I spent a recent Saturday with a group of friends helping a depressed friend get professional help. Heading into the colder weather and towards the holidays, the folks who struggle with depression and mental health suffer more. The holidays remind folks of a sense of loss, of loved ones who are either disconnected from us or who have passed on.
For a person who is inching across the thin ice of a life barely free of depression, the added emotional weight of the holidays can result in breaking through the ice. However it happens, once a person has broken through the ice of depression, trying to get back up on thin ice only results in more ice breaking.
Depression is nothing to fool with and can be deadly. For the support system, it’s important to know that nothing we do will help someone “snap out of it,” and efforts on their part generally won’t resolve the depression. Empathy, the willingness to listen to another’s heart, and to be fully present for another human being is one of the greatest gifts we give each other, and for someone who is on the edge of depression, an empathic ear can actually be lifesaving.
Awareness is a big part of the battle in a support community. Practices of thankfulness in community strengthen the community, and also help refocus our attention away from the sorrow of our missed expectations and sense of failure towards the hope that comes with recognizing that our lives are blessed. We don’t try to “fix” a person’s depression, but we do encourage, and express value, and continually invite everyone to participate, to experience inclusion. Love and grace are the marinade of life.
Many of us have had a teacher sometime in grade school that made us feel special (my eternal thanks to you, Mr. Bert Murphy), someone who recognized us and who encouraged us. Encouragement is an art form, and for our lives to actually encourage another human being is more subtle, more practiced, than is obvious at first glance.
Watching a figure skating event, we want to strap on the skates and glide around, because the skaters make it look so natural and graceful, but our first outing on the skates looks nothing like the Olympics. Practice makes Olympic ice skaters, and practice makes a fluid and natural encourager.
My favorite poet, Maya Angelou, famously said, “Ive learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
There is something about another human being telling us that we’re valuable to them, that they appreciate us and that we are an important part of their lives. Many of us have internal voices that deflect compliments, and effectively deflect, reinterpret or diminish beautiful expressions of love.
We, on-the-fly, diminish “you are valuable to me” with “they’re just nice and say that to everyone” Or we deflect, “I really care about you” with “if they really knew me on the average day, they’d form a much lower opinion.”
We all have these voices, they’re the voices of shame. When you compliment someone, or you express your love for them, don’t be afraid to write it out on a card for them, too. The shame voices in our heads can argue with another’s voice, but reading beauty written out on a card, shame voices have a hard time dissuading us that it’s true.
Thanksgiving is about generosity; thanksgiving is about recognizing the generosity that our lives have been planted in, and it is about reaffirming our commitment to generosity. May the thanksgiving of our lives be fertile encouragement for ourselves and others this Thanksgiving.
Vern Hyndman is a husband, father to four, engineer, pastor and founder of the nonprofit Heartforge.