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I took three coats out of my closet last night. My husband is going to take them to the church where he volunteers to feed the homeless and low income. I feel good knowing that I am giving a gift, even if it is a small one, to someone else today.

It is good to get out of my own head. It is good to stop thinking about my own problems and think about others for a while. Having a disability is not a competition. It is not, “My life is harder than yours, or they have it worse than me.” The important thing to remember is that as humans we all struggle. It isn’t easy for any of us.

And although it isn’t a competition, when I think of the lives of others – people who have survived war and lost limbs, people who have survived a fire and are badly burned, people who have a terminal illness, people who have no shelter this winter, people who are hungry, people who are living in war torn areas, and the list goes on of ways that people are suffering- I think to myself, “I will take my struggles over theirs.”

There is an old story about a group of people throwing all their problems into the center of the room, and each person being required to pick up someone’s problems and make them their own. All of the people in the group chose their own problems instead of trying to live with someone else’s problems.

People look at us and don’t want our problems, and we in turn look at them, and don’t want theirs.

I think it is important especially for those of us with a mental illness, to consciously think of the struggles of others. It isn’t that I think we are all narcissists and thinking only of ourselves, but we can spend a whole lot of time looking for our symptoms to manifest – changes in sleep, weight loss, weight gain, changes in thought patterns, anxiety, depression, etc.

It is easy to get lost in ourselves and our illness. Insight into our illness is important, but I have found that when I am concentrating on someone else, I suffer from fewer symptoms. When I am focused inward, I notice every small change in my well-being. The truth is I am healthier and happier when I am not so self-focused.

Let’s all give ourselves a holiday gift this year – let’s give some coats or sweaters we don’t use to a homeless shelter, let’s buy a few toys for foster kids, let’s make soup for someone battling an illness, let’s call a friend who recently lost a pet, or a job. Let’s reach out and try to ease, if only slightly, the suffering of someone else.

The gift you receive in return may be a little less of your own suffering. We are important to one another – everyone benefits from generosity, empathy, compassion and care. I think if we focus on others for a short time every day, we can make life better – that is such important work – the most important because it is love and we all know that love can get into the cracks and heal most wounds. Let’s be the ointment others need. It’s good for us, it’s good for them.