Sometimes I'm not fair. For as selfless and giving as I am, I can also be selfish at times.
For example, I know a young woman that I care for deeply. She's currently in a phase in her life where demands on her time are many, and free time is scarce. So scarce in fact, that she's living a semi-cloistered life as she takes up her studies.
At first, I felt snubbed. I thought, “What's taking her so long? Why doesn't she have five minutes to write to me? Did I do something wrong? Is it me?”
I then realized that I wasn't being fair. I wasn't being sensitive to her needs, or her time frame. I also wasn't being fair to her struggles. Where she is now, I once was. Sometimes, I'm still there. Sometimes I forget what hurdles I've had to overcome just to function in daily life. Maybe that's a defense mechanism. If so, it's one that can distorted reality. I need to replace it with a mechanism of compassion, instead of, “Here, now, hop to it!” I was seeing everything from my viewpoint, and not allowing her vision to come across.
I'm extremely sorry for that, and humbly apologize.
I'm in a similar situation to her, as recent life demands have given me a sense of urgency. I'd rather not go into detail, but since the death of my mother, my life has been very chaotic. It's been Quixotic as well, as I feel like I'm charging at windmills. In my mind I'm on some heroic journey, but in reality I feel stagnant. I feel like the world around me is collapsing, and I'm trying to hold it together. I don't know if I can hold it together, but I'm doing to try. If I could see into the future, and know that everything would be alright, then I'd stop worrying so much. But I can't see that far ahead, and so I worry.
And I think about her, and what she must be going through.
That's when I realize, yes, she has her own struggles. I wish I could help her with those struggles, but there's factors that limit how much I can currently help her. Instead I can support her emotionally, and try my best to encourage her to face those struggles. I want her to succeed, and begin to create the life she's wanted to have for long, but wasn't able to have. I want to be there for her when that happens.
Does she want the same for me?
Yes, I know so. We've given each other support through many difficult times, and we've grown closer because of it. Now is one of those times where things are difficult. We'll get through it. I think we'll be closer and form a stronger bond because of it. The key practice I need commit myself to now is patience.
I'm a very patient man, but in all honesty, I'm more impatient than people think. Sometimes impatience is a good thing. In the past I was too patient, and too passive. Now I'm at a stage were patience is something I've grown. I need to learn a balance. When to be patient, and when not to be patient. Now, she's teaching me a lesson in patience.
She may not know it yet, but she's also teaching me lessons in compassion and fairness.
In my own past, when I experienced depression I could barely think straight. Sometimes I couldn't even read a sentence. I may spend a half hour trying to read a single page. I spent a fair amount of time lying in bed, and recounting where my life went wrong. It wound up being a futile exercise. It wasn't until I entered therapy that I was able to make any progress.
Sometimes I try to forget what it was like to be depressed. I don't have the pervasive symptoms anymore. However, I can sometimes get close to those symptoms. I sometimes feel myself backsliding into depression, and then have to stop myself before it's too late. These instances are few and far between, but they've been more frequent because of recent events in my life.
I also experience anxiety. I had a panic attack recently, and I recognized it immediately. I talked myself through it, and was able to calm down. But I know that anxiety isn't entirely gone. I'll have episodes of anxiety again. In fact I one earlier tonight.
C.S. Lewis once talked about moral law and fair play. He basically said that we expect people to be kind. We expect them to be polite. When I visited Britain recently, I understood more so what he meant. In the U.S., I'll give up my seat on the bus for other people; women or men. I once gave up my seat so young couple could sit together. I'm not self-promoting, but just giving an example. In Britain that sort of courtesy is built into the culture. It's a true stereotype, but one to be proud of. I'd encourage us all to be like that.
When I was walking the train station in Warwickshire, I stepped aside for a young lady on her bike. She said, “Thank you!” I didn't expect that. People on bikes don't do that in the U.S. I found that anywhere I went, people reacted similarly. A woman on the train from Oxford gave up her seat for me. She was sitting next to her husband, saw I'd been standing for a while, and gave up her seat. That shocked me! People on in that train car, total strangers, talked to one another! That also shocked me. I returned the favor on another train ride, when I slid over so a young man could have a seat. He smiled, said, “Cheers, mate.” Again, I did not expect that.
Those are examples of fairness, and kindness in small measures. I like to think I'm that good, or that kind, maybe I am. Maybe sometimes I'm not? There are times when I know I can be selfish. There are times when I can be demanding. When that happens, I have to take a step back, and say to myself, “Is that me? Am I acting like my father?”
The answer is, “It's something rotten in the state of Pennsylvania; passed down from father to son.”
You can tell my mind is still in Stratford. Next I'll talk to that glow-in-the-dark skull that sits on top of my TV. It belonged to a fellow of infinite jest. By the way, there's a cool statue of Yorick in Stratford-Upon-Avon. I often wondered what he'd look like.
I remember times when my parents weren't compassionate to my depression. My mother didn't really acknowledge my depression or anxiety, until I had moved away. My father completely denied either existed. He just felt I was being lazy, and told me often. The truth is that I wasn't being lazy at all. I didn't want to be depressed, I didn't choose it. I eventually did something about it as an adult. Living with him as a teenager didn't help. I think he wanted to keep me depressed as a means of control.
That wasn't fair or compassionate. That was being selfish.
I would never wish any mental illness on anyone. For that matter, I wish I had the power to heal those with illnesses of any kind; especially emotions ones. I wish I could just hold someone, tell them, “You're okay,” and then magically heal them. It doesn't work that way. A laying on of hands doesn't even work for faith healers, why would it work for psych students? I wish to God that it did work.
I feel that sometimes people who do get better feel a sense of superiority. They feel like, “Well, if I did it, so can you! Here's how!” Just picture that in a dodgy salesman's voice. Why? Because it is dodgy. Everyone's struggle is different. As the cliché says, “The struggle is real.” Different methods work for different people.
Those of us that have benefited from therapy should never cop an attitude with those who haven't. We should never belittle them, or tell them cliches, or say, “You have to love yourself, or no on else will!” When we do that, we make them feel worse. Instead, we need to realize that treatment does vary per person. We need to give them the same compassion and understanding that we wish we had before.
We also need to give compassion and fairness to those we love.
That sounds like an obvious thing to say, but it isn't. Sometimes we get so intoxicated with our own needs, that we forsake the needs of the other. Maybe they need time, air, or quiet? They need our hand to hold them, instead of pointing the finger at them in blame. They need to hear words of encouragement, and understanding, instead of anger and frustration.
Two of my great fears in relationships is that I'll drive people away by being selfish. Or, I'll drive them away by being too loving; opposite ends of the spectrum. One takes, the other gives. I'm a giver, mostly. I just have to make sure I give equal amounts to what I take. I'm not always adept at that. It's something I need to learn. I'm flawed like everyone else.
I want to experience unconditional love from others. I also want to express that same love. This could be a time for me to learn more about that. It's a time to learn more about fairness, compassion, and love without terms and conditions.
I will try my best. I will also try my best to learn the lessons that have been offered to me.
Text Copyright Riley Joyce 2016
Below is an animated recreation of one of C.S. Lewis' wartime talks. Moral Law, part of his work Mere Christianity.