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

 

Broken

A broken bone can heal, but the wound a word opens can fester forever.~ Jessamyn West

We’ve all had the experience of someone saying something that cuts to the heart. Sometimes it’s malicious but most often it is failure to understand the impact the words have on an individual. I know you can’t control how someone feels. The perception is completely in the heart of the recipient. I wonder, if we thought more about the consequences, could we stay our voice until we are sure of what we want our words to communicate?

I’m having a rough go of relationships right now. I think back to even five years ago and how many people I could call on a moment’s notice and we could find something to do. Since then, many people have disconnected themselves from me. Sometimes, the words came and they were harsh. The number of people who have left my life because they didn’t know what to say is significant. But, I made new friends. I moved on. Life changes and so do the people who fit in it.

What did I do wrong, to chase people away? In some cases, I failed to nurture the relationship. I got so wrapped up in taking care of myself, I forgot to water my garden. And then I think, relationships are two-way streets. I don’t recall missing phone calls. I don’t think there were phone calls. I can safely say that chronic illness drives people away. Other people left because I starting standing firm for things I believe. Basically, I rubbed them the wrong way. Yet, some just faded away. I’ve been told that there are reasons for all this. I wish I could figure out those reasons.

I think I’ve burned a bridge unintentionally. I’ve been revisiting events and conversations for about it for 2 days now, looking at all the angles and analyzing the data. But there is still one angle that I can’t quite grasp. The words being used don’t make sense. Should I stay and try to salvage the relationship on the basis of it’s a misunderstanding that time will take care of? Or do I flee, torch in hand. It’s probably going to take a few weeks to put that relationship in the right place.

There is another relationship that I’m struggling with, a more personal one. I have made some new friends. I reached out and made considerable effort to connect. I guess I knew from the beginning that I was trying too hard. But, I really wanted to establish a friendship. Call that my social deficit…sometimes I just really want to make something great happen.

A few weeks into this process, I could tell I was an interloper. Another friendship existed and while I felt I could co-exist with that friendship, apparently I can’t. Conversations were had without me, even though the topic involved me. I knew what was happening by the tenor of the conversations. Little hints dropped here and there that I suspect were meant to soften the blow of being dismissed. I suspect that because I too have used this strategy. Letting people down gently is a noble thought that rarely works out.

I don’t like this feeling of dismissal. It feels like high school all over again where I’m just not good enough to be one of the popular kids. It shouldn’t bother me, but it does. I feel those same feelings of being strung along. Not quite to the level of saying I feel used, but I most definitely feel snubbed.

And then I realize that the other parties may not know how things look to me. Just because once I commit to something, I’ll stick with it until the end doesn’t mean anyone else will. Just because I work very hard to help people feel comfortable around me doesn’t mean they will. It’s just plain awkward.

So yes, I’m hurt. I’m hurt because these friends agreed to something and then backed out. I’m hurt because I was never really in the equation even though I was led to believe I was part of the equation.  I’m hurt because I wasn’t told the truth. I would still be hurt if I was told they thought I was party crashing, but I don’t think it would be nearly as painful as knowing that conversations were had and a plan to back out was implemented.

As one saying goes, some people are in our lives as lessons. Obviously, this week I needed schooling.  Lots of schooling. I needed to feel how my little white lies were hurting others. I needed to feel the sting of disappointment before I got too far ahead of myself. I needed to learn that while I crave connection, others do not.

So, your challenge. Try to use your words wisely. Don’t promise me a date when you have no intention of keeping it. If you can, think about making and keeping a date, even if it’s just for coffee. There’s so much aloneness in the world that your offer could be the lifeline I need to keep looking forward. The  hour you spend keeping me company is a gift in my eyes.

Above all, be true to yourself. You probably don’t want people to start thinking poorly of you. Your words, coupled with your actions, tell me what kind of person you truly are, through and through. Make sure that what I see is something you can be happy about.

Please try not to break me. I feel things very deeply and I can only handle so much rejection before I crack. You may not be perceptive enough to see the duct tape and super glue. I still believe that it’s there for anyone who takes the time to look for it.

PS- Yes, I have Autism. Yes, I know that impacts my perceptions and feelings. But, you don’t have to be Autistic to know that words hurt.

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.

 

Challenges

Truth is, I’ll never know all there is to know about you just as you will never know all there is to know about me. Humans are by nature too complicated to be understood fully. So we can choose either to approach our fellow human beings with suspicion or to approach them with an open mind, a dash of optimism and a great deal of candor.~ Tom Hanks

 

I discovered this past week that I have not been communicating as clearly as I could have been. I’m sure many of you have read blogs about what people with chronic illness want you to do. But, it seems that the affected person needs to do some things as well. Here’s my new list:

Never apologize for who you are. It gets on people’s nerves.

