Wednesday 15 June 2022

For Brynn and Aimee: Thank You for Being There When I Don't Want to Talk (and When I Do)

Please be patient with me. Sometimes when I’m quiet it’s because I need to figure myself out. It’s not because I don’t want to talk. Sometimes there are no words for my thoughts.

— Kamla Bolanos

Having friends you trust and feel safe with is hugely important to our mental health and wellbeing. That usually means people we can talk to when we’re unwell, low, stressed, anxious, frustrated, or angry. Sometimes, though, we need people who can be there for us when we don’t want to talk about how we’re feeling.

This isn’t as easy or obvious as it seems because we often hide how we’re feeling. Like most of us, I do the faking fine thing. I tell people I’m fine when I’m not, or downplay how I’m doing. That might be because I know the feeling’s going to shift on its own, because I want to figure things out for myself, or to avoid being bombarded with questions, suggestions, and fixes. I’m okay with that, but it feels better when I don’t have to fib. Sometimes, I want to let my friends know I’m struggling, I just don’t want to have to unpack it all with them there and then.

It’s similar to supportive disengagement but on a much smaller and more temporary scale. I’ve never needed to put a friendship on hold or ask someone not to contact me until I'm ready to re-engage, but there are times when I need to not “talk about my stuff” for a while, whether that’s for a few hours, the rest of the day, or (rarely) a little longer. Having friends who understand this is a blessing.

I want to share two recent occasions when a friend got it absolutely right. The first example took place a week or so ago. My friend Aimee and I had chatted a little in the afternoon. I’d shared my day up to that point, and told her I was feeling tired. She messaged me again in the evening.

How’re you feeling now?

Not bad.

What you been up to?

Since we chatted earlier, absolutely nothing.

In a good way?

In a kinda flat, can’t really be bothered way.

Mmmm. Anything I can do?

Bless you. Not really.

Do you wanna be left alone for a bit?

I’m very happy to have some company.

Ah good! Well, guess what came in the post ...

I appreciated Aimee checking in with me. She picked up on me saying I’d not done anything in the previous few hours, which is rare for me if I’m doing well. She invited me to expand on that, and when it became clear I wasn’t feeling good, asked if there was anything she could do to help. That’s such a simple thing to do, but it’s easy to overlook in our eagerness to offer suggestions and fixes when our friends and loved ones are struggling. She knew I’d take up her offer if I needed to, and I knew I could accept or decline without it affecting our friendship in any way.

The conversation might have ended there, but Aimee went one step further. She accepted there was nothing she could do to help, but asked if I wanted company or space. This is something I’ve learned with Fran. Often the greatest thing we can offer someone who’s struggling is simply to be there for, and with, them. Aimee’s question — “Do you wanna be left alone for a bit?” — gave me the opportunity to decide what I needed most in that moment. I realised it would be nice to have some company, and so it proved. We chatted for a while about a range of things. The conversation didn’t fix my mood, but it provided a welcome distraction.

The second example, with my friend Brynn, happened a few days later.

Hi Marty. How are you?

Tired, but ok.

Long day working from home?

Nah, it went ok. I’ll be going into the office tomorrow.

You sure you’re ok?

Lol I guess so.

What’s funny? I’m sensing flatness. Am I off?

Not really but I’m pretty much always flat these days. Not especially so tonight.

I hear you. Tonight just feels a little different.

It’s clear that Brynn picked up on the fact I wasn’t doing very well, despite my attempts to brush it off as just tiredness or joke it away. Her use of “flatness” shows how well she knows me: it’s my word for when I’m feeling low for no identifiable reason, rather than depressed, upset, or frustrated at something or someone. Her gentle questioning allowed me to explore what I was feeling without requiring me to go into details. We changed the subject, but before long it was clear the conversation wasn’t flowing easily, mostly from my side.

I’m not very chatty today, sorry.

That’s ok, Marty. I understand. How about I let you go?

Yeah, if you don’t mind.

Ok. Have a good night. Talk to you tomorrow.

Good night.

My use of “sorry” there is telling, given my no sorries rule about not apologising for how I’m feeling. Brynn might have picked up on that if we’d not already acknowledged I wasn’t doing too well. On this occasion, she let it pass and offered space by suggesting we closed our conversation there. I accepted gratefully. We picked up again next day.

These conversations may seem unworthy of note; trivial, even. What was so special about them that warrants a blog post of their own? I wasn’t magically cured of my low mood. I didn’t come away with revelatory insights into mental health or supportive friendships. What’s noteworthy about these exchanges is the effect they had on me. I came away from each conversation feeling supported, validated, and respected. This post is my tribute to my friends, and — I hope — a reminder that support isn’t always about what we do for each other, it’s about respecting each other’s wishes, needs, and boundaries.

I’m grateful to have friends like Brynn and Aimee who know how to support me when I don’t want to talk things out, as well as being there for for me when I do.

Thank you.


Photo by Laurenz Kleinheider at Unsplash.


1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much for your kind words. You are a powerhouse of support yourself. Don’t know what I’d do without you! Love you bunches! —Brynn