By Keeley Milne
“Look into your own heart; discover what it is that gives you pain. And then refuse, under any circumstance whatsoever, to inflict that pain on anybody else.” ~ Karen Armstrong
They don’t believe me.
After all these years, of depression, post-partum, extreme anxiety, disordered behaviour—which I write about because by keeping these things in the darkness, we cannot help one another—I don’t think my mother accepts that I cannot, simply, suck it up.
She tries. She tries very hard. She herself has determined different diagnoses for me over the years.
Is it easier to accept that your child has a problem if you’ve decided what she has (notably against psychiatric opinion) yourself?
I love my mother—passionately. She is one of my best friends, as is my sister.However, I have no doubt that when I try to describe clinical depression or anxiety to her she thinks: “Come on, I feel down sometimes too, get it together.”
Lately I wonder: Am I any better?
I have attended group therapy sessions where I know I have dismissed other people in the room. That lady telling me how much stress the cat she is babysitting is causing her? I had a hard time not shaking her, telling her that I was homeless and some other woman had stolen my medication and my underwear (my underwear!) that morning.
I have been the worst version of myself, dismissing other’s legitimate problems because (I felt) they weren’t as challenging as mine that day.
I have been pondering this a lot lately—my level of compassion.
How unjust I think it is that my loved ones cannot understand my illness is not something you can “snap out of”—but how little patience I at times have with others.
I have oft admired the Dalai Lama’s proclamation that the most important thing we can teach our children is compassion. But how often do I forget that simple action myself?
Compassion is something we feel, yes, but something we do, far more importantly.
Today, I suppose my mission is this: remember we all need one another’s kindness and empathy.
Remember that we never know what goes on in someone’s secret heart— that perhaps the woman with the cat was contemplating suicide and describing the cat issue was the only way she could connect with us that day. Perhaps that cat was really upsetting, given her own challenges/daily struggles.
Perhaps my mom really does understand, and just doesn’t know how to express it.
I had a friend once who drove for a living and was having a terrible and inconceivable (to her) bout of road rage. She had never experienced it previously, but suddenly every drive ended in her shaking and cursing in anger. She began a practice of leaving every challenging driver she met by saying in her mind “I let go of you, with love.”
She said it was ridiculous and exhausting, but it took up her entire drive and had her reaching her destination calmly and feeling less guilt and shame over showering hatred on other drivers.
So, today, this: compassion, everywhere. Greet with love, let go with love. Even if we struggle or forget or fail more often than we succeed, it is a beginning.
It is a blessing, a challenge and a gift to be given this ability to practice and receive compassion.