On Why: You Should Reach Out

*Disclaimer: This is not professional advice, it is based on my personal experience. This article should not be taken in the substitute of professional advice and guidance. Should you have any health, medical, or disability questions or concerns, please consult a physician or other health care professional.  WM makes no claims to the accuracy of the professional resources linked at the bottom of the article.*
When someone breaks their leg we know what to say, we know what to do, we know how to act. “I hope you feel better soon!” “Do you need someone to cook or clean for you?” “Do you have a ride to the doctor?” We follow up, not just because we care, but because we’ve been taught how to care.

Through school, childhood experience, and personal experience, we’ve learned how to tend to those struggling with their physical health. This is referring to certain illnesses (ex: the flu) and physical issues (ex: a broken arm) and does not encompass physical disabilities and stigmatized illness (like STIs, HIV/AIDS, etc). We aren’t taught how to ask, inquire, or care for a person’s mental health, despite the fact that in the US nearly half of adults will experience mental health issues in their lifetime.

When someone is experiencing a low in their mental health we are silent. We think that because we don’t know the perfect thing to say that we should say nothing. I can tell you from my experience with anxiety, depression, and PTSD that I have never once needed my friends to be my doctors, I’ve needed them to be my friends. I’ve needed support, not guidance. You don’t need to have all the solutions to aide someone. You don’t need to “fix” someone.

I’m fortunate to be in a relationship now with a very grounding foundation. I’m also fortunate that I have the ability to workout every day. For me, those two things are better than the world’s best medication. However, there have been several times in my life where I didn’t have those things and was having anxiety attacks nearly every week. Or times in my life that emotion-focused coping mechanisms were not enough to support me.

I can so vividly remember the first time I had an anxiety attack and I wasn’t alone. It was a Saturday night, behind a group of apartments on my college campus. Someone I didn’t know found me as I was doubled over and gasping to breathe. All she did was put her hand gently on my back and say “It’s okay, I’m going to stay with you”. And she did. She walked me home and I still don’t know who she was.

I’m not advocating that you begin touching strangers without their permission, but I am suggesting you reach out to those who may need help. It made all the difference in the world. She didn’t try to fix me, she didn’t try to make it stop, she just let me know I wasn’t alone. I truly think that is the best thing you can do for someone going through the roughest moments in their mental health. Just tell them that you are there and that they aren’t alone.

We don’t need you to have the perfect sentence to make the difference. We just need you. Somethings you can say to someone needing support:

“I’m here for you.”

“Would you like me come over and make dinner for you?”

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m checking in to let you know that I care about you and I’m here for you.”

“What can I do for you?”

“If you just need company I can come and sit with you.”

“Do you want someone to go to the doctor with you?”

“How are you feeling?”

 

Professional sites offering more information and options:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration hotline.

Advice from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

How to help someone with depression.

Supporting someone in a mental health crisis.

10 things to say to someone with a mental health problem.

 

A final note: mental healthcare is still very inaccessible for many people. It’s difficult to see quality doctors, medications are expensive. Look into the leaders you vote for an ensure that improving the mental health system is important to them. Stay up to date on new policies. Look at what you can do in your community to help. If you shop using Amazon navigate to Your Account > Change Your Charity and select a charity that supports access to mental healthcare. Look at what the people around you need every day.

Pennies become dollars. The small things you do every day to support those around you will have lasting results.

Dear Molly, Is it Wrong to be Co-Dependent?

Hey. I know you talk about independence and being confident and it’s something that I’ve been struggling with lately. I feel like everyone is talking about how they don’t need a man in their life, but what if I want one? Is it so wrong to want to be in a relationship? I think I’m just naturally a co-dependant person, what’s so wrong about that?

 

This community has become one I am radically proud of. You each seem to consistently strive for your independent strength, stretch your legs, remain confident, and keep your head up no matter the challenges that come your way. One of the things I hope doesn’t happen is that you forget that there is not an inherent weakness in partnership or craving partnership.

I posted a few months ago on Instagram with the caption “a note to my v independent ladies: it’s okay to let someone take care of you once in a while” and was very surprised at the messages I received saying that you “Needed to hear this” or “Yes, we do! I always forget it’s okay to not be okay”. Being independent and confident doesn’t mean being impervious, faultless, or invulnerable. There’s so much beauty in your ability to be open to being cared for.

So to answer your question “what’s so wrong with that?” absolutely nothing.

