Depression and kindness

One of the many shitty things about depression is the issue of not being there for people, and not just in the sense of being emotionally distant.

A example of what I’m talking about that’s common for me at least, occurs when folks drop their belongings in public. When you’ve got a head full of cold porridge, and someone drops a card, or some cash or whatever else, you may be the first to notice, but you won’t be the first to act even if you’re physically well positioned to.

Someone else will come along, and scoop that thing up and hand it over, or at least point out to the relevant party that they’ve dropped something, all while you’re left there gurning or with a blank stare. If you’re a bit unkempt, as I am on some occasions, you’ll probably get one of those “better pick it up before that hobo grabs it!” stares too.

I reflected on this more keenly early this morning, after automatically performing a minor act of kindness and then having had it brought to my attention by the beneficiary. The levels of cold porridge in my skull have been at a particularly low level for a few months now, and this latest episode made me recall that only the day before I’d also been first off the mark in helping a senior citizen with her misplaced pair of gloves – all of which seemed quite out of the ordinary.

***

It’s been bothering me for decades, this cycle of little failures to be helpful, the occasional weird stares, and somewhat less frequent objections to my apparently inconsiderate nature. Mainly it’s the not-helping part that’s the worst, although it has to be said that my own subjective discomfort with this is only a small part of the equation.

Every now and then there’s been a small window of opportunity for an act of kindness that’s been missed because I’ve been too slow, all while nobody else has been around to pick up the slack. I’m left wondering, in terms of utility, just how much is being lost in aggregate across the human population just due to kind acts stolen away by mood disorders and mental illness.

Then there’s the kids to worry about. The hasty judgements (ala fundamental attribution error) I’ve copped on account of my sometimes-lethargy span back as far as I’ve had depression (i.e. as far back as High School). A couple of teachers were pretty quick to tell me I was some variety of bad person, but in their defense, this was in the years back before Beyond Blue was even an idea, and before a lot of GPs were even properly diagnosing depression. (I know, it’s a shit defense, but a shit defense is still a defense).

Still, the thought that judgmental teachers are still going to jump down kids’ throats just because they’re a little slow in expressing their consideration rubs me the wrong way. It’s a lot less excusable nowadays, not that it ever really was.

I don’t expect kids to be mollycoddled or showered with affirmations, but feeding them lies about themselves isn’t going to help them either.

***

There’s probably a hundred and one ways to extrapolate from what I’ve described here, and I’m going to stop myself right there if only because I’ve got a sample size of one. What I want to say in writing this, is just how easy it is to take the ability to be helpful for granted.

I actually needed it pointed out to me that I was being helpful – it just came that easily at no noticeable expense to myself, such that I was barely aware I did what I did. Now I’m thinking I may understand how people view mild unhelpfulness as both an exception and as pathological – it’s a bit like watching something autonomic switching off in that practicing little acts of kindness, normally, can come almost as naturally as breathing.

Though none of this means people are going to reach the correct diagnosis as to why someone’s kindness appears redacted when some of us aren’t first cab off the rank to help another.

~ Bruce

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