What Not to Say When Your Friend is Struggling

This is one of my favorite free writes that came from my ten-week writing group with Promptress Jena Schwartz. She created a secret Facebook group for the ten participants and sent us each one writing prompt per week for ten weeks.

This free write came from a prompt that was centered around the theme,

"Tell me about the ground you've covered".

It made me think of those times in your life where you feel stuck. 

And it doesn't matter how much ground you've covered in the past. 

What matters is that you're not moving right now. 

That's where I'm at, and where I've been at for the last almost 7 months, which - over the course of a lifetime obviously is nothing. 

But when you're in it. It's fucking everything. 

It's like when someone has a new baby and they're a milk stained puke stank sleep deprived zombie and everyone is like, "enjoy your baby...this too will pass....it's only temporary....savor because poof yer gunna wake up and they're in college"

That's nice and all. It's a legit concept - it's true. But it's rill easy to say from the outside and generally means shit to the person who's in the thick of it. Because they know. They know the shit is only temporary - they're not stupid. That doesn't make it any less fucking hard to wake up every hour with a newborn. 

You know? I mean this is a metaphor for everything. 

Someone is struggling with their business and someone more successful says this too shall pass. 

Someone who has no money doesn't wanna fucking hear from the rich successful people. 

Everyone means well. "They" think they're helping. I get it, I do it too. 

But what actually helps when you're in it is good ol' fashioned empathy. 

  • "I've been there, I know it's hard"
  • "I feel you gurl, I wouldn't wanna go through that again."
  • "Can I bring you someone chocolate? I know everything sucks right now."

It's just that. It's not offering a solution. It's not spewing more positivity. It's not reminding the struggled to be grateful. It's witnessing they're suffering and keeping your arms open. 

The other day I saw a friend I haven't seen in a while. And by a while I mean like a couple of years. He's someone I used to see on the regular. On the one hand i was kind of peeved our friendship had gone to shit and on the other hand I was going to embrace this opportunity for friendship. He asked me how things were going and I answered honestly - things were shitty right now. I am struggling. I am working to stay inspired, knowing my efforts will pay off, knowing I'll never quit, but wishing the payoff could hurry the fuck up. I was just being real.

His response was something to the effect of how working from home is a silly pipe dream and he's super psyched to go to work every day because he loves when he's done for the day how he just gets in his car and sees his office in his rearview mirror because that's the best feeling of his day. 

I get it - the separation, the finality of leaving your work in that building, of it not ultimately being your problem. But it was really kind of a weird thing to say. Because we weren't talking about him. We were talking about me. He had asked me a question, I had answered, and he - in such a fucking cliche way - felt the need to defend himself, ever so subtly. Instead of inquiring more about what I'm working on, what my dreams are, what my struggles look like - he just wrote off working for yourself and told me how great his "regular" job is. Because that kills two birds with one stone.

One: it undermines what I do, and Two: it reaffirms what he does. 

Because that's also what people do. They have to come out on top. Me working from home, working every day on my dreams, investing my time in myself ultimately triggers him. 

This was in stark contrast to another friend who sort of asked the same question and of course got a similar answer from me. Her response was to say that it made her feel sad - that we were having a hard time. She expressed that she sees us as true lights in the world and knows we have so much to give and that big things are coming for us and she knew all of that to be true. 

That's how you answer a friend in need. You don't highlight your own successes. You don't give them unwanted advice. You just tell them, wow - that's a fucking bummer. I know you're awesome and good things will come and I'm sorry things are sucking right now. It's as simple as that. 

I have covered a lot of ground in my life. I've gone through a lot of things, I've seen a lot of things, I've accomplished so much and have so many great stories. 

It's interesting though how that doesn't help in the moment, right now. 

I know right now that I will look back on this time and I will miss this house that I live in. I will miss the simplicity of boredom. I will yearn for this quiet time. 

It's funny though how the gratitude for where you're at only lasts for so long. Because six months later when you're still in the same place, it's really fucking hard to remind yourself to be grateful for it yet another day. 

