“But I don’t know what to say/do” is something I hear often when talking about mental health. ”I thought it would be best to just let you work it out. You know I am here.”
Well, that’s a bunch of hooey. Do you let your friends coping with the aftereffects of chemo tough it out until they are well enough to make you feel comfortable? Actually, some of you might. We are a society that has lost touch with the concept of loving thy neighbor. But in the spirit of being evenhanded, I present a list of things you CAN do that will not necessarily entail having to have a conversation with someone who is miserable. You might even help them have a good day.
First, just do a task. You might shovel the snow, cut the grass, scoop the poop or something similar. Just do it. You not only show you care, but you also take one burden off their shoulders. Take out the trash or put the trash can back up where it belongs. The list is endless.
Second, do a chore. This closely related to the first suggestion, but usually requires more proximity to someone. Don’t just offer to do the chore, do the chore without commentary. Believe me, we know our house is not in good shape. We know. Clean a bathroom. Stop at the grocery store for staples you know are used in the household. Take the kids to see a movie. Prepare a meal and clean the kitchen while you are it. And be low key and cool. Don’t shame someone, just offer them your support.
Third, bring comfort. A mug and some tea bags. A basket with favorite snacks. A fuzzy blanket. A Pierogie pillow. You can put this on someone’s doorstep and not have to feel like you are intruding. You can send it from Amazon.com. You can give it to their caretakers. How about a funky pez dispenser? Or a box of Girl Scout cookies?
Fourth, food. Bring food. When you struggle with depression or anxiety, it is hard enough to eat at all, much less eat nutritious meals that build up your strength and resiliency. This is the classic casserole moment. But it doesn’t have to be a casserole.
- Order something you know they like from their favorite takeout restaurant, package the food into individual servings and leave that – it can be frozen, saved, consumed, etc.
- Slip a gift card for the local pizza delivery shop through the mail slot.
- Ask others in the household what they’d like. Maybe bring a pie for them to enjoy as they too are living with depression. Maybe you can bake cookies for a kid’s classroom event.
- Send an edible arrangement or a fruit basket.
Fifth, remember – it’s not about you. Sharing your own stories of woe and maltreatment are not effective pick-me-ups unless you know that person really well and can share those stories with hugs. Don’t explain that soccer practice, choir practice, weekend-get-a-way got in your way of reaching out. Of course they did, but this is not a time to seek absolution. If you say “call me if you need me” – answer the phone and be accessible. If you say “I’m always here if you want to talk” don’t ignore their calls. In fact, try to avoid these phrases. Stepping back from talking about yourself or referencing yourself or explaining yourself is a gift – it says “these x minutes are about you” to your friend. And if they ask to be distracted, talk about something that is not whiny or guilt-inducing.
Six, do something small to let them know you are thinking about them. A text message. A post on their Facebook timeline. A little “hello” can go a long way when someone is struggling with isolation and frustration. It meant a lot to me (more than I expected) when some people whom I don’t know in real life started a chat with me on Instagram after I posted a photo. It was just a few moments, but it flipped a switch for me.
In sum, waiting for someone with a chronic illness to feel better so you can spend time with them doing something pleasurable is not always a helpful approach. Create the better day without saying a word.
I should add a caveat - I've written a few of these types of posts over the years, but have not yet had any feedback that anyone has ever followed my suggestions. I'm unsure if they don't believe me or simply don't like the suggestions.
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