Reaching Out


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.

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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.

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Wise and compassionate words


My friend wrote an articulate and heartfelt response to the following:


‘You know what? No! Just no! I’m sick of this sentimental BS being shared around FB and people thinking it’s true. I have been through, and had many friends go through, serious life changes. I have had friends battling ongoing or chronic health problems and are just too physically weak to even handle the thought of a coffee (yes even with close friends). I’ve had friends that use every ounce of energy they have just to get through their day as they have serious challenges with their partner and/or kids (probably worse than you’re imagining cause they’re doing their best to try and keep it a secret too). I’ve had friends battling mental health issues where getting out of bed and getting dressed is a huge accomplishment for the day (again the stigma attached to that one only makes them want to hide it and if you haven’t been there then you just won’t get it so don’t even start to preach at them how they need to think positive etc). 
So screw this sentiment! If your friend doesn’t have time for you for 6 months, suck it up, cause the pain/hell they are going thru that they don’t even have the time/energy for their friends, is more than you’re going through by not seeing them. Rather than adding a guilt trip to their situation just msg them some encouragement and remind them you love them and are there if and when they need. Don’t take it personal, it isn’t about you and making it about you just makes it worse. 
So once again, just to make sure you really get this – no! Just no! This is crap.’

The above is full of compassion and empathy. I am still learning how to be assertive, and on occasion, have had the following happen. A text, asking when I may be free. If I am out each day, I will relay that in a couple of weeks my schedule shall be more open. I then receive more texts, which I don’t have the opportunity the read. This has been followed with emails and messages on Facebook. When I go in to see what I have to reply to, there are scores of messages, which I have neither the time nor energy to answer. I have offered by way of explanation, that my spine has deteriorated, I am in constant, merciless pain, and by the time I arrive home (after travelling up to four hours), all I can do is crawl into bed. I assure them that I shall be in touch in a week or so, and am looking forward to catching up. More messages ensue, (usually involving guilt trips, attempting to shame), at which point I am almost in tears. It is an energy drain at a time when you can’t afford to leak! I have racked my brain, trying to see when I have five minutes to make contact. It has inevitably seeped into precious rest time, or time when I had necessary things to do to keep my life running smoothly. I have found that it isn’t appreciated by these kinds of people. They demand another commitment before the present catch-up is over.

This happened to me regularly, and added to the load, when I was simply trying to get through the days. Every life has it’s seasons; a person’s days have delicious, empty space and then gets crammed with more activity and stress than one can handle. Kindness toward another is being accepting of it. I have long-standing friends whom I haven’t seen all year. When we do catch up, it is as though no time has passed. They don’t question my love for them, nor do I their’s. We both know that if we needed anything, we would move planets to support each other. My friend’s response to memes such as that above is filled with wisdom.