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Connection with Stranger: Why Kindness Matters

By Shannon Kopp, MFA

Interaction with others help us maintain our connection to community and can have a drastic impact on our mental health.

Before my boyfriend, Danny, and I separated and I moved into a rundown studio in Ocean Beach, he said, “I love you. But I can’t be with someone who doesn’t love herself. I know you can recover from bulimia, but I can’t do it for you. You have to do it.”

And now I sat alone on a mattress on the floor, surrounded by moving boxes, sick with the flu. I wondered if I was mentally strong enough to go to the grocery store. I needed cold supplies − medicine, cough drops, tissues, and soup. But going to the store meant being exposed to food aisles, and I couldn’t guarantee how I’d behave. The last time I was in a store, I blew my meager paycheck on food I used to engage in my eating disorder. I was scared I’d do it again.

Just when it seemed like things couldn’t get any more depressing, there was a knock on the door. I jumped out of bed, hoping that maybe it was Danny, but when I opened the door, a woman from my eating disorder support group stood there holding two brown grocery bags.

I didn’t know Lisa’s last name or where she was from. We had exchanged numbers at the end of the support group meeting last week, and we’d shared a few simple texts since then. I’d let her know I was sick, and when she asked for my address, I assumed it was to join the support group mailing list.

But now she was here at my door with a dozen cans of soup. Lisa said she was late to an appointment, but wanted me to know that she was glad I had attended the group and hoped I’d get better soon. She smiled softly, then handed me the bags and left.

I stood at the door stunned. Perhaps if I had told my mother the reality of my situation, she might show up at my door with soup to help me feel better. But a near-total stranger? It was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done, and I felt I didn’t deserve it. When she handed me those brown paper bags, I almost handed them back to her.

Random acts of kindness are always powerful. But sometimes they can be lifesaving. I remember feeling that I wasn’t worthy of such a profoundly kind delivery. Lisa knocked on my door because she wanted me to get better from my cold, but also from bulimia, and she knew that to heal from any mental health issue, it’s important to feel supported. Seen. Cared about. Even if by a stranger.

When I look back on that day 15 years ago, I’m proud of myself for accepting Lisa’s act of kindness. I fed myself each can of soup she provided without engaging in my eating disorder that week. I healed from the cold. And with time, treatment, and purpose found in animal welfare, I eventually did what I thought was impossible and recovered from bulimia. I reunited with and later married Danny. And just the other day, I made our 5-year-old son a fresh pot of soup and thought of Lisa.

We talk a lot about the importance of close relationships in the recovery process, but often, when battling a physical or mental health issue, we can become isolated from the people we love the most. Accepting kindness from anyone when in the depths of our despair requires courage, but we can’t test that courage without the kindness of others.

Only 7 Seconds is an organization founded by Kristen Wall, who, like Lisa, understands that in a world with more access to communication than ever before, loneliness is rampant and detrimental to mental health. When Kristen’s 14-year-old son became sick and was out of school for 23 days, not a single friend or teammate reached out to check on him. Her son then became depressed, and it broke Kristen’s heart.

One day, Kristen asked her son to send a text and timed it. It took only 7 seconds to text someone, “How are you?” She went on to found Only 7 Seconds, which, according to their website, is “on a mission to create a world in which intentional connection is constantly encouraged and loneliness ceases to exist.” More from the Only 7 Seconds website:

“Here’s the thing about loneliness − it is not rocket science. You simply need to stop and be intentional. Your 7 seconds can make an impact. It can change someone’s day. It can remind someone they are not alone. Reach out. Start a conversation. It only takes 7 seconds.”

I couldn’t agree more. Seven seconds can make an impact. A text can mean the world. A random grocery delivery can help someone fighting a mental health battle survive another day, which is a feat not to be underestimated.

Here’s to Lisa. Here’s to Kristen and Only 7 Seconds. Here’s to 23-year-old me tasting a spoonful of soup. Here’s to the power of kindness and connection.

Written by

Shannon Kopp, MFA

Shannon Kopp, an Eating Disorder Recovery Center National Recovery Advocate, is the best-selling author of Pound for Pound: A Story of One Woman’s Recovery and the Shelter Dogs Who Loved Her Back to…

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