Smiling at Strangers

IMG_1450-3.JPG

You know when something awful happens in the world and you wish there was something you could have done? When the world seems full of atrocity and pain and anguish and you feel like an insignificant dot of plankton floating around in an huge, scary cold ocean without purpose? I know it’s not just me who feels like this on a fairly regular basis. I also know that I am important and I do make a difference and I’ve written about this here and here.

Reading back through past posts can help me remember.

This morning I woke up to the news that Robin Williams lost his battle with depression and seemingly decided to take his own life. Hearing stories like this always feel like a punch in my stomach. People who’ve never experienced depression or supported someone through it won’t know the dark depths it takes you to. I pray they never will.

Supporting someone through depression is hard enough, but what about all of the people who are suffering in silence? What can we do to help them? One in four people in the UK suffer with some kind of mental illness and many of them are suffocated by stigma. They feel ashamed, alone and frightened to tell anyone.

This is where we can help. We can all help. You see, we don’t need to wait until somebody “comes out” about their depression or other mental illness. We don’t even need to know about it at all.

We just need to be kind.

Nice to people.

Cut them some slack.

Smile at strangers…. We don’t know what they’re going through…. We have no idea what their demons are but a smile from you might be the highlight of someone’s day. One kind word from a stranger might be be enough to restore somebody’s faith in human nature…. It could give them the strength to get through one more day. One more dark night.

I shared a post on my personal Facebook page this morning. As with every time I speak publicly (or at least virtually) about my own struggles I received a message from yet another friend struggling with depression and afraid to tell anyone. We discussed medication and treatment and he said to me: “I’d never have guessed you were ill. You always seem so happy”.

And there you have it, friends. Some of us are masters at hiding our pain from others, for many reasons. Sometimes to protect out loved ones and save them worry and other times out of fear and shame. You can never tell what a person is going through.

There is always something we can do. There’s always a small ripple to be created. It starts with us. You and me. We can do something. We can smile at strangers. We can and we should and we absolutely must…because lives may well depend on it and love simply has to win. Only bright light can chase away shadows.

If you are suffering and need help, please know that it is out there for you. You matter and you are loved. Please call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90.

Doing It Anyway – My Messy Beautiful

Image

 

“Everything is a miracle. It’s a miracle that one does not dissolve in one’s bath like a lump of sugar”  - Pablo Picasso

 

A month or so ago, my absolute favourite blogger in the entire world announced that she’d be opening her website up to guest submissions. Glennon Melton blogs at Momastery. Her words are so incredibly moving, amusing, inspirational and thought-provoking that two years ago when I first discovered Momastery, I spent every spare moment over the course of about two weeks devouring every single word of each and every post she’d written in the preceding four years. Like chocolate cake for my soul. I laughed and cried and changed how I viewed womankind.

 

It was Glennon’s words that inspired me to start sharing my own thoughts via my blog, nearly eighteen months ago.  At first it seemed a ridiculous idea. Who would possibly be interested in anything I have to say, anyway? Why would anybody care about my rambling ideas on life? And anyway, there are so many amazing blogs and incredible writers out there. I couldn’t possibly measure up.

 

But then I remembered reading something that Glennon had shared on Facebook. I can’t recall the exact quote but it was along the lines of “I will not let that which I cannot do stop me from doing what I can.”

 

As I sit here, having stared at a blank screen for a while, I’m reminding myself of this advice. The thought of one of my posts sharing a page on Momastery feels a bit like being thrust on stage with Beyonce Knowles and told to harmonise, when you’ve only ever sung out loud in the car and even then your children told you to pipe down as they couldn’t hear One Direction over your caterwauling.

 

Starting my blog was scary and daunting but I did it anyway.

 

There will always be someone better at something than me. And you, too. There will be more inspiring writers, better dancers, funnier raconteurs. There will certainly be better singers. But, do you know what? I think we should sing anyway. Dance anyway. Write anyway. Just…. do it anyway.

 

Because someone, somewhere needs to hear your song, to feel your music. They need you to make them smile today. Or start a conversation. Or lend a shaky hand. Other people might be better qualified. More polished. More confident than you. Do it anyway. Smile at somebody. Make eye contact. Say hello. Do it anyway.

 

But, but… what if you’re not enough? Just…do it anyway.

 

Life is hard. Harder for some than others. Weathering storms makes us more grateful for calmer waters when they eventually arrive. We learn to somehow stay afloat. Sometimes by clinging on for dear life to the nearest buoyant object, thrashing about and gasping for air. But what if each storm is pushing us forward? Teaching us to swim and not sink? To use our survival skills to build a raft? A raft to lift others out of the depths, to offer sanctuary and somewhere safe and dry for those who are frantically treading water behind us?

 

It’s connection that keeps us going. Support from others when we can barely stand, nevermind swim.

 

The woman you see at the school gates…. the one who never makes eye contact or smiles? Smile at her anyway. You don’t know what she’s going through. Make space on the raft.

 

And the competitive parent? The one who seems to be passing judgement on you and your child-rearing skills with her every utterance? Take a deep breath and remind yourself that she is struggling, too;  There’s space on the raft. There’s always room for one more.

