Like any person you might know, I’ve been hurt by other people. Particularly memorable experiences get thrown into my baggage, to be carried until some unforeseen moment. Now, having collected enough kick knacks in past relationships, unsure what to do with them, I have started a lot of my recent new encounters by boldly opening up the bag and showing off a particular piece to gauge reactions. At times I just can’t help it—I forget to distill my past experiences and express only the more palatable ones. It’s not the best gauge of character for the person I meet, and can be rather unfair from my end to do so. Despite all of that, if I don’t see clues of “fight or flight” kicking in, sometimes I can make a new friend because a very special type of connection is forged.
The contents of my baggage are often tied to my mental illness in one way or another. Likely, because our empathy is best engaged whenever we recognize an emotion we ourselves have gone through, I have found that those who carry similar pieces, or symptoms, are always the kinder, and more forgiving. They’ve been more patient when I have to explain my irrational behavior and less judgmental about the life choices I have to make to avoid triggers or something similar. Overall, they’re just incredible people who make me feel like I belong.
They’re Giving People to A Fault
As with any long-term condition, although I would hope it doesn’t define us, mental illness affects most aspects of life. It’s no small point to note that people who have lived experience with depression, for example, are more likely treat my knick-knacks gently, almost as if they were their own. So many fellow depression sufferers are the kind of people who, although depressed themselves, carry an antiseptic and bandages in case their friend, whom they’ve seen self-harm before, relapses. They are the kind of person who will reach out and listen to you discuss your tough day although they might not be having the best one either.
It’s no coincidence either that I am often offered love and care with no expectation of a return. I know it’s in part because helping others has been proven to help ourselves, but it’s also because we know how it feels to live with something outwardly inexplicable and invisible.
They’re Often Empaths
I wouldn’t wish being an empath upon anyone, but this makes this trait in others all the more valuable to me. Having empathy means when I come to that person with a complaint or a worry, they will respond as though it is theirs, the way they would hope someone would treat them when they’ve felt similar emotions. There are certainly those whose depression made them feel empty—those who have had to re-learn emotions. And I have seen even those people offer more moral support to someone suffering than someone who has enjoyed a fairly uneventful life overall.
I will say 9/10 of those who have also lived through a mental illness have more to offer emotionally. Someone who has confronted their depression instead of repressing it will be unlikely to ask you to repress your emotions. Indeed, they might prefer to dissect them instead. They will study them just like you do.
Questions like “why do you think this is happening,” “is this triggering a memory you don’t like”, “do you need to talk about it,” and my favorite, “isn’t it interesting how people…” will come out of their mouths. One of my closest current friends described exactly this quality as a reason she wanted to spend so much time with me. It was as though she always watched the world from the sidelines and just now learned that there are others watching from the same angle, while the rest of the world seems to be able to fully experience a wide range of emotional understanding without such observation.
I am not implying there is a league of nice people that are made such solely because they have a mental illness. I don’t want to encourage a victim-type mentality in order to gain friends. However, I have made new friends through having this common issue, and have strengthened my relationships with old ones by opening up on this topic.
Look into your bag. If you yourself carry similar items, take a moment. Consider their usefulness and beauty before you permit your mind to discount their value to others.
Depression might be a type of baggage, but it’s one that makes for some incredible bonds with exceptional people.