Hey guys, just a heads up, this post touches briefly but directly on depression and self-harm. If that's too much for you, I totally get it. Please take care of yourself.
In Stephen Sondheim’s “Into The Woods”, there’s a song called “No One Is Alone” which perfectly captures two things for me. They are:
- How I have been thinking and feeling about the concept of loneliness lately.
- What we can do to take care of each other in an increasingly divided and separated world.
It’s an achingly beautiful piece, sung by characters whose world has seemingly collapsed around them. It’s sad, hopeful, loving, and painful all at the same time, and I absolutely love it.
At one point in the song, a character cries out simply “I wish!” before being comforted by another’s reply of “I know.” The wishing character has suddenly found herself all alone in the world and is grieving for what she’s lost. The other is simply trying to be present with her friend. It’s heartbreaking; and wonderful.
I want to focus on the importance of the “I know” in that song– because right now the world can feel really lonely, and those around us need to know we’re there with them.
I’ll start with a story:
In mid 2017 I was in a bad, bad, place. I didn’t yet know that I was dealing with depression and I was feeling stuck, hopeless, trapped, and utterly alone.
Those feelings compounded and grew until, finally, one night at work (I was working overnights as a mall-cop at the time), I sat staring at a pair of scissors, planning to walk into my boss’s office and stab myself with them as soon as he showed up the next morning. Like I said, I was in a terrible, terrible place. In those moments I desperately needed someone to know how isolated and afraid I felt, and he was the next person I would see. So my plan was to try to show him.
Fortunately for me, that night I also typed “someone please help me” into Google. It turns out that when you do that kind of thing Google responds with an automated response about mental health. Instantly, I was inundated with crisis hotlines and websites for immediate, free, online counseling. Among the deluge were countless reminders that “you are not alone” and that my feelings wouldn’t be permanent. Those reminders we’re enough to allow me to hold on, and soon after that night I started seeing medical professionals and got the help I desperately needed.
Now, this is an extreme example, but I use it to illustrate just how powerful the feelings of loneliness and isolation can be. In my own way I was crying out, wishing for someone to be there and understand. Much like in the song.
And that brings us back to the “I know.” Between COVID, political turmoil, and a general widening of ideological divides around the world, people are lonely. People are scared. People are crying out–or maybe just whispering–“I wish.” And it’s our job to take care of each other.
So, what can we do?
First, remember this: most people don’t need –or want– you to solve their problems for them.
When people feel alone, or depressed, or isolated, what they need is support. They need love. They simply need to know you’re there for them. They don’t need you to solve their problems for them. When we come into someone’s life with nothing but solutions–no matter how well-meaning we are–it can be overwhelming, confusing, and disheartening for them. Instead, we can simply allow ourselves to be there, ready to provide whatever support they need.
Next? Reach out.
Keep tabs on the people in your life! For me, the road to my breakdown started with a slow pulling away from the people I care about; today that pulling away is being done for us. We live in a world of quarantine, limited travel, and full-on lockdowns, so it’s easy to lose track of people. Reach out. Text someone. Call someone. Send someone a card (Seriously, send them a card. How cool would it be to get a card in the mail these days??). After a year of this pandemic craziness none of us can say we don’t how to connect with someone remotely. And if someone is slow to respond, keep trying. Be that obnoxious friend, just be sure to be intentional and loving about it.
Finally, put yourself out there.
I’ve written about this before, but I think it’s even more vitally important in this context. When someone is depressed, or lonely, or feeling isolated, the most comforting thing –at least it has been for me– can be knowing that they aren’t alone in what they feel. When you reach out to others, prompted or unprompted, and let them know how you feel, it opens the door for a safe exchange of feelings that can be incredibly cathartic and helpful. Of the three, I think this last one is most important.
So, yeah. Be someone’s “I know”. Take care of each other. Because eventually things get better. No one is alone.
I’ll leave you with the last few lines of the song from above:
Thanks for reading, you’ve got this,