Hurricanes Harvey and Irma threatened entire communities; children of undocumented immigrants are newly afraid of deportation to a land they don’t remember; and a seventeen-year-old boy from church tragically died after years of praying the cancer would leave his body. Even today marks 16 years since the tragic happenings of September 11, 2001 where nearly 3,000 people were killed. All this and more resigned many to the dark with more questions than answers. The pain of loss, the devastation of disaster, and the agony of the unknown is capable of tormenting even the strongest souls, and the threat of depression and anxiety is never far behind.
The universal conversation attempting to normalize mental illness as caused by chemical imbalances, genetics, and other internal wirings is greatly needed today. Still we should never forget the grave potential of such misery to afflict victims in the ash of external tragedy. Indeed, when a natural disaster rummages through personal belongings, when people become aliens in their own homes, or when sickness robs earth of a loved one how can humans not suffer at the feet of despair? Scientific explanations of depression and anxiety are valid and even proven, but sometimes, life just sucks, and the anguish of reality feels utterly unbearable. In these times, those unaffected would do well to comfort the afflicted, armor in support behind the victims, and walk through the darkness alongside the lost and grieving.
Let’s Comfort The Afflicted
“What can I do for you?” These six words are drilled onto the tongues of millions of customer service representatives across the nation. Corporate employees are trained to be available, kind, and helpful by any means possible. And the reason such a sentiment is so commonly used in the retail world is because it works. Customers feel cared for. Often, we don’t know where to start in our attempts to comfort someone whose pain is too great to bear, but just asking a simple question can demonstrate we care and that we want to help the hurting in the way they want to be helped.
This is likely not the time for wise words or awkward jokes to break uncomfortable silence. Sit, listen, cry, ask, and be prepared for anything as you listen intently for what they need. The easiest way to respect someone is to listen to them, and to comfort another is to help them feel comfortable by actively presenting yourself as available on their terms. Whether they take advantage of your support or not is their decision; allow that freedom. Listen and be available. The voice of a wiseman is white noise when his ears have not yet listened.
Let’s Armor In Support
Equip yourself with the needed resources to be an appropriate help. Be informed, stay engaged, read, learn, get dirty, know what’s going on, but mind your own mental health as well. Standing as a pillar of support beneath a hurting loved one takes much emotional, spiritual, and physical energy. In order to love and care for someone else, we must prioritize our own mental health. To not care for ourselves while supporting the weight of another’s burdens is comparable to allowing a support beam to rot beneath a building. Skyscrapers, homes, and office buildings, like victims of loss, need strong support. Informed and healthy, we can be that to our suffering loved ones.
Let’s Walk Through The Darkness
We all have had dark times. Some seasons are more difficult than others, some storms have a harder impact, and some roads are more challenging to navigate. While we cannot relate to every single person’s specific struggle, we can all relate to struggle. The affliction we have experienced in each of our pasts through mental illness, personal tragedy, or seasons of despair can now be used for good as we muster the courage and empathy needed to actively love today’s victims of loss. Do not allow your personal hardships to win in the darkness, but use them to illuminate another’s path. Justify your own misfortune for good; weaken its reign on your life. Pain that once had no purpose can now be repurposed. Hopeless seasons of your past can now bring another hope. And the shadows behind you can remind others of coming light.
Despair, tragedy, and pain, depression and anxiety, do not play favorites. Each of us are susceptible to deep anguish whether by internal or external influence. We can come together in times of need by offering a listening ear, an available source of comfort, an informed, healthy, and strong support, and a ready hand to hold and feet prepared to brave the darkness. We all know despair, and therefore, it doesn’t need to win.