|This is Part 2 of several in exploring our eyes.
In Canada, a mental health awareness program is sponsored by Bell Media (the telephone company). As a social cause, all the country had to do was post or share Bell, Let’s Talk on any social media platform, and Bell would donate five cents for every mention.
The program has run its course (for many reasons), and next year it will be replaced by a flat donation of $10 million given to charities that specialize in improving people’s mental health.
I always found the messages of Bell, Let’s Talk, very hard to grasp. How does one pick up the phone or confront a person IRL with – hey, how’s your mental health these days? Even if we CAN say these words, what is the next step? How long are we supposed to keep the conversation going? How do we end the convo, and what kind of call to action should we give?
And the poor people we are talking to. What if they feel we are imposing on them? What if we are not part of their trusted inner circle? How do we tell the difference between them lying to our face to protect themselves and being raw and vulnerable?
I have a tiny bit of experience in this.
My Mom, when she was sixty, attempted suicide. How did I find out?
I stopped by her apartment to pick her up and drive her to a scheduled doctor’s appointment. After 30 minutes in the waiting room, the doctor beckoned me to the exam room. Your mother attempted suicide, he said and showed me her damaged wrists. Mother was NOT happy about his tattling.
After a year of being inside the mental health world, Mom was significantly better; I was significantly better informed. Two years after the doctor’s visit, we both took the regular mental ups and downs in stride. Mom lived with us for seventeen years. I saw up close, and personal how insidious mental illness can be and how (relatively) easy it is to be a good confidant.
Mental illness never happens overnight.
It is not a spontaneous combustion kind of thing. It takes time to build up.
The thing about families and close friends is we take them for granted. It’s so much easier to side-step the annoying tiffs and eccentric personalities. And naturally, OUR lives are of supreme importance — and take priority over having an up close and personal convo with most of them — about THEIR lives.
The other day, I considered a better approach to people’s overall mental wellness. I am not saying what I am proposing here is the de facto answer. However, starting a conversation with your family, friend, or colleague might be one way.
Begin early by looking at or into their eyes. Many kinds of mental illnesses take time to develop and take hold. So watch their eyes. Are they dull, lifeless, downcast, sad, avoiding, or shifting? One of the first signs to look for is the vibrancy in their eyes.
When that vibrancy goes, it is often too late.
My social feeds and zoom feeds are filled with people living a great life—laughing, with friends, on vacations, celebrating new life, success and everything it means to be them while dining out and purchasing all kinds of neat things. So many with filters, far fewer without.
But here is what I REALLY see when I look at them or their pictures. In too many cases, their eyes have no light, no brightness. Only dullness and pain. Regardless of how turned up their lips are or how bright their teeth are. Their giggles and laughter are too often forced or followed by hollow sighs.
That tells me something is seriously wrong. That tells me they may or may not even know something is seriously wrong. Looking at their eyes gives a much more complete picture.
I would have seen the pain she was carrying if I had looked into my mother’s eyes twenty or even ten years before her sixtieth birthday. Had I taken the time to peer into her eyes, I might have been able to steer her to a safe ledge. But, instead, I did what so many of us do. I prioritized my own issues ahead of hers and relied on the fact that ‘she’s been there all along, so she’ll always be there.’
Here’s the truth. We ALL have stories to tell. Many of those stories are not pretty. Some are downright ugly and shameful. And we need to get those stories out of us to preserve our sanity. Not to mention to feel heard and understood for the first time in our lives.
But in this crazy world we live in, so self-obsessed with our own lives, we don’t think about looking at another person’s eyes. So instead, we keep moving forward, expecting them to tell us what is happening and giving them a few seconds of free time that we can grab.
Gentle reader, peer into their eyes if you want to impact the lives of those you love. Assess whether a spark, a light, or even a bright shine is evident. And if you notice it is missing, could you try this?
“Hey, how are you today? Your eyes don’t seem to have their usual spark. What’s weighing you down?” Then shut up.
Could you wait for them to speak? You. Must. BE. If they want to fluff you off, say, “Hey, no. I really care about you. Can you please tell me what’s going on?” And then stay in the moment. Because you have now signalled to them that you truly care.
And if you do meet up with them two or more times, and don’t see that lightness and brightness in their eyes, trust me, there is a problem. So be a good human, and ask them what you can do for them. And be very, very patient.
None of us want pity.
On the contrary, we all want genuine love and concern. Our mental wellness depends on it.
So, do them a huge favour. Start early and really look into their eyes. Invite them to tell you how they really are today.