(November 14, 2009)

A couple of days ago a friend sent me photographs comparing how good most of us have it with how bad things are for some people. There was a picture of a plump, well-fed baby next to a picture of a starving baby, all skin and bones. Another picture showed a pair of Adidas shoes next to a pair of feet wearing sandals made from recycled plastic bottles. Yet another showed a child in a warm, cozy bed with lots of covers next to a picture of a child sleeping on a mat on the floor without even clothes to cover his body.

The purpose was to show how little we really have to complain about. We shouldn’t be complaining.

It made me think of my friends living with depression, and how their complaints are often disapproved of. It made me think of the complaining I do when I’m in emotional distress. Should I be feeling bad about myself for expressing my pain?

It made me think of a friend who is right now in hospital because she found it so hard to live in the world, having to put on a face, having to act as though well, though she was suffering so much inside. I wish she’d feel that when she’s with me she doesn’t need to act. I wish she’d feel that she can be real with me. I wish she’d feel she can complain, to share what she’s feeling if it would make her feel better.

Feelings and emotions run deep. We don’t know how to show a person’s emotional anguish in photographs. If we could, then perhaps we would compare this anguish with a healthy, happy mind, and see how huge the gulf in between is….and we would be moved to compassion by such an image in the same way we are moved to compassion when we see an image of a starving child. Because deep depression is extremely painful, painful enough to cause death (by suicide), as starvation can cause death.

Trouble is, emotional pain is a pain we can’t see or imagine if we haven’t been there. So then people slough it off as complaining over nothing. “Look at all you have” or “look how fortunate you are” doesn’t cut it with a person in emotional crisis.

People with emotional pain “need to” share it with the friends who love them. They need our understanding and compassion. People in crisis find relief by sharing with someone who has understanding and compassion. They need to have a chance to talk, to let it all out. If they don’t, the feelings will fester within and grow worse.

I guess that’s what makes Living Room so valuable. It’s a place where we have a chance to talk. A chance to “complain” where we will be understood and accepted.