I know I’m not the only one lying awake at night thinking of our hurting world. I hold my babies tighter not sure of their future and what it might look like. I say this with a compassionate attitude towards those that are truly suffering. I’ve been feeling empathy pains and aches for those people whose lives have been shattered and live in fear on a daily basis. In order to keep moving forward, I choose to focus on the moment and pay attention to what’s in front of me. “Be present,” said Ms. Lei, J’s teacher during her Empathy Parenting workshop a month ago. She gave an example of when we treat ourselves to a cup of coffee. Often we are instantly pulled in six different directions, breaking the silence, and missing it’s greatness.
“When you are in the now,” she said, “you will be aware of every last sip.”
What a wonderful idea and journey we could all take through life. She shared with us the children’s daily routine of circle time at the beginning of each day. By asking each child to “come into the circle and feel your breath,” she’s inviting them to be present and practice mindfulness.
I challenge us all to begin to live our lives this way. When a friend shares with you her struggle over her child’s behavior, put aside your to-do lists and personal struggles. Be in the moment. Practice empathy friendship. This could just be undivided conversation and a hug or offering to babysit. If your child is struggling to put on his shoes and your arms are full of library books, purse, water bottle, and you’re halfway out the door. Stop. Put everything down (you can huff and puff in your head, if it helps) and help him through the struggle. If your partner seems tense from work (and if you two can grab a moment alone) lend an ear to those struggles, even if you have no idea what their job entails.
Mother Teresa said “small things, done in great love, bring joy and peace.” This is absolutely true. Tuck that note into your kids lunchbox. It might just be the lift they need to get through a tough day of middle school. Pick up dinner for a family of five, just because. Practice random acts of kindness. I can say with absolute certainty that the reward will be two fold. You get to make someone’s day but the joy in giving will be all yours.
In addition to mindful living, recognizing what we’re grateful for can also lift our spirits.
I live on the East Coast. My closest friends live in Austin, Chicago, and St. Paul. We’re all moms of young children without the time or funds to travel easily. For a long time, we did the usual – have a 2-3 hour phone conversation every 3-6 months. These conversations were great, as these are the types of friends that you can just start talking to, but with that type of schedule, the conversation tends to focus on the big highlights and what’s going on right now. It’s hard to get a sense of the day-to-day rhythm of life. Over the years, we’ve done some different things that have helped us stay close.
Regarding Pregnancies and Babies
Kids can happen to the best of us, and they tend to take up an awful amount of time and attention. When my Austin friend got pregnant with her first child 9 or 10 years ago, I knew that this meant a big change in our carefree stay-in-touch schedule. Not wanting things to ever get to an awkward place, I had a conversation with my friend before the baby was born. I told her that I was worried about bugging her with calls, as a schedule with a baby could be so chaotic; however, I didn’t want to just stop calling her or be forever questioning if it was a good time. I offered her a deal: I would call when I felt like it. She was under no obligation to answer or call back, and she was not allowed to feel guilty (another path to faltering communication). If I was bugging her with my calls, she would tell me (so I wouldn’t be second guessing myself). Neither of us would “keep score.” If I called her 9 times, and she hadn’t called me, we would assume that everything was okay unless one of us said otherwise.
This worked really well for a while. I had a really long commute, so I called and left her a message almost every day. Most of the time, these messages were light anecdotes or “I’m thinking about you and hope you’re doing well.” Sometimes I’d talk about something that bothered me. When she got a chance to call me back, she’d tell me how much she appreciated the messages and how much they helped her feel connected when she was sucked into the mother-of-a-newborn world.
This idea is still in Beta testing. After I sent a package to my friend in Chicago, she suggested that we save the box and use it to send things to each other that we (or our kids) have made. I absolutely love this idea, but we haven’t really implemented it, yet. (Which leads to a really important rule with all of these suggestions: We have lives, and stressing ourselves out about friendship rituals isn’t good for anyone. These should be fun and flexible, not anxiety provoking!)
(We actually use a program called Zoom, but I thought more people would understand what I meant with Skype. I love Zoom though – the video quality so much better!) My Chicago friend and I love drinking tea, Jane Austen, good literature, knitting, all that stuff.
