This morning I woke up to see one of my fellow Spoonies (Roo) had decided to be open about what he was going through. This is something many of us try at some point, and it can be both incredibly helpful and heartrendingly disappointing. Helpful, because so often people forget that we face each day with challenges that aren’t on the average person’s radars. Disappointing, because when opening up and being vulnerable there is little that says ‘I’m not really listening to your experience’ more than telling someone that they need to try this one new thing.
I’ll be frank, a lot of that is my bias. If one more person tells me to try acupuncture when learning I have chronic pain (and I mean right out of the gate) I may scream. Usually I manage to maintain a smile while telling them of course I fucking tried that, I’ve been living with this my whole life. Thank you for assuming my competence level is so low that I need someone who doesn’t know my name to tell me about a commonly known type of alternative medicine. Almost worse is what I saw my friend go through; friends and people that know him largely not acknowledging how hard right now is for him but instead telling him all of the things they think he should be trying and doing.
Think about that for a second. Imagine if you told your friends that you were having a lot of trouble with your partner and that you were doing specific things to try to fix stuff, but that it was still really hard right now. You don’t need them to tell you how to fix your relationship – you’re seeing a counselor together – but it would be nice to be able to talk about what you’re going through. Instead of listening and letting you vent, your friend tells you to hit the bars, or that you should be waking the person up to sex, adding another person to the relationship, swearing off of talking for a week, and switching to sports only when watching tv. Anyone else wanna dump lukewarm tea on their head? Just me? Okay, moving right along.
The timing is especially poignant as I myself have been having more trouble than usual with my depression lately. For me that means I wasn’t able to hide it, and I ended up breaking down in front of someone. I don’t like doing that. What I was met with shows a sharp contrast to Roo’s experience of reaching out – he was given fixes that, well intended or not, don’t show people are listening. I was given room to talk, cry hysterically until there weren’t more tears, and get everything out. They held me, asked questions that showed they were listening, and were clearly trying to understand where I was and what I needed.
To bring it back to the original inspiration; I have watched Roo struggle and push himself through more than most. We’ve helped each other through a lot and each time there is a setback I watch as he dusts himself off, reevaluates, and gets right back up. If I made that sound easy that’s because I don’t have the words for how hard it is. As far as I can tell there are gravity wells or some other very strange physics shenanigans at play on the ground around us, because you’re at least five times as heavy when you need to pick yourself up.
Part of me doesn’t want to put this post up and I can think of no shortage of excuses to hold it back. I haven’t edited it. There’s jumping around. Surely I need to re-read it later and see if it’s really true. The truth is that I’m scared. Being vulnerable around people is terrifying and it is so much easier to just not do it.
I’m going to end this one a little differently – with an ask. If you’re reading this, you have homework. The next time someone confides in you or reaches out, don’t fix it. Not until they start trying to. Just listen, work to understand what they’re going through. Make sure the person you’re talking to feels heard and empathize. You might be surprised at where it takes you.
This post is written in large part because of a wonderful support and friend in my life, Roo.