I have a friend whose visage has no sharp features. Rather, it presents in soft-focus, much like the content of their mind and heart. Sensitive, to them life can feel like steel wool rubbing against debris stuck to the surface of their psyche. Steel wool can be useful for plugging holes to discourage rats and their gnawing teeth, I guess. The aftermath of youthful trauma rears its head- ready to bite- throughout their life. They found the hardest times were when their children reached the ages they had been when they were subjected to horror. The hardest times were when their partner made a flippant remark that reminded them of someone else, in another time. Hell, the past has a way of making itself known, even if one buries it in a pile of compost in order to grow flowers. Turning the waste (as happens in random remembrance), it comes up for air.
I had known this particular friend for many years, had known about their depression and anxiety. I knew about the trauma this person had endured, both in childhood and in their current experience. I knew that they had attempted suicide at thirteen, and that it was nothing short of a miracle that they were still here. I had bumped into this friend twice in as many weeks, and we hugged as though the separation of a year hadn’t occurred. I gave them my new details, and they said they would be in touch. I knew they weren’t traveling well, and each day, my thoughts extended to them, so I was delighted when they finally texted. “Can I come over? Are you home?” I said I was, and put the kettle on. We talked about many things, including recent stressors (which would bring anyone to their knees). Without a solid foundation in their childhood, nor a cheer squad, this person was flailing.
They admitted their thoughts had turned to not being here, and they still weren’t sleeping, a long-standing problem. They had used up their free psychology visits, and no resources were forthcoming, despite pleading for help, not once or twice, but many times. They had found comfort in their pets, but when they suddenly died, that support was taken as well. This friend didn’t need advice, they just needed someone to listen. I held their hand and declared, “by you messaging, and finding the energy to come over, you made a powerful declaration about your worth. You want to live, and I am in awe of you.”
The very next day, this friend texted, and wanted to take me up on my offer of going for a walk. It was another powerful statement. I knew it took everything they had to do so, and went against everything they felt like doing, which was to stay in and lock themselves away. As we walked, we took in gardens, and noted the concordant sounds of kookaburras and cockatoos in trees stripped of their leaves. We admired architecture and smiled at the sight of garden gnomes and whimsical sculptures.
Another friend recently dropped in, whom I hadn’t seen in years. I had loved them from afar, knowing somehow that their life was now complicated and far from the halcyon days of old. They apologized for not keeping in touch, explaining that every shred of energy had been dedicated to their partner, who had been suffering mental illness. I reassured them that in regards to friendship, seven years is no time at all. I meant it. It was a homecoming, and we simply picked up where we left off, spending an afternoon laughing and crying in equal amounts.
People’s lives are complex, and we rarely know what goes on behind closed doors. We have no idea what it takes to prepare themselves for the dawn of a new day. To get up and shower can be an extraordinary achievement, as can visiting a friend or going for a walk. When a friend isolates, seemingly dropping all contact, they may be going through a transformation or they may be going through hell. I have seen the trees outside my bedroom window shake their leaves throughout autumn so they can have the energy for new growth. Hellish times make life contract, reduced to the basics necessary for survival. People can be like trees, and need to know that the door is always open. They need to be assured that understanding and love await them after a time of withdrawal, and that we will grieve their losses, as much as we shall rejoice when new growth springs forth.