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To the Blue-Haired Woman Who Noticed I Needed Help

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Thirteen years ago, I was in college. I’d been struggling with worsening depression and anxiety, and after a conversation that left me very hurt, all I could think about was how much I needed to get away.

I kind of went into a trance. My mind was blank as I walked across town to a park. It was blank as I sat on the edge of a five-foot concrete wall that had a creek running along the bottom. When my sandal fell into the creek, I automatically jumped down to get it. And when I realized I couldn’t climb back up the wall, I picked a direction and started wading.

I walked and walked, long after I could have climbed out of the creek. The water went up to my thighs at one point, and I lost both sandals to the rocks somewhere along the way. It was only when the light started to change and I realized the afternoon was almost gone. I started to come out of my trance. I climbed the bank and came out on the side of a highway. I had no cell phone and no idea where I was by this point, so I picked a direction and started walking along the shoulder. My pants were soaked and I had no shoes. I didn’t even know what I’d do when I eventually got somewhere; none of my friends had cars, so I would be forced to call someone at the school to come get me. At the time, I wasn’t supposed to go outside a five-mile radius from campus, so I wasn’t sure what kind of punishment I might face. That’s if I even got someone on the phone who could help me.

A while later, a car pulled over. Inside was a couple that was probably in their late 20s and their child. The woman, the driver, leaned over to the passenger window and asked if I was OK. I told her that I went walking and now I was lost. She asked where I was going, and I told her I needed to get back to campus. She told me that there was nothing the way I was going for another four miles, and she offered me a ride.

I accepted. The woman had Smurf-blue hair, several piercings and the car was completely permeated with cigarette smoke. As she drove me back to campus, she showed me amazing kindness and grace. She asked what happened to me. I told her quite honestly that I wasn’t really sure; I’d just gone for a walk and it somehow turned out this way. She didn’t judge or push me. She just listened to what I had to say and told me it would be OK. She asked if she should call anyone for me or if I needed any other help. When she dropped me off at my dorm, she told me her name was Michelle and gave me her number. She told me to give her a call, “…if you ever go walking again.”

Thirteen years later, I still remember Michelle’s kindness. I could have been hit by a car. I could have been picked up by someone with less kind intentions. I could have faced disciplinary action for being so far off campus. And Michelle not only stopped to help someone in trouble, but also remained calm, didn’t judge and tried to make sure help was available to me in the future.

Michelle’s kindness showed me that someone doesn’t need to understand what you’re going through to be helpful. All someone needs is a sympathetic, non-judgmental ear and a willingness to help. It also helped me understand I wasn’t alone. With mental illness, it’s easy to feel like you’re invisible, that no one understands what you’re going through or even realizes you’re in trouble. The amazing thing about the kindness of a stranger, I think, is that someone cared enough to notice I needed help. And that made a world of difference.

You’ll probably never read this Michelle, but thank you for what you did for me.

Originally published: January 8, 2016
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