How to Find Kindness in Mental Health
We’ve all heard the age-old saying — Everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.
That’s one of my favorite quotes, even though it’s not a quote that makes me overly happy. It does, however, remind me to be kind. After all, that’s the underlying, ending point in that quote — Be kind. Always.
I believe that it’s really easy to get caught up in the assumption that some of us are doing better than others. I’ve noticed myself falling into this assumption-making, and it’s always a mental workout to pull myself out and re-direct. Really, ALL OF US are on the same level; no matter how much money we have or where we live or what we do, NONE OF US are exempt from the same pitfalls we face universally, as humans — loss, death, poor self-confidence, depression, anxiety, illness, heartbreak. The easy part of making assumptions that some people have it easier is that we accidentally fall into that other similar assumption, that external resources make up for what we may not have — money, a job, financial stability, a car, a savings account. But when we dig down to the root of what we face as humans, all of those assumptions fall away; because none of us are exempt from what hurts us, and all of us are fighting battles that are oftentimes very similar.
By dismissing our assumptions, we’re better equipped to truly see others
I’m a strong supporter of speaking up about mental health. I’ve written about this in the past, and I will continue to do so, because I think it’s our duty to bring up topics that are uneasy. After all, we can’t heal what we cannot feel, and that begins with open communication. When I think about that quote at the beginning of this post, I think about every single person with whom I’ve spoken or interacted in some way. I know that in every single one of those interactions, I’ve assumed something about that person, whether it was that they were more successful than me and in turn, probably happier; or that they were so absorbed into their own suffering, that there was no way they were seeing the bigger, better picture. And in each instance, I was very wrong.
Just because a person is more successful does not mean that they are happier. If that appears to be their external attitude, we can’t and shouldn’t assume that that’s how they really are internally, as well. How many people can you count in your life right now who appear to have it perfectly together? I can count many! They’re all successful entrepreneurs or innovative employees with families and college degrees and white, picked-fenced yards. But they’re also recovering addicts or divorcees or heartbroken partners on one end of a crumbling marriage. And it’s not until I retire my assumption of their external attitude that I can then get a glimpse of the battle they’re fighting on the inside. Once I get this glimpse, I am humbled, because I can’t be anything else but kind to their fight. It reminds me of my own.
Treating each other as we would treat ourselves becomes the biggest gift we can give
That’s the beauty of being a human being. We’re all on the same level, on the same playing field, just trying to make it through the day. That’s also the beauty of mental health. We can’t see someone’s mental suffering like we would a scrape on their knee. But just because it’s not visible to us, does not mean that we can assume that it’s not real. After all, the last thing we would want from another human being, in the midst of our own suffering, is their ignorance or dismissal of our problem. It’s our duty, then, to treat one another in the same light that we’d like to be treated. It’s the Golden Rule that we were taught as kids, now needed more than ever before.
I took the below picture this past weekend. From the social media Likes and comments, you would think that my entire life was perfectly hanging in alignment. My crooked million dollar smile would lead you to believe that I have it all together — career, passion, family, friends, health. Everything. But as I look at this picture, just as much as I am reminded of all of my blessings, I am also reminded of where I struggle, still. I don’t always say nice things to myself, and I don’t always wake up with confidence and energy. Some days, I put so much pressure on myself to keep up with being a writer and a teacher, that I exhaust myself into depression and overthinking. I’m not always kind to my body, and I still start each week with enthusiasm that often weans by Friday. I’m not a stranger to alcohol or cigarettes or toxic relationships, and I’ve lost faith in myself more times than I care to admit.
But I’m still here. I admit all of these struggles to myself, not because I’m stuck in my own regrets, but because I am aware of them. That’s a part of what mental health is all about, and a huge homage to that quote at the beginning of this post. I, too, am fighting a battle you know nothing about. That’s why I can remain kind to people around me, because I know they have a fight inside, as well. It may be harder or easier than mine, but that’s just another assumption. A fight is a fight. Who am I to assign degrees of difficulty, when all I can and really ought to do is just respect the person fighting at all?
Be kind, to yourself first, and then to everyone else
Don’t assume that people who smile are perfectly OK. Similarly, don’t assume that they’re not. I don’t think we’re given our problems in life so that we miserably fail. I think we’re presented with challenges that help us grow, and if we look at them as just another angle of being a complete and wholesome human being, they often lose some of that scariness we presumptuously put upon them.
Go out into the world and begin to open your eyes to the people with whom you share this world. What they go through is hardly ever that different than where you are in life, and if you can be a beacon of light and hope for someone — anyone — just by dismissing your assumptions and adopting that quote above, then consider that an act of pure and divine humanness.
Seeing someone else’s struggle and opting to be kind is a karmic high-five. Kindness sent is kindness received. Let’s remember that.