I’ll Be There

One of the most disappointing things for me personally is when people say “anything, anytime” and then when you reach out, they’re too busy. I get that everyone has lives and commitments, but do you really not have time to connect with other people? Is it too much to ask nowadays for people to help someone else?

I have a younger friend who is coping with chronic illness, 2 kids under the age of 5 and a military spouse. I’m finding out that most of this person’s “friends” have become scarce as life has become complicated. Just when the person needs it most, people disappear.

It’s hard maintaining relationships with all the distractions available today. We enroll our kids in activities, get involved in said activities as adults and forget that the quiet moments are important. Our lives shift and change, which leaves many people in a state of aloneness. Perhaps our life circumstances change so dramatically that our “friends” no longer feel as if we fit into their lives.

I was speaking with another friend today and I asked her if she would be free to come over for a small gathering of friends in a few weeks. The date just happens to be the day before her birthday. I told her “Great!” we’ll have a party at my house so she doesn’t have to do anything. Just invite your friends, I said enthusiastically. And then, she told me she feels she only has two and I’m one of them. This friend is caught in the sandwich generation and as the family needs have increased, her “friends” disappeared.

I’ve come to realize that people no longer want to work at relationships. According to some statistics, marriages only stand a 50% chance of surviving 5 years or longer. The most common reason is listed as “irreconcilable differences.” I think that logic could be applied to all our relationships that have faded. I mean, we still get along but there is just nothing holding us together.

I mourn for friendships that have passed. People I thought would be part of my life for a very long time have departed. As I’m seeing this pattern with other people and their relationships, I don’t think it’s me. My current theory is that our lives have become so hectic combined with the need for instant gratification, we just don’t want to become involved with other people.

I maintain friendships until it becomes painfully obvious that it’s time to move on. I’m getting better at recognizing when I’m being pushed away. I don’t fight nearly as hard as I used to when I feel people pulling back. Perhaps I’m to blame for the decline in my life.

For those who get to know me, you will soon discover that I will answer my phone at 2am. I will do whatever I can to ease your burden. I want to walk these paths with you, regardless of their difficulty. It’s a choice I gladly make. I only ask for honesty. I don’t like games. I truly don’t understand them most of the time. Either you’re in or you’re out. It’s pretty straightforward in my world.

Ponder this…as your life changes, do you forget to water your garden of friendship? Do you have regrets about letting things wither and die in your relationships? What is so absolutely important in your life that you don’t need friends?

In today’s world, it’s pretty simple to let someone know you’re still there for them. A text, a social media message and *gasp* a phone call can be the gentle shower that your garden needs. We’re all in this together.

Your challenge: Make contact with a friend you haven’t connected with recently. The time you spend will be returned to you tenfold. We all need to know someone cares enough to reach out. I know I’ll be there.

Lean on Me http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZE16KTpu_M

I’ll be There  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KnDm3qr1Knk

 

On my Mind

She had been doing this for some time when a man approached her and said, “Little girl, why are you doing this? Look at this beach! You can’t save all these starfish. You can’t begin to make a difference!”

The girl seemed crushed, suddenly deflated. But after a few moments, she bent down, picked up another starfish, and hurled it as far as she could into the ocean. Then she looked up at the man and replied, “Well, I made a difference to that one!”

 

I’m just going to throw this one out there. Mental health is just as important as physical health. Study after study shows that people who take care of all aspects of their health live longer, more fulfilling lives. Like many health related things, however, people don’t want to talk about it.

So I’m going to talk and hope at least one person listens. In the last two months, several people I care about have become so disillusioned with life that they decided suicide was the only way out. While I’m not an expert, I’ve been there myself and walked with many others who have felt this way. I’m not going to sugarcoat things here with the hope that at least one person understands what I’m saying.

At the time a person reaches this point, the sense of reason is gone. There is literally nothing visible to the individual aside from release. It’s like tunnel vision or wearing blinders. Distraction is almost impossible because the fixation on relief is so strong. If someone is well and truly only focused on the relief, there is not much anyone can do to stop the inevitable conclusion. You can try to talk someone off the ledge, but a truly determined individual will not hear you.

Which brings me to my next point. We’re social beings. If you start to see a friend withdraw, ask why. This is the time your words may be heard. Waiting until the cries for help become so obvious they can’t be ignored is too long. Engage your friends on a regular basis. Check on each other and listen instead of thinking about your next activity. Just imagine if we all paid as much attention to the people around us as we do to celebrities. Everyone’s well-being would improve.

The flip side of this is to recognize when you are over your head. Some people need more help than others. While a chat or a hug may help someone regain a wider view, it’s just not possible for everyone to bounce back as easily. The airline advisory to put your own mask on first is so true. If you become fixated on helping someone who doesn’t want help, you can go down as well. Especially if the person is ultimately successful despite your efforts.

Ironically, mental health professionals are some of the lowest paid individuals and yet they carry such a huge responsibility. My insurance only reimburses up to about 1/3 of what they pay my physicians. As my news feed becomes plugged up with stories about how mental illness is to blame for most shootings, I just think about how great it would be if we not only had the professionals, but also the respect for the profession. Money isn’t everything, but everyone has bills and it would be nice if the people we hope will step up could be compensated accordingly.