Let’s get vulnerable and personal right now. Sometimes I think that I’m the neediest, independent person alive. I cherish my independence. I love my own space, my personal time, and looking out for “number one”. Yet in partnership, I am “needy” in the cleanest sense of the word. I like to be cared for, I like to feel special, reassured, and provided for. Actually, I don’t “like” it, I “need” it. It’s probably the most dichotomous aspect of my personality and one that’s been a curveball for every guy I’ve ever dated. They expect to date this hurricane that blazes ahead without a second thought and requires no support and instead, I can be fragile and find a lot of stability through relationships (romantic or otherwise). *shrug* People are complex. I’ve accepted the fact that if I was a plant I would not be a cactus happy to go months without support, I would proudly be a little orchid.

 

painfully applicable

 

At first, like you, I felt like this was a massive weakness. One that I thought I would have to work to remove to call myself an independent woman, but that’s not the case. Craving, enjoying, and benefiting from partnership is how we, as people, have always lived. At 26 I’m extremely proud of my tough exterior and soft, gentle inner emotions. This quality has forced me to be extremely careful about who I let into my inner circle and who I will genuinely open with. To be completely honest, there are less than five people in the world who truly know me. It’s how I protect and nurture the side of myself that craves partnership.

My final thought for you is this, love and nurture the side of you that craves partnership, but don’t rely solely on one person, romantic or otherwise, to give it to you. Even if you are single and wishing you were in a relationship, it doesn’t mean that you are any less capable of taking care of yourself and thriving. You don’t need someone else to be next to you to accomplish all you want in life.

 

Dear Molly, How Do I Tell My Friend She’s Changing For Her Boyfriend?

I feel like my best friend is constantly changing for the guy she’s dating. Like if he’s super into football, she starts a fantasy league, if he likes Italian food she’s making homemade pasta. She throws herself into so many new hobbies and things for each guy within the first few weeks of dating and I feel like she isn’t being true to herself at all. How can I talk to her about this without it turning into a fight? I don’t want to hurt her feelings, but it really needs to stop. I think it’s part of the reason that so many of her relationships end after about a month.

 

It takes a lot of love to be honest and open about the hard things with someone. Conversations like this are immensely difficult as it can feel like a personal attack and turn into a fight. That being said, just because a conversation is difficult doesn’t mean that it should be held. Your friend is only doing a disservice to herself by chameleon-ing herself. Start with what you just told me: You don’t want to hurt her feelings, you care about her. And then let her lead the conversation.

It’s important that you listen as much as or more than you talk when it comes to things like this. You aren’t her parent, you aren’t her conscience, and you don’t get to dictate how she behaves. A good friend is a mirror, they ask probing questions to help you find the answers yourself. Something like “I noticed you started getting really into football when you were dating X, but haven’t heard you talk about it in a while. Would you want to go to a game sometime?” Maybe she will! Maybe it is a new passion of her’s that you just see less now that she isn’t dating someone who shares it. Or maybe she won’t because it was because of the guy. In that case, it’s a matter of following up and asking her the questions she should be asking herself. Keep them open-ended. There’s no wrong answer, you are just there to help. You are there to be a friend.

A final thought for your friend: We are happiest when we are presenting our authentic selves to the world, single or in a relationship.

 

xx

make believe: neighborly love

beautifully baked pumpkin muffins + one egg {borrowed}

 

9:48 PM {my neighbor} Hiiii, can I bother you for one egg? 

9:49 PM {me} Yes, of course!

9:50 PM {my neighbor} Thank you! Knocking now 🙂

 

My mother was always an avid baker. She would buy two large bunches of bananas, knowing that one would brown before our family of seven could devour it, and bake several loaves of chocolate-chip banana bread. She would then carefully wrap each loaf and dispatch all five of her kids, bread in hand, to the neighbors for a delivery. There was never an expected repayment, though there often was. It was the nature of growing up in a small town with close neighbors. Neighbors that blur the line between a friend and family. I have to think that much of that connection was born of my mother’s generosity and love of sharing something made from scratch.

This specialness is something I always wanted to foster in my neighborhood. During my senior year of college I lived in the freshman dorms (I spent half my time off-campus in DC and thrifty as always opted for a cheaper single room than an apartment) and became the “big sister” of our hall. I helped girls dye their hair, talked them through rough relationships, and had a revolving door of young women hanging out, studying, and chatting about life. Moving to college post-college I lived in a house in a diplomatic neighborhood. We watched our neighbor’s homes when they traveled, received honey from their backyard beehive, knew their dogs, and sent muffin baskets to each other.

Moving to NYC in 2019 made me a little nervous. Was I going to lose this loving neighborhood relationship? Was I going to even know my neighbors? Life beautifully gave me a very special next-door neighbor. We’ve developed a very special bond over soup deliveries, borrowed eggs, and moments chatting in a stairwell. With a population of 8.6 million, it’s amazing how lonely this city can feel at times and having someone next door to water your plants, chat with, or dote on can be a very special feeling.

