An open letter to the people who were kind when I was struggling

By Kate Leddy

To the people who were kind to me when I was struggling: most of you didn’t know that I was going through a difficult time. You didn’t know that just before we saw each other I had been crying about my body or self-harming or nearly fainting at the gym. Some of you didn’t even know my name.

You didn’t know just how badly I needed your kindness and, at the time, I didn’t know either.

You saw me exactly as I was in the moment and you chose to smile at me, start a conversation with me or ask me how my day was going. You made me laugh when I didn’t want to, and stopped cycles of inner criticism I thought were never-ending – and all you did was talk to me.

To the close friends and boyfriend who knew when I was struggling: I will never, ever be able to thank you enough. Not just for being there for me when I needed support, but for being by my side despite everything. You were the ones who reminded me who I actually was, and made me see myself in a better light when you showed me that the person I am is someone you love.

Mental illness makes people want to push others away. It made me irritable and anxious and I took that out on you too often. I didn’t apologize even when I knew I was wrong. Thank you for forgiving me regardless.

To the people who listened: I stumbled across an anonymous quote once that said, “when you can tell your story and it doesn’t make you cry, that’s when you know you’ve healed.”

Considering how easily I start blubbering, you probably know why I like this. Thank you for letting me tell you my stories, for letting me break down in a place where I knew it’d be safe to get myself back together because I had you there.

Thank you to the people who reminded me not to apologize for crying when I needed to. Everyone needs a way to feel cleansed. It’s better when there is a shoulder there.

To my sister: I know emotional things make you cringe. Instead, you baked cookies with me, belted Taylor Swift in the car and laughed at dumb YouTube videos with me; honestly, that’s what I need and am so grateful for. Are you squeamish yet? I love you.

To my brother: I’ve always felt like you understood without ever needing to say anything. Siblings don’t have to have intense heart-to-hearts to know they care about each other. I’d rather you stick to teasing me and attempting to put me in a chokehold like we are 5 years old. I love you.

To my parents: I’ll keep this short because I could fill a novel with all of the reasons I love you to the end of the Earth. You made me believe that I could say, do or be anything and in the end it really would turn out okay.

To the strangers – the barista who complimented my outfit and then asked me how I liked school and told me to “be well and kind always:” thank you for the unexpected care; you can see I haven’t forgotten about it.

To the student who was completely jamming out with an iPod on the way to class and started dancing when we made eye contact: you made me laugh on a dull Monday morning. Keep being awesome.

To the elderly woman at the gym who caught me poking at my stomach in the mirror one day and said, “Oh come on, don’t worry! You look fantastic”: you rock.

All of you taught me just how big of an impact the smallest moments of kindness or joy can have, and made me think about how I treat others. About 28 percent of U.S. students in grades 6–12 report having been bullied. I can’t imagine who I would be if none of you were ever by my side, if your smiles and small compliments were instead taunts and insults.

Everyone needs to have some independence, but it’s impossible not to be affected by the others around you. You taught me that if that effect is positive, it can take you miles forward. Everyone needs people like that in their lives, too.

You taught me that asking for help is absolutely okay.

You reminded me that we don’t all have to be strangers in this world. We can say hello, we can have conversations and make jokes. We might accidentally make someone’s day.

Above all, you helped me learn to love myself in a way I never could have predicted. You were the lights when I was in a dark place and made me realize life’s purpose does not have to be so complex. Because if all I have to do is be kind, then perhaps I will end up helping someone else who is going through a difficult time in the same way others have helped me. I will have importance. I do have importance. It can be that simple. Thank you for being able to show me that.


Kate Leddy is a Collegian columnist and can be reached at [email protected]