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Monday, April 27, 2015

It's Not All About YOU! (Why helping others helps you)

If you're struggling with depression or low self-esteem or eating issues...whatever your issue is, what do you do to help yourself? What do you do to make yourself feel better when you're feeling down and really battling to get through the days?

My therapist often asks me this question. I meditate. I write. I spend time with my girls. I golf with my husband. I pray or go to church. And most importantly, I volunteer.

I am involved in two volunteer activities on a regular basis, and interestingly, they both involve food. This is not lost on me. Or my therapist. Or my dietician.

I drive for Meals on Wheels once a month, and I serve on the line at a local community soup kitchen. I love doing both of these things. I look forward to when it's my turn to volunteer. I can't imagine my life without these organizations and pastimes. If my Meals on Wheels coordinator calls and asks me to fill in for someone else, I (usually) always say yes. Right away. I know how happy and filled up I will be afterwards. It's funny that Meals on Wheels and the soup kitchen "feed" my soul and satiate me--all food words and images. But it's the truth.

Have you read any research on how volunteering helps the volunteers? It lowers blood pressure, improves mood, it increases endorphins and creates a phenomenon known as "helper's high." For anyone who has ever dealt with depression, you know very well how it leads to isolation. Lord knows, this has been the case for me in the past. When I was depressed, I loved staying inside, by myself, where no one could see me, where I could eat in private and I didn't have to deal with anyone.

But I'm here to tell you, volunteering and getting yourself out there, in the world, among the living really does help. It goes against everything depressed people feel and believe...and that's a good thing! I understand the feeling of, "People are a pain in the ass. They don't get me. I don't want anyone to see me like this. I can't even get out of bed!" but I swear, helping others gets your mind off of you and out of your own head. It's all good, people.

Helping others also lets you see first hand that other people are struggling with life as well. It's not all about you! We all need to help each other. Your helping someone else--even in the smallest of ways--helps you, too.

Driving for Meals on Wheels is one of the easiest ways to help others. You load up your car with the food, usually prepared at a senior center or nursing home, then drive around and deliver the food. I love seeing the people on my route. I've really come to care about them. People often say to me, "I bet they love seeing you and talking to you." They do. As a former nurse, I know that older people are often lonely and enjoy speaking to people during the day, even if it's only for five or ten minutes. I have the same conversations with them over and over again. We always discuss the weather. They tell me about their kids and grandkids. I know this helps them. It helps me, too. Truly, I feel so good, so uplifted after I'm done with my route. So satisfied.

The same holds true for the soup kitchen. And it's not only homeless people who come through our line. The soup kitchen where I volunteer is open to anyone and everyone, so we often feed day workers and landscapers and their wives and children. It's wonderful. We have our regulars there--many of whom are homeless and either drug addicts or alcoholics--and I do love to see them come through the line. I know they're still there, still alive and still fighting.

NEVER do I feel superior to these folks. I only feel like more a part of the human race, the human condition, and that I'm glad I'm there to feed them, talk to them, give them a smile...make them feel like they matter. Because they do.

So if you're depressed or mired in your own troubles and you happen to be reading this, please believe me. Please take the word from someone who has struggled with her own issues. Get out there do something for someone else. You'll be glad you did.

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