Loving the People Who May Not Love You Back (Loving with Depression Series)

by - February 19, 2018

When I planned this post in the Loving with Depression Series, it was just another idea to write about. The next step in the process of learning to love when you have mental illness: love yourself, love your friends and family, love everybody right?

But as I reflected on my own experiences and those of my friends, I realized how hard it is to feel love for strangers (or people who barely rank as acquaintances), especially when you are depressed and struggle to love yourself. Loving the people who already love you is one thing, but what about the people we barely know, who may not (likely will not) reciprocate our acts of love? 

I don’t have all the answers, but here is what I know:

I remember feeling alone for most of high school. Anxiety, depression, and a workaholic mentality no doubt contributed to my lack of friends, but I had another problem too. I believed that my friendlessness was caused by others and took on the role of the victim. Over the years, I had heard a number of stories about people whose lives were changed when someone reached out to them. That was all that was missing from my life right? Someone to befriend me and make my life better?

Long story short, that never happened. Over my many days of bemoaning my lack of friends, my mom impressed upon me something that has since turned into part of my life philosophy:

Most people aren’t going around trying to make sure that everyone feels loved and cared for, like they have friends, and many people fall through the cracks between social circles. But, instead of resigning ourselves to a life of friendlessness, we need to step up and be that person. The person who sat by someone who was sitting by themselves at lunch. The person to befriend the friendless. To put aside our own anxieties and fears, and help someone else deal with theirs. 

Let’s pull in a quote from Gandhi“If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. ... We need not wait to see what others do.”

We don’t need to wait for others to love us. When we feel alone and depressed, the thankless work of trying make strangers (or people who barely rank as acquaintances) feel loved does not sound appealing. How can we give away love when we don’t have much of it? Don’t we need to save it for ourselves? 

The answer is no. Love is not a quantifiable thing. It’s not like being handed a sheet of stickers and we can only give away or keep the number of stickers on that sheet. Rather, love is like a muscle. The more you use it, the stronger it gets. The more you show love for others, the more love you have to give. We don’t need to wait for someone to hand us our stickers; we can start working our muscles right here right now.

When I was depressed in high school, my love muscles atrophied. I became so focused on my own pain, and prayed for someone to alleviate that pain. It took much prodding from my mom (who is one of the most selfless people I know), and several doses of humility to get me to shift my focus to others. 

I remember one time I went to sit by a girl who was sitting by herself during lunch. It turns out this girl wasn’t lonely at all. She was probably the most emotionally secure person I ever met. We ended up having a couple classes together later in the year. I don’t know that I really made a big difference in her life, but it was my first step towards looking outside myself. 

I tried a similar approach with a few different people. I’m not sure if I made any sort of difference in their lives, but the act of showing love for others made a difference in my own loving muscles. The more I did it, the easier it became. 

We will never know the full impact that our actions have on others. In our results driven society, that doesn’t sound like a good investment. Why put effort into something if you never get to see the results? Showing love to everyone, friend or stranger, may not result in trophies or gold medals, but it results in a stronger you, a stronger society. One that takes care of each other so that no one falls through the cracks.

What do you think? How can we show love for everyone around us so that no one gets left out? 

Stay amiable, 

Read the rest of the Loving with Depression series: 

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