Many years ago a movie titled “Crocodile Dundee” screened across America. The title character is from Australia and ends up in America. He has a conversation about life’s troubles with the female lead who mentions her therapist. And the words he spoke “don’t you talk to your mates (friends)?” still reverberates in my mind. We have all become so busy that we have forgotten about our mates. In this crazy, self-absorbed society we have left our friends to fend for themselves. And that is just not cool.

For those of you who contemplate relief on a regular basis, I urge you to seek out professional help now. For those of you who think, but don’t act, reach out. There are many avenues out there available to you. Sometimes you just need to see around the next corner. For those of you who think you’re immune, I ask you to share your strength. Engage with your friends and community. Help others see the sunny side of life.

We’re all in this together. Don’t place blame. Shaming people because you think they’re weak is not okay either. You don’t know what is up next in your life. Or how well you will cope with the next curveball life throws you. It’s okay to ask for help. It’s okay to offer help. Don’t shy away from someone because they have hit a bump. You may be the one who makes a difference.

 

One Way Streets

There is some self-interest behind every friendship. There is no friendship without self-interests. This is a bitter truth.~ Chanakya

Lately I find myself re-evaluation my priorities. My health issues are happening more frequently and with greater intensity. While not life-threatening, it is annoying. This situation is also making it harder for me to sustain relationships that are one-way streets.

We’ve all been there. Friends of convenience that you share a common interest or two for a while. Friends that seem to pass through for a while. Relationships that never seem to really take off. Relationships that become forced over time. All in all, these relationships are very taxing for me.

I count myself lucky that many people have passed through my life. Each relationship has enriched me. They helped me see the greater diversity that makes up my life. As they fade and disappear, I mull over what brought us together in the first place. The reasons are as different as the relationships. Some were because our children were in the same activity. Some were because we had similar life situations. Others were through professional organizations or jobs. Many were because of a common interest or two. And, when circumstances changed, we parted quietly and moved on to the next stage of life.

Recently, I realized that many of my relationships were one-way streets. I was working very hard to make the friendships happen. I would schedule “dates” and be the one who initiated contact. The more I examined things, the more I came to understand that reciprocity was missing. In one case, I learned that a relationship was based not on mutual respect, but on what I could do for an organization. In another I looked backwards and realized a person didn’t make time for me and repeatedly broke “dates” because they didn’t feel like going out. Then, a few days later, I found out they had received a “better offer” and had gone out with someone else.

It hurt. I know I’ve lost many friends because of my illness. Some were “fair weather” friends who just decided I was too much work. Others didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing. A third group starting telling me they just didn’t want to hurt my feelings. I even had a group that was solely based on what I could do for them and they had no intention of reciprocating at all. At first, I missed these people and mourned the loss of the life I had. And then, I realized that my garden was blooming brighter and some of the low-lying flowers were now receiving sunlight. Those flowers have become the garden I cherish and look forward to spend time in.

There is still some bitterness, but mostly directed toward myself because I didn’t weed my garden sooner. I know that I am the only one who can change myself. Expecting others to change for me seems to only lead to heartache. I had to grasp the concept of my own self worth before I could see which parts of my garden could be weeded and which parts needed nurturing.

The bottom line is that even friendships run their course over time. There is no success to be found in forcing a one way relationship. While each friendship may develop because of self-interest, if it never moves beyond that initial phase it probably isn’t worth expending the time and energy required to keep it alive.

The Friend I Thought I Knew

Be courteous to all, but intimate with few, and let those few be well-tried before you give them your confidence.~ George Washington

I have had reason to ponder this quote recently. So far my readers know I am a medically disabled mom who uses a service dog. I’ve also disclosed some of my philosophies about parenting. I long ago learned that friends come and go for various reasons and because of those experiences, I tend to not disclose very much about myself. You see, like many of you, I’ve had friends that for whatever reason decide they no longer want to be my friends. Some of those relationships ended up being downright poisonous. Others, well, they ended in less overt painful actions.

I learned to be courteous to all from my parents. I was raised to believe that all life has value and it is up to me to find that value then cherish and nurture it in the best way I can. Sometimes, it is a fleeting moment such as giving up a seat on a crowded bus. Other times, I find myself becoming closer to someone over the long-term and taking them in confidence. However, I have learned to guard my heart and the number of people who know me very well is small. Today, I have learned yet again that, as Oprah puts it, “everyone wants to ride in the limo, but few want to ride on the bus.”

I have watched my children stumble with relationships many times. Their fair weather friends have, unfortunately, been many. I am helpless to do anything but watch as yet another human being hurts my child. Some of them do it accidentally, but others seem to thrive on personal attacks. After these train wrecks, I am left to pick up the pieces. Much like my beloved procedural novel heroes, I try to figure out why. Inevitably, I end up looking at the adult role models for the bully and discover that it is a familial trait. I have long since stopped trying to talk to other parents as it seems I’m among the minority of parents who hold themselves and their children accountable for their actions.

