I would like to dedicate this post to all the people who want to make the world a better place. And to anyone who wants to make other people’s lives a little easier.
As someone who has been on the receiving end of unexpected kindness and understanding, I salute you. Your actions may go unacknowledged, but they DO NOT go unnoticed. An act, no matter how small, can honestly make a difference.
When I was deep in the throws of bulimia, depression, and anxiety, I had pretty much stopped talking to people. I was so ashamed of myself and so deeply and desperately sad. I wanted to fade away. Cease to exist. And on good days, just go back to childhood where my parents would rub my back.
I was in a very bad place, to say the least. But I was still in school. That was literally the only thing I had to hold on to. I wouldn’t give school up even though every doctor, therapist, psychiatrist, and my mom said it was a good idea to take time off.
In third year, I had a truly memorable encounter with a prof whose name I can’t even remember.
I had failed to study for an exam. Not for the normal university reasons: too many friends, too much partying, too many other interesting things to do. I’d worked myself up into such a frenzy every time I sat down to study that I would binge and purge the days away.
The morning of the afternoon exam, I had an anxiety attack. Hours later, I still couldn’t calm myself down, so I took a pill (can’t remember what it was called, but it prescribed for times like this). Then I walked in a daze an hour to class.
As I handed in my exam, I told my prof that I’d had a panic attack right before the exam. That I had to take a pill to calm down. Just so I could get my legs to take me to the exam. And that those pills make me very sleepy (it’s a wonder I actually made it to the exam!)
I asked him, “could I please, please rewrite the exam if my grade was significantly below my average so far?”
I don’t know why I asked, to be honest. Wishful thinking, maybe? I figured the answer was “no, sorry, policy.” I didn’t expect him to say yes…I just…I wanted him to know that I’m not stupid (in the case that I failed, which I was sure I did).
His response was a very kind and empathetic “let’s see how you do, but yes.” He didn’t have to say that, I’m sure of it. Then no questions were asked.
His response came to me as such a surprise that even to this day, 6ish years later, it brings tears to my eyes. Such a simple thing…showed me that kindness did exist.
And then there was my old hairdresser who was also my boss when I was in high school.
The summer after the story above, I had to move back to my mom’s house. I was living alone and I was afraid…with all the horrible thoughts.
When I got back home, I was feeling good. Things could be better in a new place. So I went to my old work place to say “hi, I’m back – can I have a job?”
My boss let the other girl go so I could have full-time hours for the summer.
I made it through one shift. And only one shift.
The next day, I had an anxiety attack that started as soon as I woke up and never stopped. I couldn’t leave the house. I could not.
My mom called my boss to tell him what happened, that I had to quit. I figured he would be mad or disappointed. I thought I let him down, which made everything worse.
But he was never angry at me for failing to show up. A lot of people would have been.
He never blamed me for leaving him without an assistant. He easily could have.
Instead, he would ask my mom and sister how I was doing. He’d tell them to tell me to come in – that it was okay.
I haven’t seen him since. I’m still too ashamed to see him face-to-face.
But the fact that he wasn’t angry, didn’t blame, still asked after me, means so much. It did then, and it does now. I have a lump in my throat as I write this.
When I was sick – and in recovery – I had a lot of support from people who were close to me. No matter how hard I tried to push them away (and trust me, I was pushing) they stood by me. I’m eternally grateful for their support, and always will be.
Sometimes though, an ounce of understanding from a stranger, a teacher, a boss can stand out life a ray of sunshine during the darkest times.
If you’ve encountered an act of unexpected kindness or understanding, please share it below!
About Cynthia Alana
Cynthia has battled bulimia (and won), faced depression, and lived with anxiety throughout it all. After realizing she wanted to be a force of good in the world, she tried recovery for 6 months. It’s been years. Travel is her passion, and so is her job: writing for charities. You can follow Cynthia’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, and additionally, you can connect with Cynthia on LinkedIn.