 

The only way I can think of to teach my children to be compassionate, kind and caring individuals is to lead by example. I can’t change the world, but as I’ve said many times before on my blog, I can create small ripples. A smile, a hello, or some words of encouragement might be all I can offer at times. This might seem futile given the pain and sorrow that so many endure on a daily basis. But I’ll do it anyway. It may not seem enough, but I’ll do it anyway. Those who don’t smile back may well be the ones who need smiles the most, you see. Smile anyway.

 

I very nearly didn’t write this post. I couldn’t think of anything that seemed worthy of sharing. Anything good enough. But, guess what? I’m doing it anyway.

Image
  1. This essay and I are part of the Messy, Beautiful Warrior Project — To learn more and join us, CLICK HERE! And to learn about Glennon’s New York Times Bestselling Memoir, Carry On Warrior: The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, just released in paperback, CLICK HERE!

Finding The Music

“Music is a moral law. It gives soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and charm and gaiety to life and to everything.” Plato

Image


Monkey and I were temporarily stranded in our car the other day on account of a veritable monsoon outside. Trees seemed to bend at unnatural angles nearby as rain smashed horizontally into my windscreen. The sky was a menacing and murky shade of black and mid-morning looked very much like dusk.

Like a stuck record I found myself sighing, complaining and moaning about the weather, as we waited for a gap in the downpour lengthy enough to allow us to dash from car to shop and hopefully back again.

It was at this point that my little boy said:
“I like the sound of the rain on the roof, mummy. It sounds like music“.

Music
? I hadn’t thought of that. The soundtrack to my bad mood was in fact melodic to his ears. Despite the grey, the cold and the wet he had somehow found the music. Found harmony. Exacted some joy from the situation.

I think children are incredible teachers if we can only learn to listen to their lessons, but in order to do so we need to slow down. In actual fact, on that rainy day recently we were in no particular hurry. It really didn’t matter if we spent five minutes longer in the car. It wasn’t necessary for me to huff and puff and moan. I could’ve just enjoyed some one-on-one time with my son and made the most of it. Tuned in to life’s radio, turned the volume up and sang along, as it were.
Life can be so fast paced. Dashing between drop-offs, panicking over pick-ups, hurrying through homework, procuring presents for parties and worrying about work. I sometimes think that if this phase of my life were to have a soundtrack it would be the Flight of the Bumblebee. Go go go… Don’t stop! Press on! Hurry!

In actual fact, musical moments are everywhere if only we can make ourselves slow down enough to hear them. We race through life at warp speed without pausing to listen to it’s harmonies.

Obviously the sweet sounding laughter of my babies and their words of love and affection are like music to my soul. But in all honesty, sometimes the sound of my husband’s key in the door is the sweetest music to my ears, with the words “Goodnight Mummy” coming in at number two in the chart.

As I sit writing today, it’s almost 11am on a Monday morning. It’s quiet. Both children are in school. I can hear the clock ticking quietly, the gentle hum of the fridge and birdsong from outside. These sounds are peaceful. Undisturbed. Mundane, even. But alongside the rhythmic, understated percussion from my tapping keyboard they make an uplifting melody. Their tones resonate positivity after several weeks of silent, whispered apathy.

I’m able to write again, which means I’m in a better place. The keystrokes a tip-tap of positivity and hope. Of words which, until recently, had been drowned out by the din of self-doubt, deafening depression and audible anxiety. But as I sit here now, in this moment. I hear calm and I feel more peaceful than I have in weeks, if not months. And really, this moment, this verse and this note is all that matters. All that ever matters. Hearing the harmonies, listening to life’s lyrics. Slowing down, seeking out and taking in those few joyful moments a day. One day at a time.

Because let’s face it; All the world may be a stage but we aren’t characters in a musical.

We won’t skip from place to place with orchestral accompaniment, joyfully and gleefully dancing our way from one blissfully perfect day to the next; Merrily separating our fighting children and going about our daily chores with palpable ebullience. (In fact, if this is the case, we might need to speak to the doctor about getting our meds changed again).

Life is not always up-tempo. Sometimes the backing track will be more melancholy than mellifluous. Now and then you might find ear-splitting death-metal will be the anthem of the day and even locking yourself in the bathroom won’t afford you a nanosecond’s peace and quiet from your little monsters.

We can’t expect symphonic raptures all day, every day. But if we can stop and find the music every so often… if we can fill our ears with their polyphonic laughter and their gentle, sleeping breaths, allowing the music to sink in to our souls once in a while, I think we’re winning.

Some days life’s orchestra is pitch perfect. Others are more attuned to a beginner’s recorder recital but there’s meaning in the music and melody in the moments, if we listen hard enough for it.

So this week, try to keep your internal jukebox in check, Avoid discordant stuck records and negative thoughts if you can. Turn the volume down on them. Crank up the bass on a tune that makes you smile and dance with your children until they begin to look at you like you’ve lost your mind. Make your own music if you can’t find any. Listen out for the joy.