A Barn-Raising of the Soul

As a friend, what do you do when you know another friend or loved one is experiencing depression?

In the wake of the well publicized deaths of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, social media has seen a great number of posts about depression. We’ve seen plenty of people imploring those of us who have or ever have experienced depression to ask for help. I’ll admit, even I did. And I should know better.

Asking for help when you’re in a dark hole is harder to do than almost anything else. When you can’t even muster the energy to eat, ringing up a friend and saying something like, “Hey, I haven’t eaten in nearly 48 hours, haven’t showered, brushed my teeth or hair, haven’t gotten dressed, haven’t even gotten out of bed for days except to pee. As a matter of fact, all I’ve done is contemplate what resources I have here at home that would aide me in taking my own life because I can’t bring myself to leave this darkened abode. I was wondering if you wanted to come over and chat?” is totally out of the question. I mean, if you can’t muster a full conversation with yourself, how ya gonna do it with someone else?


So, in the wake of all the “ask for help” posts, I came across one that was shared by a friend of mine on Facebook. It wasn’t actually even a Facebook post that she shared but a series of tweets by Sheila O’Malley. You see, Sheila had lost her dad and spent the next year, which included a move to a new apartment, in a very blue state of mind. She related in her tweets that much of the year was a blur and she found herself unable to muster the ability to unpack. Months went by, and she couldn’t do it. And she was ashamed.

Yes, for those of us that have experienced depression, we understand the shame associated with being unable to do what appears to be, on the surface at least, a relatively simple task. And even when Sheila’s longtime friend David reached out to her to let her know that she was loved and needed, her response was, “Doesn’t matter, but thanks.” Again, it sounds painfully familiar, right?

But David went out on a limb. Rather than waiting for Sheila to reach out to him or to any of their other friends, he hatched a plan to help his struggling friend. Without her knowledge, he rallied the troops, and 10 of them showed up at her home with platters of food, hearts full of love, and a mission to unpack Sheila’s apartment. unpacking

She protested, of course. I think most of us would. That’s what we do in that head space. And Sheila’s friends did what any good friends would do. They ignored her and got to work. She admits she was embarrassed. For about 10 minutes.

By the end of the evening, her clothes were unpacked and organized, her hundreds of books had found their new home in her bookshelves, her artwork had been hung, and Sheila had a home not just a space to exist in.

But here’s the part of the story that really got me in the feels. In a moment of speechlessness and inability to express her thanks, the husband of a friend understood and said to her, “Listen, baby, what we did today was a barn-raising.”

A barn-raising. What a stunning and beautiful metaphor. Have you ever watched an barn raisingAmish barn-raising? I have been fascinated with them for decades. I mean, have you seen the size of their barns? Holy moly! Of course, the entirety of construction doesn’t happen in just one day, but the actual raising of the walls and trusses along with the covering of the walls, roofing, and hanging of doors/windows does. It would be an overwhelming task for any one family or community member.

And so, traditionally, members of a community come together to build or repair another community member’s barn. There is no ulterior motive. No money exchanges hands. It is just what is done. And when the next community member needs help, they gather to do the same for that family knowing that there will come a day when they, too, will have an insurmountable task before them and the community will come together to help them as well.

A barn-raising. I’ll say it again, it’s a beautiful metaphor. Just as the Amish, I’m sure, don’t ask their community member in need, “So, do you want to talk about why you haven’t built the barn by yourself? What’s going on?”, Sheila’s friends didn’t gather around her and ask, “Why haven’t you unpacked anything after all these months? Do you want to talk about it?” No, they just did normal things that normal people help their friends with.

For myself, I remember, in times of heartache or grief, when friends or family would bring me a meal or ask me to go out with them for a meal. It was their way of making sure I was eating. Or the time that friends called and told me we were renting movies and having a movie night at my house. I reminded them that I had no TV or VCR (yes, it was the dark ages and all we had was VHS). They told me not to worry about that. They showed up an hour later with their TV and VCR, a selection of movies, and a huge paper grocery bag full of popcorn. That’s what friends do. They raise your barn when you can’t do it alone.

So, friends, let’s continue to remind each other that we are available to lend an ear or a shoulder should someone in our circle need them. But let’s also remember to keep an eye out for the barns that need raising in our circles, knowing that we may have one of our own to raise in the future.

~ Karen


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