I recently read this powerful piece on getting through depression. Seema Duggal writes eloquently of the power of support – of her need for friends to simply be there by her side while she struggled with her illness.
” It may have been my journey, but I needed people in my ring, cheering me on as I took the punches.”
Some people suffer more than their share of trauma in life. It is exhausting to care for someone like that – there are times when simply being an observer of that kind of life can feel like too much effort. I know I have sometimes felt that way about others – and I suspect that people have often felt it about me.
We have crazy, hectic lives. We tend not to know our neighbours, or even have time to hang out in the school yard meeting other parents. We fly by the school, horn screaming, slowing down just enough for the kids to leap in before we hurtle around the corner. Or the kids go to before and afterschool care, and there aren’t any other families around at pickup time.
With extra-curricular activities, both for kids and adults, the weekends are too full for play dates or coffee. It’s all we can do to keep the wheels of life turning before we crash, exhausted into bed. We have no time or energy to expend on supporting others.
I doubt that many of us would choose to setup our lives that way, or be up front about saying that we just can’t be there for anyone else. But there is probably more truth to the description than any of us are really comfortable admitting.
Supporting people going through trauma, especially anti-social trauma like depression, is hard work. Although it doesn’t necessarily take much physical effort – regular phone calls or extra hugs aren’t so hard to provide – the emotional effort can be huge. Yet the curious thing is that supporting others can actually be a way of supporting ourselves.It can make us feel connected and needed. That sense of community, of being there for each other, and knowing that there are people around you who will catch you when you fall, is increasingly absent, especially in city life.
As an atheist, there is much about organised religion that I dislike, yet its power to bring people together and create communities is something that our secular society seems to have thrown out with the bath water. I don’t believe that religion is correlated with caring – there are good, caring people within and without religion all over the world. What organised religion provides is a structure around which community is easily created.
We are all quick to express our horror when tales emerge of someone dying, alone and forgotten, and not being discovered for weeks or months on end. We condemn the society that allows that to happen. Yet we are all complicit in maintaining exactly that sort of society, as we hurtle through our busy lives.
I don’t know what the answer is for society as a whole. I suspect it will take a radical lifestyle shift to change things, and whether that is even possible is more than I know. On a personal level, though, there is more we can all do to reach out to the people around us. To make time for phone calls and coffee. To ask for help when we need it – no easy task – and to step up when the people we care about are struggling.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by someone else’s trauma, and be paralysed into doing nothing. Sometimes that first step of reaching out can feel like jumping off a cliff – risking rejection, or being seen as interfering – but the rewards can be incredible. Some of the greatest friendships in my life have arisen from the fire and ashes of the worst times. Sometimes I have reached out to others, and sometimes they have reached out to me. Either way the bonds forged will last a lifetime.
Who have you reached out to lately?