Being kind to someone, especially those who are “difficult” or moody people, is NOT just the absence of being “mean” to them.
Rather it’s SEEING them, sometimes going out of your way to have an opportunity to encourage them, and making the effort to recognize their pain.
We talk a lot about bullies, mental illness in teens and about preventing suicide, and we think it means only to, do no harm but in reality if the person seems damaged to us we (inadvertently?) avoid them, avoid eye contact, or conversation. And the harm is already done because so much of their pain comes from being invisible, only visible when they act out or melt down. And even then they are not a person, they are a spectacle, an example of how not to be.
These people suffer alone. In their loneliness, sadness and despair bloom like a poisonous flower until the pain is unbearable, and then they do something unthinkable. The silence and the isolation are the sun and the water to this poisonous plant that eventually takes root in their hearts and minds.
Each rejection is a new breeding ground for depression: never being picked for the team or the study group, being told the community league is “full”, never being invited to the party or the sleepover, daily ISS because the teachers can’t have one child taking over their class with constant outbursts. It’s being the kid that the school police officers know by name and the kid who eats alone or in the classroom with a teacher who took pity on him. It’s being the kid that other kids like until they learn that he is “that kid” and the desperate feeling of loss and unbearable rejection overcome them and the sobs of rejection break their parent’s heart.
Invisible children become all but forgotten about.
Their families also suffer alone because mental illness is not the kind of disease that people can mentally or emotionally deal with. It’s an emotional plague we are all afraid we will catch if we get too close, so we stand back and pray. Which is often a spiritual word meaning, “do nothing at all,” (because we don’t pray or we pray once and go back to our favorite Netflix show.) There is no meal sign up list, balloons or flowers, and no get-well cards. There are rarely any words of encouragement because we can’t find the words; we can’t just say, “I’m super sorry your kid is crazy.”
And then we wonder what is wrong with society, and we blame the government, the politicians and education system. We blame the NRA, lobbyists and video games. We argue about legalizing pot and how corrupt “big pharm” is. We argue about EVERYTHING. And we blame everyone. Because “blame” is another word for, “all talk and no action.”
See we ARE society. We are what is good and what is bad in this world. Society is where collective and individual decisions are made on WHO and WHAT matters. Often what we say matters to us, only matters to us on social media or in the moment, but our actions are as dull as a spoon and just as useless at cutting to the heart of the problem.
When we do nothing, nothing is what we should expect. No changes in teen depression, anxiety or addiction. No decrease in school violence, self-harm or suicide. No value shifts or policy changes. Just a vastness of nothing but the darkness of loneliness and the shame that surrounds mental illness. And invisible children become all but forgotten about.
While we are complaining about the president, congress and Obamacare, while we are saying a hasty prayer for our friend’s kid (that we don’t let our kid hang out with), or shifting to the other side of the hallway to avoid the weird kid at school, thousands of teenagers are obsessing over their pain and sinking into despair and hopelessness. Sometimes they are planning to harm other kids, going unnoticed even when they say they will do it, or obviously have the wit and tools to make it happen. Because when mentally ill kids talk, they are still invisible.
The mentally anguished teens who can’t hurt another person are sometimes literally planning their own deaths, doing research, collecting supplies and rehearsing in their minds how they will do it until their minds accept it as normal, viable and even desirable. And poof just like that they are gone, never to be unseen again.
But we would never ever allow a child to suffer or die alone.