.
I think it’s important that we know we can count on our friends not only in times of triumph, but also in times of trouble. Martin Luther King once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” I think every single day we should do all we can to live up to that call. I’m thankful that I have amazing friends who have been with me through all the ups and downs of my life. While I wouldn’t consider my life a tragedy by any means (more of a tragic comedy 🙂 ), I have faced my share of adversity and I wouldn’t have made it without the support of the wonderful people I have in my life.
Even just this morning, my buddy Taylor got up at the crack of dawn (it is Saturday when I’m writing this…making it all the more of a sacrifice) to take me to the airport so that I can be at my friend’s side. He also allowed me to talk through all the hurt that I was dealing with due to my empathy for my friend. My sister cancelled plans so she can pick me up from the airport. Their being there for me will allow me to be there for someone else. I think there is something kind of profound about the fact that the simplest of gestures can make the greatest of differences.
I’ve been tremendously blessed by the compassion of others throughout my life. In high school, I experienced a severe depressive episode that left me suicidal. I was refusing to go to school. I would lie on the couch all day and I couldn’t be left alone out of fear of the harm I might bring to myself. A friend of our family came and sat with me for hours and hours and days and days. People rotated through. At school, my principal, teachers and guidance counselors met with me and my mom to figure out a way to ease me back into the school routine, to minimize the inevitable judgment of my peers and to get me on track. My principal even recommended my first psychiatrist. They allowed me to totally rearrange my schedule. I dropped out of AP English, but my teacher still encouraged me to keep up with the reading and eventually coaxed me back into the class. I had a pass that allowed me to leave and go to the guidance office at any time. They went above and beyond. They did it because they cared. They did it because they were compassionate people and without them I don’t know where I would be or if I’d even be alive today.
When I had my psychotic episode, I was detained by Florida police for erratic behavior. I was on a Habitat for Humanity service trip and thankfully the H4H community leaders vouched for me and kept watch over me until one of my parents could come down and get me. They didn’t even know me. It’s especially amazing to see acts of friendship when they come from strangers. I don’t want to turn this blog post into a laundry list of thank yous to the people who’ve allowed me to overcome, who’ve allowed me to thrive. I just use these as examples of the type of compassion that we should make it our business to practice.
I want you to take a moment and think of a time that someone has done something for you that they didn’t need to do and without which you would have been a lot worse off. Have you thanked that person? Have you maintained that friendship? When you see a friend in trouble are you the type of person who will do anything to help lighten their load and ease their pain or are you too wrapped up in your own world to even notice? We need to hold ourselves accountable. We need to take time out for some self-reflection and self-inventory and ask ourselves if we are living our lives in way that serves others. We never know if we are the only person that of our friends can turn to for emotional support. We need to truly value our friendships and live up to MLK’s call of standing with someone during challenging times. At the end of the day, there is nothing more important than our relationships with one another.
Just some thoughts to consider. As always, thank you for reading.