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Unconventional Friendship and How it Changed Me
One of life's most valuable lessons
The biggest lessons I have learned in my life have come from my friendship with some of the most vulnerable people in society. Having not been aware of or in situations to be familiar with people who experience mental illness, I really had no idea what I would have to offer.
Friendship teaches us to be open
I have a good friend whom I met while volunteering at a homeless shelter.
I thought I was going there to offer a listening ear if nothing else. I found myself getting so much more than I was giving. When I met my new friend, I have to admit, I felt compassion immediately. You see, he told me about how his family rejected him because of his mental illness. This seemed so inconceivable to me at the time.
Nothing to fear but fear itself
After chatting for about a half an hour, the conversation turned into a harrowing recounting of a life interrupted by mental illness. I learned more about this young man's life in a short amount of time, and I was fearful about the escalating intensity of the conversation. The funny thing is, as I look back on it now, almost 3 years later, I realize I had nothing to be afraid of. The friendship began, as we would chat about his illness and precarious life. I have had the fortuitous experience of seeing how a life lived with mental illness really is. Not the television version, or the scary movie version, or even the newspaper version, but the real life version.
Sympathy or Empathy?
After experiencing many hospital visits, psychiatrists, mental health workers, and emergency room Doctors, I now have a much better understanding of the "reception" someone experiencing mental illness often receives. Having had these experiences alongside my friend, I have come up with, (with the help of my friend of course) a helpful guide for people who are new to how to respond and behave in the presence of someone experiencing mental illness.
My friend’s suggestions
• Someone who experiences mental illness will often hide what is happening because of the fear of rejection and stigma. (This is not unlike those of us without a mental illness)Care and Kindness are simple
• Treat the person as a well, real person. No rocket science here, just reality.
• “When I am ready for help, I will ask for it or agree to some assistance.” My friend covets the freedom to try it on his own and not be forced into action by others.
• Have an appointed friend who understands how the illness progresses and ask them to be involved in a proactive plan should the illness progress.
• My friend shines the more he is reminded of his value in the lives of others. (Don't we all?)
I am reminded of how similar my friend and I are in so many ways each time we talk. I am reminded of this especially when he is experiencing the cruel effects of something that is out of his control and he needs extra care and concern. I am reminded of my frailties and how little I have “the right” to complain about. Giving care and kindness to my friend inside and outside of his illness is not as selfless as it seems. You see this small act of kindness each time I offer it, gives me the reminder of so much more in return.
It's in the small things
Cultivating a practice of compassion and kindness starts with one act. Mother Teresa said it best, "Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies". I never would have expected that my desire to support someone experiencing homelessness would end up changing me so profoundly. The other lesson I could not have predicted was the strength of a little act of kindness.
Who can you reach out to in your life and offer a simple act of kindness to?
What ways can you offer yourself to the aid of someone new in your life and push you outside of yourself?
Do you believe helping someone else can create compassion for yourself?
|Heidi Taylor, Life Coach: I believe in Restoration. I believe the renewal and restoration that you desire for your life is already inside of you. Peeling back the layers of life is where the answers lie. I guide my clients in tearing down emotional walls, revealing hidden potential, and creating an inner restoration and reclaimed life. |
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