A few years ago, this pretty terrible thing happened. The thing that happened is not the important part, though. It’s what happened after that matters -- at least for the sake of this article. While immersed in my grief, I slowly began to change. Everything from my perspective to the way I view other humans took a total turn.
I’d say, and perhaps others might agree, that these changes have made me a better person. I gained the type of understanding and insight that, I believe, could only come from such a tragedy. And while it’s unfortunate that this horrible thing had to happen at all, at least it was something I could learn and grow from.
I stopped judging other people.
This is perhaps the most significant, most important thing that I learned. Preliminary judgments are a waste of energy. Everyone is allowed to be fully and wholly themselves without garnering negativity from people that do not matter. Every single person has a story to tell. No one’s first impression gives you the full picture of who they are. No single conversation will do that either. As long as you aren’t hurting me or anyone else, I’ll reserve my judgment and the energy that judgment takes for things that really matter. Or at least I’m going to try.
This came with another, quite beautiful, result: I freed myself from other people’s judgments. I just stopped caring. I can’t say I never care what other people think of me; I am still human. But that load has lightened significantly. You can hate how I look, how I talk, or how I choose to live my life, and that’s totally fine with me. You do you and I’ll keep doing me.
I developed heightened empathy.
I’ve always been an empathetic person. In fact, empathy is is one of my strengths, according to my StrengthsFinder scores. Now, it’s as though that part of me is always sitting at the forefront. More than ever, I look for the good in people because there is almost always something good. I try my best to relate to people because we can almost always find some common ground. I want to hear people out, allow them to tell their stories so that we can feel that thing that they feel so strongly together. I cry at movies I’ve watched over and over again because I suddenly can’t stop thinking about all the other people in the world facing similar situations -- but don’t live inside movies that usually have a happy ending. I feel everything, and I feel it deeply. I consider this a good thing because I’m able to feel compassion for almost anyone, which has led me to want to help people in small and big ways. In today’s world, I believe just a little bit of empathy and compassion can have a huge impact.
This part of me also comes with a few downsides. When you feel things as strongly as I often do, you also feel the bad things just as deeply. The things that make you sad, make you really sad. The things that anger you make your blood boil. I’ve become hypersensitive, especially to the things that I can’t control.
While this side of me makes me a better human being, it has also made me realize that I need to show that same compassion to myself.
I have a greater understanding of mental health issues.
I’ve had many battles of my own, so I always kind of got it, but not quite like I do now. Everyone goes through shit. Everyone faces battles and paints on fake smiles just to make it through the day, at least once. But sometimes these painted on smiles are hiding something that goes much deeper than a few bad days or a tough year.
I now understand just how damaging the stigma surrounding mental health issues is. I understand that people (myself included) need to be properly educated on these matters so that we can identify how to help those around us and how to help ourselves when we need to be our own heroes. I understand it’s not the fault of the sufferer. I understand that there are varying degrees of mental illnesses, and they present themselves so differently in each person.
I understand that some people’s suffering becomes far too great for them to be able to save themselves.
I am more open and willing to share.
I know now that we need to talk about shit. We need to talk about shit and we need to talk about it often. We need to share how we feel and what is making us feel that way. We need to find people to lean on and allow them to be our shoulder when we need one. This is one of the very few things we can actually do for each other, and one of the only things we can do for someone battling with their mental health. Be there. Talk, Share. (Or say nothing if they don’t want to talk. But just be there.)
It’s this talking and sharing that will also help in erasing the stigma against mental health. It will help people understand that they aren’t alone in their feelings and that those feelings are valid.
This is something I’m still working on, but I’ve added it here because I think the act of talking and sharing can only lead to good things.