What Depression taught me about Black Lives, Trump Voters, and the Homeless

Last week, I came across a Facebook sticker that claimed the following:

Food is the most abused anxiety drug.
Exercise is the most underutilized antidepressant.

I agree with the generality of this statement. There are people who abuse food as a coping mechanism, and exercise is proven to release endorphins. True and true.

But, I did what you’re not supposed to do: read the comments.

A lady who apparently has never suffered from chronic depression decided to impart her expertise about the issue. Bless her heart.

“Feed the homeless and hungry. Take a poor person to lunch. That is a great antidepressant…thinking of someone other than me me me.”

I wish it were that easy. Yes, her suggestion is a good one for people who are dealing with situational depression. But for those who, regardless of their circumstance, require medication to help keep them centered, doing things for others is not the remedy. Their problem is not that they are experiencing an egocentric pity party. Depression is a disorder. You can’t just random-acts-of-kindness it away.

She made a call based on her own perception of a plight she doesn’t understand. And, quite honestly, it made her look foolish.

But how often do we do that?

Consider the white person who argues that black people are not the victims of racism. That black people are the ones keeping it alive. That if they look like thugs, they deserve to be treated like thugs. That if they would just follow an officer’s orders, most of their problems would simply go away. It’s easy to look at someone else and say exactly what they should do to fix all their issues.

But, of course, I’m not black. I will never be black. I don’t know what it feels like to be fearful of my child leaving the house with a hoodie to keep warm in the cooler months, or to know there is a greater chance of prejudice against me and those I love, just because of my skin color. And because my skin is white, I will never understand what it feels like to be in a black person’s shoes, anymore than a man understands what it’s like to be in labor.

Or consider the person who labels every single Trump voter as a racist, misogynistic nationalist. They argue that if you voted for Trump, you give zero cares about social issues, and that you are, quite frankly, a piece of trash.

But what about the farmers who are living in poverty who don’t have the luxury to fight for social issues. They are barely surviving and able to care for their families. These men and women needed to take a chance on something politically different to see if it might sustain their families a bit longer. The current system wasn’t working for them. They are in survival mode.

I’ve never lived in poverty. I don’t know what it’s like to worry about feeding my family and supplying shoes for my kids. To keep my children home from school just to have the manpower to work the fields. Is it fair to call him a racist, misogynistic nationalist just because he took a chance on improving his family’s quality of life? I’ve never even spoken to him. I don’t understand his issues, his concerns. But too often I feel justified because he hasn’t taken up the cross I deem most important.

Or consider the homeless man on the street corner. He is labeled a no-good moocher who just needs to get a job. Anyone who gives him help is an enabler. And, if you give him money, you KNOW he’s going to spend it on drugs and alcohol.

But I’ve never been homeless. I’ve never experienced the soul-crushing humility it must take to ask for help. I’ve never stood on a street corner during a blazing hot summer day, cardboard sign in hand asking for a meal or bottle of water. I’ve never had a disability that might make it impossible for me to have a job, leaving begging as my only option.

And the list goes on and on.

Are we right in the assumptions we make? Sometimes. I’m sure there are black men who might still be alive if they had followed an officer’s orders. I’m sure there are followers of Trump who are racist. I’m sure there are beggars who are scammers.

However, it is foolish to tell someone with depression that they need to just stop thinking about themselves, or to ignore people of color’s plea to listen to their concerns of marginalization. Or to call every person I know who voted for Trump a misogynistic racist. Or to tell the homeless man on the street corner that he needs to quit asking for handouts and get a job.

The lady who threw every case of depression into the egocentric basket was a great reminder to me. The next time I am tempted to tell people what they are and how to fix all their problems, I need to take a moment to step back, to ask myself if I know what it’s like to be in that person’s shoes. Because if that’s never been my plight in life, sometimes the best action I can take is one of humility. To ask questions. To listen. To try to understand.

To not speak.

The only way we will understand is to engage. But too often we build walls around ourselves with our words. Usually words that make us look like the fools.

We mistake our passions and opinions for authority.

Perhaps one of the greatest tragedies is people who are unable or unwilling to see from any perspective other than their own.

I don’t want to pretend I know what it’s like to be in someone else’s shoes. But if someone is willing to share with me, I want to listen.

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