I read (okay, skimmed…) an article recently about making sure you check in on your strong friend. I feel like we all have a friend that we look up to and admire and would describe as ‘strong’, together, confident and who always seems to go above and beyond. The kind of person whose theme song should be Chaka Khan’s ‘I’m Every Woman.’ [Confession: I’d like to think this is my theme song.] The truth is that no matter how strong or together someone appears, life is tough and we all struggle. In the recent weeks there has been a spotlight on mental health, depression, suicide and the role that we can all play in looking after our friendships better.
It felt, in part, a response to the recent passing of Chester Bennington from Linkin Park who has given voice to the darkness that so many of us wrestles against. His vulnerability, honesty and rawness was the anthem of my generation in many ways, and for the generations beyond and to come. Several years ago I attended the San Diego show when LP was on tour with 30 Seconds to Mars. They have recently been touring alongside MGK for some shows and I was trying to figure out how to afford a ticket given my current tour show ticket budget, which is about $0. Then I read the news on Twitter and my stomach dropped out from beneath me.
I should say that I am in no way a mental health professional, although I have battled depression on and off since I was in middle school. This is not supposed to be a primer on mental health, depression, suicide prevention or the like. As someone who in many circles has been labeled the mom or the strong friend, mostly because I’m maternal around those I care about (at one time in my life my nickname was Mama J. I was in high school. Ha!) and have been known to have an ‘assertive personality’ they’re labels I fully embrace. But that doesn’t mean that my life is inherently easier or that I’m more together. I’m hoping that these five tips can be a guide for all of us to look after each other better! In the end you matter.
- Express love, don’t just say it: Saying ‘I love you’ or ‘love you’ is incredibly easy compared to showing people you love them. I came across this post on tumblr awhile back of ways people say I love you. Spoiler: out of 100 the 99th was using the actual words ‘I love you.’ I’m in no way diminishing the power and importance of telling people, but consider challenging yourself to show it. This can be sending them a quick message letting them know you’re thinking of them, tagging them in a meme you think they’d find funny, sending them a snack you think they’d love, washing their dishes (thank you, Mercy!!!)…
Practice active listening: We don’t really listen when people talk. And these days a lot of communication happens through technology and some how we still don’t listen to each other! My problem is that my brain is constantly going a mile a minute so I can often be mentally multi-tasking/task switching/planning even when I think I’m listening. I’m working on it, though, because my relationships and friends deserve it. Being an active listener means hearing what the other person is saying and responding to that. It means being able to hear what people are not saying and also knowing whether or not to address it. It sets us up to ask better question and be present for our friendships.
Ask better questions: Asking better questions requires us to be actively involved. We have to know what questions to ask in order to go beyond surface level friendships. Something I’ve started asking my friends is, ‘how can I pray for you?’ It allows them to share as much, or little, with me as they feel comfortable. It lets them know that I am taking an active role in caring for them. It goes beyond, ‘how are you? how’s _________?’ Chances are, you have a general idea how your friends are or how their job hunt it going. Take it one step further in order to let them know you care! If you’re not comfortable using the word pray, you can also ask, ‘what’s your ideal outcome for _______?’ or ‘how can I help you with _______?’
Trust your gut: I’ll admit that this one is a little easier for me because I’m incredibly empathetic. There have been times I’ve known something was wrong with my friends when they were miles away. This usually only happens out of the blue with people I’m really close to, but I trust those moments and pick up the phone or send a text to check in and let them know I’m thinking of them. In a lot of ways I’m an emotional sponge and can easily get tired out just by feeling the emotions coming off of other people. I believe that we all experience similar moments in our relationships, though. I also believe that we should honor and trust them. If you find yourself thinking about a friend you haven’t spoken to in awhile, take the time to just reach out. It doesn’t have to be an over the top gesture, but these moments have the potential to impact someone a lot.
Be encouraging: MY FAVORITE THING EVER. Okay, my favorite thing after Jesus and eating chocolate, but still, one of my favorite things in the entire world is to encourage people. Encouragement is simple, easy and fun and I cannot figure out why people don’t do it more. The older I get the more I evolve and get better in being intentionally encouraging. Beyond overused platitudes I challenge myself to be specific and to not rely on looks or ability based encouragement. People are valuable. I love to tell my friends that I can’t wait until we’re popping champagne on their yacht after winning their first Academy Award if they’re trying to break into acting. If you’re a writer, then I need you to sign my copy of your book so that when it makes the NYT bestseller list I can prove I knew you when. Someone don’t like to double text? I will quadruple text you encouragement if you need it. And do not even get me started on how I like to hype my friends’ Instagram pictures! Practice encouragement because we could all use a little bit of hyperbole, love and the knowledge that someone is on our team and rooting for us.
I’d love to know if you do any of these regularly or if you’re going to try to start doing them! Drop me a line here or visit me on social media and say hello.
Chester, rest in light and peace.
If you or someone you know is in emotional distress, you are not alone. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a national network of local crisis centers that provides free and confidential emotional support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. 1-800-273-8255 | https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/