It’s an old joke: A guy goes to a Chinese restaurant, eats his meal, then cracks open his fortune cookie, only to read the title of this post. Ha, ha. What’s less funny is that so many of us really are trapped: by the physical limitations and illnesses that beset our bodies, or by the more invisible, but no less crippling, illnesses of our minds. What do you do when there’s no fortune cookie around for you to send out an SOS?

It’s easy to say, “Talk to someone about it.” And most of us are comfortable — or at least willing — to discuss our physical woes with a doctor or other understanding soul. Our mental woes…not so much. Why? Perhaps we don’t want to burden others. Or we think our problems are unimportant compared to the afflictions others are carrying. Or maybe we are ashamed. Mostly the last one, I think.

Having a mental illness or issue is still viewed, by many, as a personal failure, a lack of will. If you’re depressed, think a happy thought! If you’re anxious, stop worrying — it’s silly. If you can’t control your thoughts or emotions — well, cowboy up! Grow a spine! None of these responses help someone. I know that mental illnesses are hard to understand — I watch “Hoarders” sometimes just to horrify my own inner neat freak, asking myself, “Why? Why on earth would anyone DO that?” But in point of fact, some people do. What are the rest of us going to do about it? How is my reaction helpful? (Note: It isn’t.)

I’ve lost friends (plural) to depression. I wasn’t close enough to help them, or maybe I wasn’t listening. Or maybe they never reached out. But from now on, I’m going to behave like everybody out there is carrying a heavy burden, mental or physical. Because they ARE. I just can’t see it. We are, each of us, trapped in a fortune cookie factory of our making.

We have two choices: reach out to God or reach out to one another. (Make that three choices: to do both.) If you are carrying something heavy, I want you to tell me. I want to pray for you. I want to listen to you. I want to tell you that I love you, even if I don’t know you. I hope you will afford me the same comfort. Let’s help each other. God put us together for a reason.