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Thoughts For Allies Of Mental Illness

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Being an ally for mental health means listening and offering compassion.

 You may have heard of the Sufi in history class.  The Sufi were spawned from the origins of Islam, around the 7th Century, and emphasize a more mystical, personal, and inward journey in their Muslim faith.  We’d like to share with you one of the stories from the Sufi about compassion and to connect that with what it means to be an ally for someone who experiences mental illness:

A long time ago, there was a man who wandered into a strange land.  Shortly after entering this strange land, this traveler saw a number of its inhabitants screaming and running away from a field.  They exclaimed, “MONSTER! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!”  His curiosity piqued, the traveler decided to take a look for himself and saw a watermelon.

He turned to the villagers running away and said, “You have nothing to be afraid of!  I’ll take care of your monster.”  With that, he knelt down, took out his knife, cut the watermelon from the stalk.  He sat down on the ground, carved out a slice, and began to eat it.  The villagers, perplexed shouted, “Chase him away for he shall take care of us next, and in the same manner!”  With that, they grabbed their pitchforks and chased him away.

A few days later, another man wandered into this strange land and the villagers were still talking about their monster.  The man saw the watermelon and decided to help.  However, he didn’t mention any word of the watermelon and began to settle in and live with them, learning their language and customs.  Over time, he gradually taught them about the watermelon, that it was actually harmless and good for food.  The villagers were delighted and thanked the man for teaching them.

What was the difference between the two men who tried to help the villagers?  One went in and used the situation to play the hero, making himself the center of the solution.  The second one lived with the villagers, learned their language, and befriended them.

Henri Nouwen writes about this story in his book Compassion and uses it to emphasize the potential of trying too hard to help, which actually hurts the process in the long run.  However, if we can be like the second traveler, who was more concerned about his relationship with the villagers, we can help turn someone’s dis-ability into something that, in the end, has the potential to be a gift to themselves and others.

Nouwen writes, “We often think that service means to give something to others, to tell them how to speak, act, or behave; but now it appears that above all else, real, humble service is helping our neighbors discover that they possess great but often hidden talents that can enable them to do even more for us than we can do for them.”

At the PTI, we’re here as a source of encouragement and as a resource for those on the journey towards achieving mental health.  We’re ready to partner with you and your family in supporting anyone and everyone who walks through our doors.

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