No Man is an Island

Wednesday November 7, 2018

I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel isolated.

I hear the statistics saying that one in four of us will have a mental health problem at some point in our lives: I know many, many people who fall into this category, but I still feel I am the only one. The only one in my family; the only one in my company; the only one of the parents of my children's friends...

It's not helped when people out there in the public eye, people just like me, are dismissed by members of my family, or my friends, as "People who just can't cope with life."

Surely life is the same for us all?

"You're so emotional about everything!" say my husband and elder daughter. "You can't take on the problems of the whole world: people have to look after themselves. Their problems are not your problem."

Is it wrong to want to scream at them? Because, if I have compassion, their problems are my problems!

My problems are, after all, their problems! If I am so ill I cannot get out of bed and function, then that becomes a problem for my family. If I am not well enough to meet with or engage with friends, then that is a problem for those friends. If I cannot work, then that is a problem for my clients.

If I cannot cope with life, then that affects everyone I know.

This is where compassion comes in.

If, when someone we know "can't cope", do we withdraw? Do we leave them to sink or swim?

Some will answer "Yes. Not my circus, not my monkeys. Nothing to do with me; just walk on by."

And, when it's me lying on the sofa, shaking, unable to do anything or go anywhere, engulfed in the slimy grey fog of depression, then I do want people to walk on by: I can't cope with people: I can't cope with kindness; I can't cope with life.

I want to be left alone – forever.

In recovery, however, when I start to feel better, that's when I remember the kindness, the support and the strength lent to me when I had none of my own, and I am grateful.

So, now I am well, I want to be that person who offers kindness and support and strength. I don't want to walk on by or to dismiss the fallen brother as one who just can't cope with life.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend's
Or of thine own were:
Any man's death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne

A Moodscope member

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