I mentioned in one of my posts last week that I was reading Brandt Myhres new memoir Pain Killer in preparation for interviewing him for an upcoming episode of the podcast. Late in the book, Myhres says comments on the importance of giving back when you’ve received a lot of support from others. He said:
Gratitude has a dangerous flip side. If you just take and take, eventually you start to feel worthless. It’s human nature — you want to give back. Giving back is the only healthy response to generosity. If you don’t other people’s generosity just creates another kind of debt.
I’m looking forward to talking with him about this because I know it’s exactly what he means. My team at work and a few close friends (along with my wife and daughter) gave me so much support during my bout of depression a couple of years ago and I was grateful for all of it. I couldn’t have gotten better without that support, but even then, even in the middle of it, I knew that I wanted to give back.
Giving back will look different for everyone. At the time, I knew that I wanted to do what I could to make struggling with mental illness easier for others. I wanted to make it easier to access institutional support and I wanted to make it easier for them to talk about their struggles so they could get the support from friends and family that they need, while reducing the stigma for everyone. That desire to give back in those ways became a purpose, something to look forward to, yet another reason to get healthy.
I’ve been healthy for awhile now and I try to do help others in these ways through this site, the podcast, the keynote address I gave as I was recovering, and just in my every day conversations. I also try to give back to those who were so supportive of me by being their for them, letting them know that they can reach out to me.
Contributing, helping others is good for mental health. Knowing that we’ve done something for someone else without expecting something in return releases hormones that make us feel good (so it’s not truly altruistic). Giving back, whether directly to those who gave something to you in the first place or giving back to society in general is good for your well-being. It doesn’t have to be something big for it to make a big difference for you and others.