You Are Not Alone

There are 7.3 billion people on the planet… and growing.

As human beings, we all essentially want the same things. Yes, of course, food, shelter, and safety are paramount.  But after the basic needs are met, I believe what most people really want most is to feel connected. In some ways that is why I started writing a blog: To connect with others. Sometimes that connection happens with a relative stranger. Right place. Right time… and maybe the right questions.

Last week, I was taking a long walk and ran into someone who I knew… although I don’t know her well. We started talking about the weather, our dogs and then our kids. She was excited to share some good news about one of her sons becoming a dad and her daughter was getting married. She seemed happy as she shared her good news, but there was a “but” in her voice. So I asked, “This is all good news right?” That’s when she casually mentioned that her other son was having trouble finding a job. Keeping a job. Apparently, her son is very bright (as are all her three kids), but this one seems to have more trouble staying focused. As we started talking more, she admitted that he was having trouble getting out of the house. Her house. He still lives at home. Apparently, some days her son doesn’t want to get out of bed. I gently asked, “Do you think he might be suffering from depression?” She got very quiet and then said, “Maybe… and he’s been drinking a lot too.” She said that she and her husband have struggled with what to do about this situation. Their other two kids seem to be thriving, but this son dropped out of college and is living at home with no prospects of further education or employment. I asked if he was getting counseling or taking any medication? She said, “No.”  They tried something a while back and the drug made things worse. She also, confided in me that her best friend’s son lost his own battle with depression and committed suicide a few years ago. She’s afraid this might happen to her son too.

Suddenly, the tone of our conversation shifted dramatically. Apparently, she and her husband have kept this situation very private, and they have very different points of view on how to handle it. The husband thinks it will resolve itself in good time. She thinks it might be more serious than that. I could see that there were layers of pain being revealed here: The admission that her son was not functioning in society. The admission that it has caused stress in their marriage. Then the admission that her son might be suffering from depression and that they don’t know what to do about it. When she was done confessing this family secret, I could see a visible sign of relief, but I could also feel her pain. It was palpable.

So it was my turn to share.

I told her that just in this past year, I have had a few friends and family members who have suffered from debilitating anxiety and depression. Thankfully they all found help, but for each one of them, it was a different path. I reassured her that there is a lot of help available:  Inpatient programs. Outpatient programs. Psychiatry. Cognitive Therapy. Behavioral therapy. Family counseling, western medications... and alternative treatments too.

She felt like her son would benefit greatly from a daily routine to avoid becoming totally reclusive. She frequently asks him to take walks with her, but most of the time he is not interested. I, too, am a big believer in having daily routines and think walking (and talking) can be very healing. I even know a therapist who does “walking therapy.” Rather than sitting in an office doing “talk therapy,” she takes it outside and so they “walk and talk”. The irony that we ended up having our own impromptu therapy session on this walk is not lost on me.

As we were talking, her son came down the street to take a walk (I had never met him before). Aside from his disheveled appearance, he was a handsome young man with a gorgeous smile. He was quite engaging, although quite shy. We talked for a bit. He was on his way to physical therapy for a shoulder injury. We bonded when I shared my own stories of struggling with a shoulder injury myself. He found it particularly amusing when I recounted my tales of plotting to kill my husband during that time — as my husband continued to play tennis for hours at a time, paying no attention to my chronic pain, or my isolation. This story made him laugh, and in turn, I could see his Mom was smiling too. I got the feeling that she hadn’t seen her son smile in a long time. For this moment in time, there was a connection made… and there was a shared moment of compassion, hope, and optimism.

We said our goodbyes and I realized the serendipity of running into my friend and her son. My friend was silently suffering over her beautiful, intelligent son’s struggle with life, and she was at odds with her husband about how to handle it.

I don’t know if they will get him in the right program or find the right medication, but for the 30 minutes that we chatted, there was this profound connection. A relief from the unburdening of a family secret… and a family stressor.

How did I know what questions to ask? I didn’t. People will tell you what’s on their mind… if you just listen. In this case, it was a Mom excited to share some good news about two of her adult children, but I could see there was something else on her mind. What started as a mother’s casual concern about her son finding a job was really about something much deeper.

She needed to connect with someone about this. I just happened to be there at the right time to ask a few simple questions... and the floodgates opened up. My hope is that this chance encounter will have a positive impact on this family, and become a lifeline to finding the right help.