While we are all practicing social distancing these days, I thought it would be a good time to think about those who experience social isolation on a daily basis when there isn’t a pandemic in place…those who struggle with mental health diagnosises. It is a good time to “step into someone else’s shoes” to create empathy. I want to point out that empathy is different than pity. With pity you peer into the hole a person is in and feel bad or sorry for someone’s experience or situation. As discussed in my daughter’s DBT group, empathy is when you crawl down into the hole with them to listen and open yourself up to any similar pain you have felt yourself, to just listen and acknowledge how hard it must be for them without comparing or judging. Yet before coronavirus, I doubt many people have ever experienced what it feels like to be socially isolated so it can be hard to have that understanding when you are listening to someone struggling with mental health issues or the isolation some parents of children with special needs feel. Think about the difficult days you are having during this pandemic… whether you struggle with the fear of the unknown length of time, or the dangers if you or a loved one gets it, or the lack of personal human interaction, or the ability to go to work to have a “normal” day or the ability to escape the family issues for a few hours at work where you feel like you know what you are doing, or whatever you find difficult during this time. Then imagine if this was your daily reality for years or knowing that you had no idea how many years it would take to move past. And then you can empathize with those who struggle with depression or anxiety or bi-polar or PTSD or the many other mental health diagnosises or the family members of those struggling with mental health or families that have felt socially isolated from their former friends after having a child with a special needs diagnosis. Open your heart bigger now that you have felt for a moment what they feel daily and remember after the pandemic passes to reach out to them more often. They need you even more when you get back to your “normal” so don’t forget about them now that you have gained empathy.