 

A few bits to help you shape a beautiful moment:

this basket for filling with small treats to share with anyone walking by.

a simple knock and introduction.

offering to walk their dog for them on nights they need to work late.

a handwritten note for the holidays.

leave them a special May Day basket this spring.

host an overdue housewarming party.

Dear Molly, How Do I Become a Better Big Sister?

Hi! A few weeks ago my sister started sending me your posts and blog stories. I’m glad she did because I think you have so many good insights and thoughts, but it also hurt my feelings because she’s my younger sister and she’s going online looking at “big sister” blogs instead of coming to me. I want to be a better big sister and friend to her, someone she can call at 2 am if there’s a problem or she has a question, but I don’t know where to start. We’ve never been super close, but we also aren’t distant or estranged or anything like that. If it helps, she’s 19 and I’m 29.

 

A strong sibling relationship is one of the most beautiful relationships you can have in your entire life. Sisterhood especially. I have an older sister and two younger sisters and I don’t know where I’d be without our group chats, meme circles, and little “Shephard-sisters” network. Especially living a couple hundred miles from them, that constant communication is what keeps us feeling close. I think it’s deeply beautiful that you care about being a strong support for your sister and want that same closeness.

It seems like you feel that your sister isn’t sharing with you because she isn’t coming to you first. It’s difficult to share how we truly feel when we anticipate that we’re going to be judged. We all know the dropping feeling after you say one self-exposing thing and it just hangs out in the air. Coming to an online resource, like a blog, is the exact opposite of a one on one conversation, you can’t be judged.

However, it doesn’t seem like your sister is avoiding talking you about certain things because she’d rather come to a blog, it seems like she’s using blog posts as an avenue to open a line of communication with you. At 19-years-old she doesn’t need to be told what to do, but how to do it. She’s sending you articles because she values what you have to say and wants to hear your thoughts. She wants to be validated and heard by her real-life, big sister and she trusts your advice. If you want to be the person she calls late at night with every issue that comes up, tell her. Give her the space to make the decision of who to come to because ultimately that is her call. You can be a resource, but she gets to choose.

I wouldn’t take the fact that your sister comes to “big sister” blogs as a commentary on who you are as a big sister at all, but more of a commentary on the things she’d like to openly talk about with you. She’s testing the waters to see how you will respond. Be open and considerate and the one-on-ones (without a blog post) will come naturally.

 

xx

 

Dear Molly, My Best Friend is Blowing Me Off for Her New Boyfriend.

My best friend started dating someone new a few weeks ago and since then I feel like I never see her. She’s blown me off for HH several times, she’s missing our weekly SoulCycle class, and I know it’s because she’s spending all her time with him. We’re actually roommates and she spends maybe three nights a week in our apartment. I’m happy for her (she dated a long time before finding someone solid), but at the same time, I feel like she’s prioritizing him over me and the rest of her friends. Should I say something? Or is this in my head? Just a phase? I can’t tell if I’m just being selfish and don’t want to share her with someone new.

 

For a lot of people, myself included, the first few months with a new love are all-consuming. You think about that person all the time, you want to spend all your time with them, you miss them when they’re one room over. It’s a beautiful feeling but can easily make other people in your life feel pushed to the side. I don’t think you are overreacting here. It seems like the two of them have been together for a little while now and the “crush rush” of the first few weeks should be giving way to normalcy, but it isn’t.

Truth be told, my boyfriend and I are a lot like your friend. The first few months of us dating were very fast and overwhelming and did cause a little friction within our friend groups. We had both recently come out of relationships that weren’t serving us and the excitement of being in a solid relationship, so early, was overwhelming. So much so that we didn’t notice how long it had been since we prioritized friend time, until they told us.

Like just about every inter-personal problem, the solution here is to talk to her. It doesn’t need to be an ambush, it doesn’t need to be a long written out letter, but it does need to be in person. A few things to remember when you are talking with her:

/ You can only speak for yourself. You can’t say that “We’ve all been thinking…” When you do that you turn it into an “us” versus “you” situation. In reality, this is more of a “me” for “us” situation. You miss your friend and are acting as an advocate for your friendship. Be open and honest about your feelings, but don’t speak for others.

/ Even if it feels like she is, your friend is not prioritizing him over you. She’s a little blinded with love and likely doesn’t even realize what she’s doing. If she’s a good friend for you, talking through how you feel with her will definitely help. Turning it into a “me or him” scenario will not. If you miss her, you miss her and leave it at that. Making assumptions about why you’re seeing her less will not help.

/ Remember that it’s her choice where things go from here. Invite her to something (like SoulCycle) that you used to do together and expect her to show up, but ultimately remember that if she doesn’t that’s not on you.

