The Healing Power of Kindness
There are medicines, therapies, treatments, and groups, but nothing universally changes the lives of people who are struggling with their mental health more than kindness.
In 2005 I had an anxiety breakdown. It’s something I have spoken about extensively over the years, especially the psychological and spiritual aspects of recovery. What I haven’t recounted was the incredible kindness that I was shown and the profound impact it had both on my mental health and on my life in general. We begin Mental Health Awareness week in exceptional circumstances, and fittingly, kindness is this year’s theme.
When your emotions seem suddenly alien, it’s an indescribable feeling. It’s a bit like breakup with someone who turned out not to be the person you thought they were. Apart from the fact that this time that person is you. Your frame of reference for life feels untrustworthy, your thoughts seem less coherent or watertight; your confidence in yourself dwindles.
I remember walking into an emergency room one Saturday afternoon with my wife Louie. I was shaking and pretty terrified. Like many people who are experiencing mental illness, you find yourself immediately grappling with the medicalisation of things that you had previously thought were not medical at all.
Somehow it all feels harsh, even if it’s not. Partly because your processing is impacted by illness, but partly because the treatment is given so directly at you, rather than being focused on a more obtuse part of your body. The impact of all this change is isolation. I literally felt like I was looking at life through a glass window, rather than living it in the moment.
The week following my hospital visit I had an appointment with a GP at my very busy local NHS surgery. I had never met Dr David before this appointment; he wasn’t a Christian as far as I knew, just a hard-working doctor in a big practice. But he wasn’t just anything.
He listened to my sorrowful tale and kept looking at me with such compassion that I couldn’t help but cry. He carefully explained what was going on in my mind and explored all of the ways in which I could approach recovery. Apart from Louie, he was the kindest, least judgemental voice in my life at the time.
What is more, Dr David made it his business to phone me out of the blue several times over the proceeding weeks just for a chat and to check I was doing OK. Every time I had an interaction with him, I felt a little more confident in my recovery and a little more hopeful about the future. Dr David was my mental health Samaritan.
When Jesus told that parable in Luke 10, it wasn’t to highlight the expertise, professionalism or special knowledge of the Samaritan, it was to identify what it meant to be a neighbour: When asked who had done the right thing in the parable, the expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him,” v37 which we could paraphrase, “The one who was kind to him’.
We live in an incredibly qualified and professionalised world, which on one level, is reassuring. On the other hand, it often leaves us believing that we have nothing to offer each other if we do not hold a certificate in some special skill. Ironically, this apparent professional lack can cause us to diminish our estimation of the transforming power of kindness. We can believe that a gentle word or warm smile is less valuable than it really is.
In truth, I have met some incredibly qualified people in my life, but qualifications without compassion don’t mean a lot. Jesus said in 1 Corinthians 13:2: “If I can…fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
Skills with kindness are a powerful combination, but let’s not forget that kindness doesn’t need skills to be life changing. Kindness is a sort of medicine that works all on its own and it’s something that we are all qualified to administer.
My prayer though out this Mental health Awareness Week 2020 is that we all grow in confidence; that our kind words, actions and attitudes can transform the lives of others. My mental health Samaritan was Dr David. Who is yours? Maybe this week you may want to acknowledge their impact on your life, or maybe you just want to pass it on in the form of kindness to someone else who is feeling distressed. Whatever you decide, remember to be kind to yourself and others. As Jesus puts it in Matthew 22:39, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Have a blessed week. Will