Genius! Although the initiative is meant to draw attention to the serious homelessness problems in wealthy nations like Australia, there is also, within it, a timely acknowledgement of the value of getting out there and helping someone.
This is something we weave into the very essence and grammar of our work with our patients at PROMIS: meaningful, rewarding connection with others as the sunlight ready to break through the clouds of isolation and a sense of worthlessness.
Helping others creates meaningful, mutual connections. Most of the suffering in relationships comes from disconnections. A disconnection is a break in the feeling of mutuality, closeness, communication and the general feeling that we are all moving forwards together. ‘We’ becomes ‘I’ and ‘you.’ Some disconnections are obvious, such as the sense of betrayal we feel when a secret is broken, or when a loved one doesn’t seem to hear us. Others may be harder to identify. A subtle disconnection may occur, for example, if a family meal is interrupted by one person answering a phone, or a new haircut goes unnoticed, a meal is left untouched, texts not answered, a closed bedroom door, or when one partner falls asleep in bed first, leaving the other alone in the darkness.
Our houses are our homes, for all those who live in them, yet, there may be ‘homelessness’ there too, when we don’t reach out and connect to each other. We shouldn’t have to wait until Christmas to do this, of course, but it’s a time when connections, and disconnections, are felt most strongly. I’ve been alone at Christmas time, when every advert on the TV singing about ‘coming home for Christmas’ made me want to cry and drink myself into sleep, surrounded by houses full of people who did not realise there was someone lonely, someone elderly, someone mentally and emotionally ill, who needed someone to reach out and connect with them, to let them know they are cared about.
Let’s find time this Christmas to connect with those closest to us, and to those who are vulnerable in our society. It will be their top prize, but also ours. If we feel we have little to offer, we need to step outside and give. If we live with someone who is struggling with mental illness, let’s ask them for their help.
When you can be of benefit to other people around you, it reinforces that you have positive things to offer. Helping others improves social support, distracts us from our own problems, allows us to engage in a meaningful activity and improves our self-esteem and competence. All people with Mental Illness tend to suffer from a feeling that, on balance, they subtract from their world and the people they come in contact with. By not just helping someone else, but actually having something helpful to give is a powerful enhancer to a positive sense of self.
Jef Mullins, PROMIS Clinics