Stay in touch with the people you want in your life. If you make the effort, so will they.

Focus on the relationship, not your problems. Unless the person has specifically asked, they don’t want a medical tutorial.

It’s ok to say no. Just try to reschedule as soon as possible.

Friends want to be with you but may feel awkward. Acknowledge that you understand and ask them if they have questions you  can answer.

Focus on things you can do. Enjoy the time you have together with no regrets.

Finally, it’s not all about me. Relationships are two-way streets. Everyone has challenges and wants to talk about them. Don’t trivialize their concerns/situations just because you “have it worse.” It’s not a contest.

Come to think of it…this list applies to everyone. Whenever you hit a speed bump, keep these things in mind and hopefully you’ll get past that bump quickly.

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.

Hourglass

Best start putting first things first.
Cause when your hourglass runs out of sand
You can’t flip over and start again
Take every breath God gives you for what it’s worth~ Kenny Chesney, Don’t Blink

It’s that time of year again. Yes, winter. Bet you thought I was going to talk about the various holidays. Nope, just winter.

Actually, this entry is about every day. It seems that during winter, people get wrapped up in how many people they can meet up with, how many dinners they prepare, how many cards they send out and so on. It’s like cramming a year’s worth of living into 45 days.

Personally, I stopped trying to cram it all in a few years ago. My health declined, my energy level declined and, if I’m being honest, I became depressed about a number of things. There were some rituals I held dear that my family didn’t share any enthusiasm for. Twelve years of military hustle and bustle set me up to expect holiday parties. And then, I realized that I neglected some very important people in my life in my rush to meet expectations.

What good was trying to pass on tradition if my kids hated it and would really rather do something else? Why was I running around spending money to show how much I “loved” someone? And the most important question of all…what about the rest of the year? Was I nurturing relationships all the time, or only when society deems it socially necessary?

Because life is about relationships. It’s about having a group of people in your life that you enjoy being around most of the time (yes, most because all is too confining). It’s about providing mutual support, that shoulder to cry on or that ear to listen. Not just once a year, but all the time. Maintaining solid relationships takes work, not just a dinner party once a year.

I’m not saying “Bah, humbug” to the winter season. I am saying that if we put half as much effort into our relationships throughout the year as we do right now, we just might discover how truly wonderful our friends are. I purposefully do not host parties during the early winter months. I wait until there’s nothing “exciting” going on and then invite people over. I get to actually talk with my friends instead of whipping through the kitchen making sure everything is perfect. No one is in a rush.

My challenge to you…look at everything you’ve done so far this winter. Yes, I know technically winter doesn’t start until December 21, but you know what I mean. Are you building memories or frustration? Are you so busy you aren’t enjoying and cherishing your relationships? Now, how could you spread things out so you get to enjoy the people in your life all year long?

Why treat one part of the year as special when it comes to your relationships? Not to be too morbid, but you never know what the next year will bring. Embrace yourself and your friends every day, because you can’t turn the hourglass over again.

Love and Blood

“Blood is thicker than water, but Love is thicker than Blood.”~ Garth Brooks

Recently many of my friends have asked what defines a family. Yes, some of this is in light of the debates around marriage rights. Others are estranged from their “blood” and are searching for ways to connect with other people. This question piqued my interest and I began asking my own questions about who is “family” in my life.

I often joke about the 7 circles of friendship I created in order to manage my social media. One platform gives me the option of “friends” or “acquaintances” as well as creating custom lists. I started my quest for answers by looking at how I had assigned the people I know on this platform. Interestingly enough, only three of my “blood” appear in my “family” list. The remainders are people I have met and gotten to know well enough that I’m comfortable sharing things with them. How did that happen?

Searching deeper into my motives for assigning people, I found that my comfort level of sharing personal information seemed to guide me in how I created my lists. So does that mean I’m not comfortable with my “blood?” After further consideration, I decided that was not the case. Rather, I’m more comfortable sharing things with people I have strong, consistent relationships with, whether in real life or via social media.

As I reflected on this nugget of information the realization that relationships are what makes us family dawned on me. Regardless of how people came into my life, their willingness to accept me for who I am and to build relationships with me placed them closer to my “inner circle” than other people. Don’t get me wrong, I care about all the people in my life. It’s just that some people have expressed a desire to stay connected while others have allowed the relationship to become one-sided. Sometimes I’m the one who made that decision.

In the end, I believe that Love is what makes us family. That deep feeling of fullness that other people bring into our lives is the kind of Love that binds us. It is this Love that helps us stick together through all the bumpy patches of life. How we find that kind of Love is the stuff that stories are made of. Many people have touched my life and I’m proud to call them friends. Those who have stayed in my life, working with me to bind ourselves together, are my family. We may not share our upbringings, “blood” or traditional family roots, but we have each other now and that is what keeps us strong.