I got a text message from a friend last night needing a chat. I called and we chatted and I learned that she’d recently gone through a horrible experience and I won’t really talk about it here because it’s not my story to tell, but it’s an all too common experience in today’s world and it just makes me want to pick up a hammer and start smashing society.
It’s traumatising as hell and I feel so sad and impotent and unable to be of any use or help. Not that it’s about me.
It happens a lot, this impotence. Friends with cancer diagnoses, sick children, huge financial burdens, traumas and assaults, crappy spouses, job hatred. I’d love to solve it all for each of them. But so often it doesn’t get solved. People die, people live in fear, people – my friends carry the weight of things that wear away at their souls day by day. They lose their houses and their minds. They break under the pressure and useless me – I can’t carry any of it for any of them.
What even makes me think I could anyway? I mean, I can barely carry the weight of my own life and I have none of the above shit going on. I guess it’s a little bit like someone else’s oven – for some reason it’s always easier to clean the oven in someone else’s house than your own. I guess it feels like putting something good out into the world, whereas doing it for yourself just feels like yet another chore. Same thing with carrying the burdens of your life, I think. My own are just another boring chore.
I’m not saying I’m “excited” at the prospect of friends’ misery and drama. No more than I’m excited by their dirty ovens! But if they exist, then helping them seems achievable and useful. Helping myself? Well, it’s just going to get dirty or broken again.
I’m a lot more pessimistic when it comes to my own long term happiness. Or maybe it’s realistic – and I don’t say that in a catastrophising kind of a way. I mean that I’ve long ago recognised for myself than solving one problem will not “fix” me for life. Cleaning one oven will not stop the endless grind of chores and household tasks. It won’t stop the dog hair piling up tomorrow, and it won’t even stop the cheese from dripping off the next pizza that goes in there.
So why would I think that solving the problem of this one horrible thing would help my friend right now?
I don’t think I do actually. In fact I recognise that her life is hers to carry by herself – for better or worse. But maybe I could lighten the load?
So often it feels like I can’t even do that. I have another friend with pretty bad health prospects and I want to rush over and do laundry and make dinners or whatever. But I feel that would probably be intrusive – oh I’ve asked, I’ve offered, but I’ve never had the smallest sense that it would be appreciated. And so I stand uselessly on the sidelines of her life. I don’t call or question because I have to assume that if she wanted to talk about it, she’d initiate the conversation – but! Maybe that’s not true, right? Maybe in her situation you would be glad of someone asking specific questions that you can answer rather than leaving it up to you to inform the world of everything, when you already feel separated by your disease.
Basically, I feel a lot like I could be a better friend.
I’m just not really sure what form that would take. And to be really, selfishly honest, I’m not sure how much I have to give.
That sounds way way harsher than I intend it to. Theoretically I would do anything in my power for any of my friends. But if it were some kind of stupid theoretical choice between them and my children? Well, we all know where we fall on that decision, I think! So how about where it’s not such a direct choice, but maybe if it’s about finances – where do you draw the line? Because you’ve got yourself and your spouse and their future to consider. And you want to keep “enough” for them. And maybe “enough + a cushion.” And then, what about emotionally and time-wise? If I use up all my energy on others’, what’s left for my family? If I spend my evenings cleaning someone else’s oven, I won’t even have the time to make dinner or read stories to my children. Fine for one evening, but every evening?
Thankfully emotional support doesn’t work in that zero-sum way – I think. I actually think the more support you put out there for others, the better you get at providing it. Not just for others, but maybe yourself as well.
So. Conclusions? No. Just sad and worried for my friend. (And for my wider circle of friends.) I’ve got strong metaphorical arms to metaphorically hold and carry them all day long, and I think that’s the best I can do right now. I hope it will be enough.