You may be wondering what brought on this examination of friendships. It has to do with what I perceive to be my ability to be courteous to all. Some people take my courtesy to mean they know me, what is best for me and how to “be there” for me. Dear readers, the news is that I have hundreds of friends in real life. Yet, the ones who could actually give you my address number less than a dozen. Because of my willingness to listen, people assume they know me well. Then, when I break course, they determine I was never their friend. And the rumors start. Then the painful realization that yet another person dislikes me because I didn’t fit their mold sets in.

Over and over, yet I keep trying. My kids do too, probably because they were also raised to enter into a friendship with an open mind. They have started to learn not to open their hearts readily. I find this sad because at their ages, they have experienced so much hatred for being themselves that they no longer extend an open hand to everyone who walks into their lives. They are missing the richness that a diverse group of friends brings to life. They are missing opportunities to nurture others because they have been hurt so much they feel the need to not only guard their hearts, but put a moat around themselves as well.

I ask that each of you think about the impact your words and actions have on your friends. I want you to consider whether you are causing pain to others in your life. Think about your fellow humans and how it feels when you say or do something for your own personal gain at their expense. We all have feelings. Just think before you act…if you wouldn’t like it, what makes you think someone else will?

Live, Love, Laugh

There cannot be a crisis next week. My schedule is already full.~Henry A. Kissinger

This quote was made in jest during a time of intense political stress. Yet, it rings true today because we have filled our lives with things that need doing, places we must go and people who demand our presence. Our lives have become schedules, without room to pause and savor what is right in front of us.

One of my friends recently attended the funeral of a very good friend. My friend found herself unable to cry at the service and was wondering what was wrong with her. I thought about this for a while, as I am prone to cry at a picture of cute puppies. Then I realized, it’s because my friend lives in the now. She savored her time with her friend as it came and thus had no regrets other than losing the companionship of a dear friend. They laughed and shared life every day. Even though her friend passed rather suddenly, my friend found herself understanding that life is meant to be lived right now, not as a series of regrets.

I frequently joke about how my housekeeping skills have been lacking for the last decade. No, I’m not a hoarder and my house, while messy, is not unsanitary. I’ve just found that as my kids were growing up, I wanted to be involved in their lives. I led Scouts, volunteered at schools, taught my kids to serve others and made dinner almost every night. The dust bunnies could wait. My life was full of kids and their activities.

Today, I am grateful I lived in the now. My kids are young adults and can fend for themselves. The only major skill they lack is housekeeping, but that probably has to do with me being a poor role model. My days are still full, but not with the things I want them to be. Living in the now was crazy busy, but strangely liberating.

I encourage all of you to pause for a few moments and look at your schedule. Then look at your life. Happiness is found in doing the things you love. Don’t worry about a crisis…there will undoubtably be one anyway. Live, love, laugh. Those three words sum up how to handle a crisis.

Trust in the Information Age

Trust, but verify.~Ronald Reagan

In this age of instant “friendships” and split-second communication, it all to easy to find yourself questioning decisions. A handshake used to be enough to seal the deal, mainly because you had spent enough time with someone to know they weren’t selling you oceanfront property in Iowa. Now, I have an elderly women, supposedly dying from cancer, who wants to give me millions if I would just be so kind as to provide my banking information.

I found out today that a certain social media platform is sending out “friend” requests on my behalf to people I don’t know. Well, I do sort of know them as they are “friends” of “friends.” But, I didn’t make these requests and now I have messages asking me who I am and what do I want. I think it’s great these people are skeptical enough to send me a message before confirming the request and I hope everyone affected does, because it sure would be weird to have these people start showing up in my news feed. It would also be time-consuming to check my “friends” list every day to make sure nothing has changed without my permission.

So how do we develop trust when we don’t meet people in person? How do we know what information is “safe” to disclose and what we should hold back? At what point can we determine if a “friend” is trustworthy? I’ve seen so much in the last 4 years that probably ought not to have been posted in public. No, I’m not talking about the Miley Cyrus incident, although that certainly qualifies.

The Declaration of Independence uses the words “we hold these truths to be self-evident” to describe basic human rights. I believe many people think their personal lives fall under those very same words. We are supposed to believe that no one stretches the truth, that everyone is the person they claim to be and that every story told is true. Another old saying pops in to my head…”caveat emptor” or buyer beware.

Trust takes time, much more than a few exchanges via email. Even after you have decided to trust a “friend,” you may still find deceit and heartache down the road. Like relationships in real life, online relationships are fraught with pitfalls. In some ways, they are like dominoes. One person disagrees with you and suddenly you find yourself either a target of online attacks (much like schoolyard bullying) or massive “unfriending.” I have been left wondering what I did to someone to be “unfriended” only to discover that it’s because I’m “friends” with someone else. Seriously, it reminds me of the days of nanabooboo on the playground.

I suggest that we all take a step back and consider what trust means to us. I trust that my phone bill will show up every month. I trust that there really are only two certain things in life…death and taxes. I trust some people more than others, either because they have earned my trust through walking the talk or because they appear to be inherently “good” people. You won’t find me posting every little detail of my life on any social media platform. If I did, I’m sure the Nigerian official looking to move money out of his crumbling economy would want to speak with me.