How Do You Support A Friend When There Is No Quick Fix?

I had planned to write something funny for today. But the thing is, I'm not feeling particularly funny this week. So my written attempts at humor are kind of a car wreck.

The truth is, I'm kind of a pain in the ass to have as a friend recently. And by recently, I mean for the past 21 months or so.

I've spent the past year and a half in a strange place of grappling. I started that period, among other things, with a nasty round of postpartum depression. It was a period of lows and tears and struggle and just trying to muster enough energy to provide smiles and energy for my kids.

There has been the realization that the setup of my current universe doesn't work well for me, and wondering how I can change that.

There's been simply that season of having two really young kids who require all of me right now, leaving little chance to connect elsewhere.

It is an isolating feeling. Some of it, I do to myself because when I am struggling, that always accompanies guilt - I don't want to be that friend. We all know that friend that is a miserable energy drain. Unfortunately, the guilt, itself, is an energy suck, no better than what I'm trying to work through.

As I've muddled my way through, I've allowed it to impact the friend I am to those around me. I've resolved to be a better support to my own friends, some of whom are dealing with downright shitty situations that have no quick resolution. Although our circumstances are different, that's a feeling that I understand.

For myself, I'm trying to do a better job of asking for help, and articulating specifically what it is that I need. For others, I'm trying to figure out how to be more present, even when it can only be virtually.

So what can do to provide support to someone when a problem seems to be ongoing?

1. Words are powerful: I'm here. I'm thinking about you. I love you. Hearing or seeing those words, even when on a quick text, can do magic in a day. My kids often leave little phone time, so I've been known to send texts that are just "xoxo." It's not much, but at least that person knows I'm thinking about them, instead of meaning to call, never getting to it, and creating ongoing windows of time without contact. I've also made a pact with myself to send one handwritten letter each week. So far, I've stuck with it. Little things really do make an impact.

2. You're never too old for hugs. An old friend used to claim you needed three a day or you'd get sick. There is nothing better.

3. Ask if they want to brainstorm. We are a busy, solution-based society. We want to fix, and the intention is good. Sometimes, though, quick-fire answers can be dismissive. I am learning to ask if someone wants to brainstorm. It is absolutely helpful to have someone who will give fresh perspective and make sure you don't fall into a rut.

But - sometimes, you just need to be heard and validated. Sometimes, you just need to hear the simplest words (see #1). Other times, you just want to be allowed to not talk about it.

4. Be mindful of where someone is at. If a friend is in a rough spot and you email, text or leave a voicemail, you may not hear back. Chances are, your words are being received and are appreciated. Remember why you reached out in the first place and give a little latitude. If someone is overwhelmed, adding a stack of angry "you didn't get back to me" messages doesn't do much to clear the air.

5. Make time. Put the to-do list down and make time. Make a phone call, Skype, show up on a doorstep, make a meal, make plans. Even if the date is three months out on the calendar, just make the plans. I'm terrible in this area, and I am trying. My goal for today is to get pancakes on the calendar with a friend that I keep missing. Why is that hard? It's not.

What would you add to this list? What good ways have you found to show support?

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    Reading sincere comments left on my blog always lifts my spirits and makes me feel supported. This is a great list and a positive reminder of how to shift focus. “In helping others, we shall help ourselves, for whatever good we give out completes the circle and comes back to us.” ~Flora Edwards

  • In reply to Kimberly Speranza:

    So true - being able to read comments and see where a connection has been made with others is an instant boost.

    I love that quote. I may have to print that one out.

  • ((hugs)) I've been in a similar-feeling situation myself for oh, the last three years or so...and sometimes I feel guilty for needing help or a listening ear, or ranting on FB, when I *should* get over it by now. The thing is, there is no "quick fix" for my problems. Depression and PTSD sucks ass and I'm still finding the right meds for my issues. And I've read that children who are exposed to abuse (physical, psychological, emotional, etc) at a young age--it changes their brain chemistry permanently. Especially when it's a daily thing...like I grew up with. It just compounds the issue even more. No wonder I'm so f*cked up. No wonder I need validation from friends on a fairly regular basis.

    The silver lining is that our own struggles can help us empathize better with our friends who need help. We know the feelings, we know what helps (as in your list of suggestions.) I try really hard to be there for my friends, even at least through Facebook since i live far away from most of them. I have some friends who also grew up with parents with personality disorders. Friends who also have PTSD and anxiety. Friends who also have mental illnesses, be it depression or bipolar or whatever. And I have friends who have normal struggles--and I try to be there for them same way they try to be there for me.

    Anyway, (hugs). You're incredibly strong to have made it this far.

  • In reply to Holly:

    Thanks, Holly. There's no one good way to make it through the journey, and no shame in needing some support along the way. All we can do is keep reminding ourselves of that.

  • In reply to Holly:

    Thank you Holly! When you mentioned about children exposed to abuse (mine was late post partum depression, she was 5) that it changes their brain chemistry. To this day, she brings up I ruined her childhood and I try to get a grasp on it, was I that bad? I yelled at her when I was just drifting off to sleep, yes, I was in bed alot but she always got to go places when invited and we went shopping (part of the disease), it only lasted a year but I see now I guess I really did screw up. I am in a good place now, have been although her father and I divorced 5 yrs ago and I think she is still hurting from that. She just turned 21 and I think she is the only kid that doesn't want their parents to be on good terms. She gets so angry. Guess I have to start all over...oh, I am. She disowned me in Nov and just started texting me the night of her birthday (Feb),to say she doesn't hate me just needs time. I will give her that, just am missing out on the limo 21st bar hopping party that her dad is going to. Well, gotta go get my hug! Thank you for letting me get that out even though you didn't have a choice.

    .

  • There really is nothing like the power of girlfriends. And please don't beat yourself up. The loneliest time in my life was when my kids were your age. It's hard to connect when you are flipping exhausted and focused on your little people.

    Love these ideas. I am the Queen of Good Intentions but really fail in the follow-through department. I can open my own Hallmark store with all my unsent cards. Gonna go with #1 and send a card each week. Thank you~

  • In reply to stacking:

    So true about girlfriends! I never really understood that when I was younger. Every year now it becomes more evident how critical that piece of my life is.

    I'm with you on the good intentions - time is short and I always have 100 excuses. That's why I'm trying to remember the little things. They don't take much but have huge impact.

  • I needed to see this post. A special person in my life is going through something rough right now and there is an instinct to want to just shake him and fix him. But that's a lot easier said than done. Thanks for the wonderful advice.

  • In reply to Jimmy Greenfield:

    Thanks, Jimmy. I'm glad this found you at the right time. Our intentions to want to fix the people we care about are always good, and I'm sure we all wish it could be that easy. Your friend is lucky to have you there to support him.

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    This is great advice & I was going to forward this to friends and then I read 'show up at their doorstep'. PLEASE do not ever ever ever do this - bad bad bad. Oh my.

  • In reply to Kelly O’Brien:

    I think it all depends upon the situation. For some, I'm sure that isn't the best tactic. For others, it's fine. It also depends upon what you're doing there. I've had friends drop off flowers and Starbucks and never step foot inside. That? For me, awesome.

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    Momwriter - I cannot imagine someone dropping off flowers & Starbucks - now that would be really incredible. I don't know anyone that has that level of etiquette - haha. I get that - and would like that too. I get the opposite - someone coming over and staying....and staying...etc.

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