Perhaps We Could All Work on Growing Compassion
When my daughter was in preschool the teacher would ask the children to grow patience. I always loved this expression and today I’m wondering if we could all benefit from growing our compassion.
I have been shocked and saddened to read some of the angry reactions to the tragic death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. Is there any other way to put it but tragic-a man in the prime of life, at the top of his career, who had been clean and sober for over twenty years found dead in his underwear in a bathroom with a needle in his arm. Why do people insist on talking about ‘free will’ and ‘bad choices’ when someone dies of the often fatal disease that is addiction?
As a society we give such mixed messages.
When someone is mentally ill and acts violent we all want answers and wonder why wasn’t this person being treated? Yet look at the messages that continue to crop around mental illness and addiction-be strong, pull yourself by your bootstraps, we all have free will, that person was irresponsible and made bad choices. I have worked with clients who have security clearances and tell me at the start of therapy “I can’t be on medication I will lose my clearance” or “I can’t be doing therapy because it will affect my clearance”. Now whether or not these people are correct this is the clear message or perception they have about getting treatment and the negative consequences that may happen if they do.
Sometimes people need help.
Sometimes brain chemistry overwhelms logic and good choices. I have seen people so depressed they cannot see how to keep living. They don’t want to feel this way-it is torturous and despairing for them. But part of the devastation of these illnesses is that it removes the ability to think and see clearly. People are operating at a tremendous deficit. We all understand the flu. We understand that a person can be so knocked out that getting off the couch or just ‘pulling it together’ is not going to work. Why do we still have such a hard time applying this to addiction and mental illness? Very few people want to be incapacitated by illness and I dare say nobody wants to die Elvis-style on the floor of a bathroom in their underwear taken out by a drug overdose. Doesn’t logic tell us this is not what Philip Seymour Hoffman wanted for himself or his family?
We have to do better to at least try to understand what is going on here. We have to keep learning about the brain and the ways it gets hijacked by addiction or depression or anxiety and find better ways to treat these illnesses.
If we want people to get treatment we have to put our money where our mouth is and stop shaming them and their families about therapy and medication.
The good news is there are successful treatments for some of these illnesses but as a society we can not just invest ourselves in ‘those people getting better’. The least we can do is check ourselves and change how we talk about treatment.
It is devastating to see someone you care about be brought to their knees by mental illness. If you haven’t had to bear witness to such pain then count your blessings, understand that you have limited knowledge about the issue and try to grow your compassion for those who are struggling mightily.
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