I've had a version of this quote as my "tagline" (what is that anyway?) at the bottom of my email for a few years now, and I get so many comments on it. It really is true that everyone is fighting their own personal battle, and when you encounter a person, whether in a business or personal capacity, you don't ever really know what's going on behind their eyes.
Jogging through my neighborhood, I see people in their houses, or out with their kids and my mind wanders from my own little world into theirs. What's going on in peoples lives? What demons are they hiding?
As I round the corner into my own neighborhood, I'm familiar with the demons simply by proximity. In 10 years, you hear things. A skateboarding accident that caused irreparable brain damage must have changed the course of each and every family member. Domestic violence, drug abuse, divorce, foreclosure... Not to mention the secrets that remain locked behind closed doors, the ones you don't know about until the news truck is parked on your block.
When I'm driving and in my own little world inside my car, I look at other drivers and wonder if they are grieving a loved one, or daydreaming about having a baby. For all I know, they could be contemplating suicide or rushing to rendezvous with a love affair. Depressed or elated, overly-medicated or in need of it...
I'm reminded of my drive from my office in Bellevue to Providence hospital in Everett - probably a solid half an hour - on the day my dad had a heart attack. I was on auto pilot in every sense of the word. Not focused on driving in the least, only thinking of him. Shaking, mind reeling, and in no shape to be driving. No one could have guessed that behind my sunglasses were puffy eyes, and I could barely see the road through my tears.
Being depressed, and weaving down the path to attempt to put it behind me has taught me empathy that I never would have been able to grasp without having experienced it. Depression has taught me to treat everyone more gently. Appearances can be deceiving. It takes a lot of strength to appear normal when your insides are being eaten up by grief or anxiety or the black hole that is depression.
I know. I've been there.
That drive was 10 years ago. Last week, we celebrated my dad's 65th birthday at my house. He was surrounded by his grandchildren (pictured below) and my house and my heart was filled with love.