This piece was co-authored with Jennifer Clark, LMSW.
Ah, the Holidays. The “Silly Season.” I do wonder how much more mad the regular holiday madness will be as we continue to contend with issues of COVID-19 and other global stressors.
Pandemic puts a big magnifying glass on existing stressors. The frustrations that one normally feels–the family stuff, all the feelings of sadness, loneliness, or grief–all of it is likely to feel worse than usual. I’m not telling you this to induce despair. I’m telling you this so you can be ready and rationally know that what you’re feeling is likely normal, and that there’s actually less reason for despair than you want to make yourself believe.
But, the Silly Season being what it is, some of us will simply have a harder time of it than others. Seasonal Affective Disorder may kick in, further complicating things. So here’s what I’m asking you to do:
Check On Each Other
Reach out and touch someone. Maybe set a goal for yourself, something like two or three reach-outs a week. It’s important that we keep up our social connections and lift each other closer towards whatever relief is on the horizon. Check on each other. The simple act of being asked “Hey, how are you doing?” can be a relief all by itself, never mind the heartfelt conversation that may follow. So please do not isolate, and please try to help others stay connected.
I don’t care if it’s via text, or a phone call, or whatever. When you’re checking in with a friend, the most important thing is simply that you do it. There’s nothing wrong with saying, “Hey, just checking in.” Be genuine. Be forthright. Ask direct questions about how they’re doing. Open ended questions get folks talking: “How are you feeling these days? What did you think about that new series…? What’s on your mind these days?”
If you notice something is a little off, ask about it: “I’ve noticed you may feel a little down. Are you doing okay? I’m here for you.” A genuine question, delivered from a place of compassion, is one of the things that holds friendships together. Checking in on a friend in this manner is a way of saying “I love you” in disguise.
High Concern Situations
Most importantly, if you notice anything that scares you – anything that makes you think your friend might hurt themselves, reach out for help. Here are some possible warning signs:
- Mood swings
- Talking about wanting to die or to kill themselves
- Expressing feelings of hopelessness or having no reason to live
- Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain
- Increased use of alcohol or drugs
- Withdrawing or isolating themselves
Don’t be afraid to ask your friend directly if they are thinking about hurting themselves. Time and time again we have learned that asking about suicide does not give someone a new idea they haven’t considered before. As a matter of fact, asking shines light on the dark thoughts in their mind. It gives them a chance to get help.
When someone dies by suicide, they very rarely do it on a whim. Many times they make a plan, start preparing (like buying ammo or collecting pills), and giving away prized possessions. If you can see that your friend is doing these things, encourage them to go to a hospital to get evaluated, or perhaps tell a therapist.
Don’t Hold It In
When you’re checking in, whether you’re the “check-ee” or the “check-er,” be honest about whatever it is you’re feeling.
Remember, whatever you don’t talk about is likely to come back bigger and darker at some later point. Keeping feelings in does not make things better. Of course, you cannot force anyone to talk. The friend may simply not want to engage. But I suggest the important thing to do is to open that door and to keep it open.
If you have a friend who may be resistant to these conversations, let your friend know that you would like to check in with how they are feeling regularly, even if they do not want to talk about it. This can signal that you care and that you are not going to be dissuaded by their reticence.
You might accept a “not right now” from your friend, but if you’re concerned, let them know it using language that they can readily understand and relate to. Remind your friend that you’re there for them. Even if all your friend wants to do is go for a socially-distanced walk, getting the friend to stay engaged with you is critically important, and may pave the way to more significant conversations, later.
You Are Amazing
The fact of the matter is, you’ve made it this far. And that is amazing. You are WAY stronger and more powerful than you may realize. YOU are amazing, even if you feel like crap. The things you care about deeply and authentically add to your amazingness. The bravery that it takes to deeply care about anything is a testament to your strength. Let’s continue to share our strength with each other.
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