Banter and Trampolines: On Asking Strangers for Help
I’m currently in a rebuilding phase. If you read Sunday’s post, you’ll have twigged that I moved to the UK for love and wound up getting divorced. The divorce happened in 2016, and last spring I experienced a kind of delayed-onset burnout which sent me into a very low and dark place.
It wasn’t a very interesting lowness or darkness; it’s not like I started a pyramid scheme-cum-sex cult, made millions of dollars, blew millions more on Rolls-Royces, then had to flee the country just as the RICO charges came down. I didn't even get a drastic haircut. It was the usual midlife stuff, the sad but mundane unwinding of a long-term relationship.
Although the headspace I’m in has brightened considerably, it is still by and large an ill-furnished space. If you’re reading this, and you’re one of the many people who’s only gotten to know me in the last two years, please pardon my dust. It’s a process.
Talking When You’re Tired of Hearing Yourself Talk
There are still weeks when I can’t keep it together, and last week was one of those. I felt a very pressing need to talk it out, but as I work alone all the time and live alone half the time (shared custody), there was nobody immediately to hand. I have family, but this particular morning was... well, a morning, and none of my family were up owing to differences in time zone.
As for my friends, during the last year and a half my closest friends, the ones who have done the most for me during this period of my life, have either scattered to inconvenient distances—actually to Canada, in one case— or they are busy with new relationships or career paths or babies or thwarted house moves. (Or I no longer go to their gym.)
Other friends fall in to one of two categories:
Close-ish friends with whom I feel like I have hit my emotional labour credit limit—they couldn’t possibly want to hear me whine about anything, ever again.
People with whom I suspect I could be very close, owing to a kind of rhyme in our personalities, but to whom I hesitate to reach out because I feel a moderately soul-bearing chat needs to be had before I go dumping my shit in their laps. (Or, worse, my intuition about their level of concern for me could be way off base, and wouldn’t that be embarrassing.)
So I was kind of stuck for an outlet. Then I remembered there is an Internet.
Because most of the people who interact with me on Facebook fall into the two categories above, I went to Twitter and Instagram instead, where I lay this odd little egg.
Putting that out there brought an immediate measure of relief. I decided that would be enough for me; that even if total silence followed I’d at least have set my feeling down in something like concrete terms so I could move on with my day.
Then came the responses.
"Your Club Sounds Lame and You Should Not Be in That Club."
On Twitter, some of the first replies were from women I’d met only the previous weekend at a writing conference. “You made a difference to my weekend,” said one of them. Another came sliding into my Facebook messages for a chat, and then checked in on me the following day. Two further responses were from more established friends, both of whom extended invitations to me for visits.
On Instagram, acquaintances and total strangers chimed in with comments, even if just to say they were feeling the same way. One lovely woman, Maggie, sent me a private message (we had known each other slightly when we attended the same gym), and we had a conversation ranging over several days that really, truly eased my mind and even gave me food for thought regarding my career plans. Thanks, Maggie.
Another set of messages came from Luke, a friend of a former friend. I’ve met him in person exactly once, but his banter game is memorable. You can see some of his contribution at the top of this post. Thanks, Luke. Hope the dormouse tattoo’s healing.
A Change is as Good as a Rest
Soliciting support via this roundabout fashion was the right thing to do that day, and not just because I happened to have a good outcome from it. I think I needed to take advantage of what’s known in medical and psychological circles as novelty bias—that is, the perception that a new remedy is better because it is new.
In a depressive state, one tends to feel that established friends and family members only offer comfort or support because they “have” to. When people from farther out in our social circles tell us we are actually pretty okay, it resonates more. It isn’t rational, but that’s humanity for you.
So that was last Monday. Since then, I’ve been busy. I applied for a couple of writing fellowships. I started talking to people who work for, or who know people who work for, graduate programs I’m interested in applying for next year. I reached out to my youngest sister for a chat. I went to my friend Ed’s gallery showing, where we set a date for Thanksgiving dinner. I built this website and started writing things for it. I made a ridiculous little get-well card for someone, taking pleasure in lettering his name on the envelope. And on Tuesday I cashed in one of my Twitter invitations (thanks, Liz) and spent a pleasant evening out, the highlight of which was bouncing on a trampoline in the sunshine with a bubbly five-year-old boy.
I may have regrets about prior life choices, but I don’t regret this one.
Do Try This at Home
Really. Ask for help if you need it, or even just say how you are feeling. The Internet is full of horrible things—furries, Nazis, Nazi furries, and whatever this is:
However, it is also chockablock with ordinary, decent people. And ordinary, decent people actually do want to help others. Really.
Take me, for instance. While I’m sure at some point I will have a chance to pay back the specific people who helped me last week, I’m also happy to pay it forward. Are you blue? I’m good for a pep talk (with or without memes), and if we’re actual, personal friends, I am accomplished at creating comfort food for the weary of heart. Ask Lauren or Ed or Gemma or Mike: my Sunday roasts, my bacon mac ‘n’ cheese, my brownies? They are good for what ails you, unless what ails you is congestive heart failure.
Kurt Vonnegut was fond of quoting his son Mark, who once said, “We are here to get each other through this thing, whatever it is." If that means we sometimes need heartfelt talks with a virtual stranger or artery-stiffening snacks from a slight acquaintance to keep us going, then that is what we must seek. Don’t be afraid to ask.