/ No one’s happiness is more important than another’s. You don’t get to guilt her into spending time with you to make you happy and she doesn’t get to ignore you and spend time only with him to make her happy. You both will need to compromise a little, but that give-and-take will absolutely serve you in the long run.

The unfortunate aspect of this situation is that with a friend, particularly a roommate, you don’t want to “create drama”. But letting this fester will absolutely breed animosity between the two of you. Talk it out, let her make a decision of how to prioritize her time, and take it from there. If she’s a good friend, who cares about you, she will make space for both you, your friend group, and her new love.

 

xx

 

Dear Molly, What Can I Do To Make More Friends?

So today I was hanging around at these cliffs by the lake I live near with a couple of close friends. About an hour into the day some of their friends showed up unexpectedly and both of the guys I had gone there with sorta just left me and the new dudes weren’t exactly ~hospitable~ or welcoming. They all ignored me so I just sat alone on a high rock. I’m not someone who’s usually afraid of confrontation or socializing but sometimes I just don’t know how to approach people. What can I do to I guess make more friends easier & get to know people?

 

This is a perfect example of a person standing in their own way. I wish I could say that making friends gets easier the older you get, but unfortunately, it gets harder before it gets easier. There are two main reasons for this: self-awareness and social assumptions.

When you are young you don’t know shame the way you do now and that ignorance allows you to be yourself with ease. It’s the sandbox mentality. When you’re placed in a sandbox with other kiddos you bring one hundred percent of yourself to the situation. You don’t mask who you are and so you build genuine relationships. As we get older we experience embarrassment and, as a result, learn shame. We become aware of ourselves and how we are perceived by others, which starts that social anxiety of “Should I have said that?”, “Are they laughing with me or at me?”, etc. We begin to protect ourselves with layers and layers of masks that we wear socially. We only share who we really are with people who we already trust. This is the birth of your self-awareness. Your ability to realize that others see you through their own lens.

As people, we don’t like blanks or grey areas. We research the mysteries of the world for answers, we push to add labels to relationships, we like definites, not in-betweens. This is great if you work in a research field, but in the real world, it can hurt you. Once we realize that other people are seeing us through their own lens we try to figure out what that lens is. Instead of allowing other people to make a decision about us and who are we are, we assume what they think of us. As anxiety is the largest mental health issue, it’s likely a negative assumption we make. They don’t think we’re funny, or cool, or pretty enough to hang out with. We project our self-consciousness onto others and form social assumptions that they are judging us from the beginning, seeing all our flaws as vividly as we do.

The second piece of social assumptions is that we assume because we act a certain way that others will do. Similar to projecting your self-consciousness we project our “way of the world” on others. When I meet someone new I am immensely shy (if you know me that may shock you, but it’s true). I’m a massive introvert and meeting new people makes me anxious and nervous and that manifests itself in my silence. It’s my own mask of self-protection. If you typically greet new people with a lot of warmth, and the two of us met, what would you think of me? Your social assumption in meeting me for that first time would probably be that I’m distant or cold, and neither is true.

We assume that our truths are true for others, and when they don’t match up we fall back into the pattern of a little voice telling us that we are wrong, we are the thing that’s “off”, and that everyone around us is having some underlying conversation about us. I’ve been there, overthinking every moment to the max, anticipating an alterior motive for every action. What you have to remember is that you are telling yourself this story. Some people are judgmental assholes, most people aren’t.

My biggest piece of advice is to give new people the benefit of the doubt. What you might be receiving as them being cold or exclusive could easily be their own nervousness to branch out from their group. Not a great thing as we all should be more eager to extend the olive branch, but not a reflection of you. Remember that we all have that little voice in our heads when meeting new people and sometimes you need to tell it to shut up. It’s not an easy thing to do, but recognizing that you are telling yourself a story of what someone else is thinking can help ease you into the first few steps of meeting someone new. Take the first step, introduce yourself, stand tall, start telling yourself the truth instead of a story. The truth is that you are worthy of other people’s time and friendship. You are someone who can *click* with someone new. You are someone who can boldly put yourself out there. You are someone who makes the first move.

I guarantee you will be shocked at how much this works out in your favor. Trust me, I practice this all the time. Initially, being aware that I was quiet when first meeting people (and that it was being taken negatively) was something I viewed as a weakness. But now I view it as my strength. Am I still quiet when meeting new people? Yes. But I channel it into being an avid listener. I pay attention to everyone in the group, even if they’re being talked over. I ask follow up questions. I show that I care.

Taking those little steps is like a social warm-up, let’s me relax, and bring down my social anxiety walls. Find the thing that helps grease the wheels for you. Maybe it’s a simple as offering a piece of gum, maybe it’s always opening with a compliment. Look for something that feels natural and easy for you to do and bring that to the table with confidence.

I’m in your corner! Good luck 🙂

 

xx