But finding pleasure in the small things does help. Helps to keep me in the moment, which is ultimately the most rewarding place to be. 

The taste of this coffee

The feel of his hands

The smell of that oil

The birds chirping

The paypal money transferring

You know. 

All the things. 

A few months ago, at the end of last year, I went through a mega purge of every nook and cranny of my house and it felt so good. 

I thought oh hayyyyy - this is what they say to do. Clear out the physical clutter and you will create metaphorical space in your life for something to come. 

Nothing came into that space. So there's another new age concept that's kinda bullshit. 

But still. It feels good. Clutter feels like shit, so if for no other reason than how it makes me feel in the moment - I will continue to clear things out. 

I'm going to get rid of roughly 87% of my wardrobe. 

I have all these cute outfits, all these darling as fuck dresses, all these fantastic clothes but I never wear them. 

I've tried to get organized, hang everything in ways that makes sense and are easy to access, but nothing works. Nothing helps me wear the clothes. 

I wear one pair of jeggings and one of three red ribbed tank tops. 

I wear one pair of fantastic black yoga pants with one of three adorable t-shirts that hug my tits just right. 

I wear one pair of sweet as fuck teva flip flops. 

That's me. 

Why try to be somebody else? I'm not the girl that puts on makeup every day and puts together a fucking outfit with different pieces and belts and jewelry and different strappy sandals and shit. 

And why do I feel like I'd be any cuter in something else? My boyfriend wears the same pair of lululemon yoga shorts and the same pair of jeans with one of five cute as fuck H&M shirts. I never get tired of it and think he looks adorable all the goddamn time. 

It's like how relaxing it is to meal plan. Then you just know what the fuck you're going to eat instead of opening the fridge and standing there like an asshole. I'm going to do that with my clothes. At least until I can afford that fancy as fuck computer program that's connected to large rotating closet racks that Cher had in the movie Clueless. 

Until then, I'll be wearing my red tank top and my jeggings, complete with the black flip flops. 

You'll know me when you see me. 

The text that follows is the comment thread on my free write after I posted it in the secret facebook group:

Jena: "But finding pleasure in the small things does help. Helps to keep me in the moment, which is ultimately the most rewarding place to be.
The taste of this coffee
The feel of his hands
The smell of that oil
The birds chirping
The paypal money transferring
You know. 
All the things." 

That you're able to pull this out -- to come around to the jeggings and the the red tank-tops and the small things that truly do become like life rafts when all you can see is water and more water with no fucking shore in sight -- this is what makes me know you are ok and will be ok. It is the absolute hardest place to keep the faith, when it feels like things aren't moving. I so get it. You write your way into it here and in some ways through, too. Keep going.

Me: "You write your way into it here and in some ways through, too. Keep going." That gave me chills. Thank you for that, Jena. And this is SO IT - "the small things that truly do become like life rafts when all you can see is water and more water with no fucking shore in sight" I'm ready for the mother fucking shore. That is the perfect metaphor.

Jena: Also: you've been swimming like hell. Don't forget to float. And for the love of God, please ignore me if that sounds like advice.

Me: No it did not fucking sound like advice it felt like a reminder.... like permission to just be and not have everything be part of some grand fucking plan. What feels good right now. Another cup of coffee? Fucking drink it. An orgasm? Rub that shit out. A fat ass sandwich? GO GET IT. Another episode of Friday Night Lights? Watch it. Oh, oh your whiny ass feels like you didn't "get anything done" today? Are you alive? Reasonably intact? Happy-ish? Then shut the fuck up: today was a good day.

Jena: All the yeses to this. Reminding you reminds me. Permission to just be amen amen amen The drivenness to be productive -- I've been seeing it in myself, and the underlying anxiety if I'm not constantly thinking ahead. But I also see that it never, ever "gets" me anywhere other than less present. We write, but honestly I think for me more than not, the writing is a practice of arriving. Being. All the way here.