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What I learned from checking in on my friends
A month ago I took it upon myself to reach out to a friend of mine whom I hadn’t heard from in over a year. It wasn’t due to any relationship fall out, we simply lost touch through a combination of adulthood and ‘busyness.’ But my friend was always the type to post on social media and I was always guaranteed a complete rundown of nights out via Instagram.
That was until recently.
I’d noticed the slow decline of activity across a range of platforms and then, one week, there was radio silence. It’s not like I actively looked for this person on my stories every day, but their absence was painfully noticeable.
It started with a simple “Hello, it’s been a while and I just wanted to check-in. You haven’t posted in a few days which isn’t like you. Is everything alright?”
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Overbearing? Jumping to conclusions? Maybe. But their response displayed how out of touch we really are with each other.
“Thank you for taking the time to check up on me. To be honest I’ve been feeling like s*it lately. I don’t know where I’m going or what I’m doing with my life, and I really miss home. My roommates are going home for the holidays and I don’t have the money, so I’m just struggling with being alone.”
They went on to explain that no one else had bothered to contact them in weeks and that they felt hurt that even their closest friends had no idea. It’s a situation that I’ve found myself in quite a lot over the last year, and I couldn’t help but feel empathy towards them. From memory, they’d always had difficulty opening up. With that in mind, I offered to be their listening ear for the evening in the hope that I could do for them what so many had failed to do for me.
This experience taught me a great deal about the importance of checking in on others.
So often people withdraw because they’re struggling to tell others how they’re really feeling. Even the most confident of people can be brought down. In fact, it’s paramount that we remember our ‘stronger’ friends as they can be easily overlooked thanks to their resilience. When they go silent on socials or quiet around the table, that’s when we should be stepping in. Not only are we their friends, but chances are that we’ve also felt the same.
Let’s not forget the impact this can have on us. No action is without consequence, good or bad, and actively checking up on our friends can help us to feel better. Why? Because we’re doing something kind for another person, something so many others may have failed to do.
By simply noticing a change and actively attempting to help, you could find yourself saving someone’s life.
How can we check on and help our strong friends?
1. A quick message or phone call
We have so many ways of keeping in contact now. We can send a message or call via Wattsapp, Facebook, Twitter or by using our phone network. Checking up on our friends has never been simpler!
It can be something as small as:
- I was just thinking about you.
- Hi. I haven’t heard from you in a while.
- How are you?
- Let’s meet for coffee.
They mightn’t respond, or at least not right away. Sometimes the burdens we carry can be so heavy that it makes any form of contact difficult. Alternatively, they may respond with a small “Thank you” but little else.
That’s fine. You’ve tried and that’s all you can do.
On the occasion that your friend responds actively wanting to speak to someone, then you have the responsibility to set your own boundaries.
Are you available right now, or are you about to rush into a meeting? Can you fit them in this week for coffee, or will you be distracted by all the other things you have to do?
It’s important that you think of not only having time to speak with them but also having peace to do so.
There is little point in offering to meet up and talk if you’ll be thinking about picking up the kids throughout the whole conversation. Ensure that you have the time to dedicate to listening before agreeing to be their rock.
2. Offering a listening ear
Sometimes all we need is someone to listen. How often have you felt trapped with no one to turn to just to vent your thoughts?
Although your friend may not be asking for what they need, you can let them know that you’re there to be their sounding board.
“I’m here to listen if you need it. I don’t have to respond or give advice if you don’t want me to, but I can help you unload your thoughts.”
Stigma has taught us that opening up isn’t a good thing. We shouldn’t burden others with our burdens because it’s apparently seen as ‘attention-seeking.’ It’s a phrase I have a lot of issues with, specifically in the barriers, it puts up against us asking for help.
3. Practical help
Sometimes our friends can be isolated due to illness, lack of transport, working from home, looking after their kids, etc. No matter the reason, isolation and the inability to get what we need can be debilitating, and may even lead to concerns in regards to mental health.
If you’re aware that your friend has limited access to things such as groceries or social interaction, make an effort to give them practical help.
Offer to take them to get their shopping, take the kids off their hands for a while, or even just take them out for a cuppa and a catch-up.
During summer 2019 I was isolated without transport for about three weeks. I’d limited access to a car, my partner was working and I couldn’t take public transport for a variety of reasons (one of which was limited access). My best friend knew this and made the effort to come down to take me out at least twice in those few weeks. Although seemingly minimal, this meant a lot to me. It meant I not only was able to fill my social quota, but it also removed me from a potential ‘cabin fever’ situation.
Remember: just because they carry it well doesn’t mean that it isn’t heavy.
In the coming weeks remember your strong friends. Reach out to them with a simple “Hello, how are you?“ If you are the “strong friend” and you’re finding yourself struggling, don’t be embarrassed to ask for help; that’s what friends are there for.
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