Of course, after she moved to the Mid-West, we realized all the opportunities lost for chatting over tea. But then we realized that in this age of technology, distance doesn’t have to be a barrier! Every couple of weeks(-ish), we have a “teleconference” where we sit down with our tea and talk about what’s going on in our lives. We’ve been a little off with Summer schedules, but I know we’ll get back to our rhythm. The scheduling that seemed to work best for us, before we ended each chat, we’d set up our appointment for our next chat. Every week seemed a little burdensome, so we average every 2 weeks, although, sometimes if we’re having a busy month, we might only do one chat that month. I really don’t like looking at myself on the video of the chat; however, the quality of the conversation with being able to see each other is worth overcoming my vanity.
Staying in Touch With Daily Life
My Austin friend and I were roommates in college, and our friendship is the age equivalent of an adult. When we saw each other last year (We usually manage to see each other every year or 2), I told her about my MS diagnosis. We took a moment to process; the following conversation ensued:
Her: “Do you need anything?”
Me: “I don’t know?”
The next day I got a text message from her with a picture and the caption, “Image of the day.” Almost 15 months later, we’ve only missed a handful of days and never more than 3 days in a row. Some days there isn’t a picture, just a message or a funny thing that happened. Sometimes the pictures are stunning, sad, or heartwarming, but most of the time, it’s just daily stuff that happens in life. Some of my pictures have included pretty foliage (what’s the use of living in New England if you can’t rub it in during the fall?), a picture of my son’s socks that he asked me to take, and the slice of pizza that we woke up to find in our yard one day. My friend has a huge advantage, she’s a youth librarian and a public library, so she has lots of interesting pictures; however, yesterday’s picture was of the pile of reading logs that she’d spent the day reviewing.
I feel like we are much more connected with each other’s daily lives, and every once in a while, a photo will turn into an extended back and forth about a big issue that’s going on in one of our lives. I don’t know how long this will last, but right now it’s the best friendship thing that’s ever happened. Interestingly enough. . .
I was hanging out with my St. Paul friend (who comes to Massachusetts once a year), last year, and I told her about the picture a day texts with my Austin friend. She really liked the idea and suggested that she and I do it, too. I said, “Of course!” although I never told her that I was initially apprehensive. I was only about a month and a half in this with my Austin friend, and it seemed like something that would be easily promised but challenging in practice.
I’ve never been more happy to be wrong! She and I have also kept this up for over a year. I cheat a little, I’ll often send the same picture and message to both friends, but it’s amazing the different paths that the conversations take from that initial text. I had my feeling of connectedness confirmed when we briefly saw each other a couple of months ago. My friend noted, “I know we didn’t get to talk that much, but I feel okay with it. I feel like we’re caught up through the daily texts.” I felt exactly the same way.
Do you have any rituals that you use to stay in touch with good friends who live far away? Do you think you’ll try any of these ideas?
As I’ve been reflecting on what it means to be vulnerable, I’m realizing -for me- it keeps coming back to friendship and allowing myself (for better or worse) to be connected to other people. Oh – and it’s really hard!
One of the areas where I’ve been focusing on being strong, being an island (therefore closing others out) is with my health. About a year ago I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (although I was being followed for “lesions consistent with a demyelinizing disease” for a year and a half before that), and, at least in my mind, I was amazing. Don’t get me wrong, I had my moments where I broke down in private, but I was able to talk about it, laugh in the face of the disease, be objective, not have an existential crisis about it, take life a day at a time, while recognizing that the future might hold challenges, etc. Considering that the year had brought me: a layoff from a job that I took pride in, a milestone birthday, and the loss of my engagement ring, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of holding it together.
Having struggled with depression for decades, I was particularly impressed that I didn’t succumb to an episode in the face of all of this. I knew what depression was – it was breaking down, non-stop crying, with the belief that things would never get better. Again, I had my moments, but I was impressed with my relative non-breakdown-ness.
It was about the time I started allowing myself to connect with friends again, that I realized how not okay I was. As Beth Woolsey has written about Depression coming in disguise, I didn’t realize that I thought I was okay because I had just turned everything off and given up (except for bouts of extreme pissyness). I floundered with trying to start a business – one that I really cared about. I didn’t reach out to friends. I didn’t “suffer” from my disease because I just preemptively decided that I just couldn’t do things and participate in things because if it. No big deal, I just “can’t do that” (go on walks, go out, do things that require endurance, do yoga classes, etc.)
Oddly enough, breaking out of this “I’m fine” shell has been painful, like the pins and needles you feel after a limb has fallen asleep. My husband is doing a biking fundraiser to help raise money for MS research (you can learn more here!), so I’ve been putting my story out there. Even though I’m trying to be more open, I still falter for asking for help when *I* need it (see, the fundraising is for *him*, not me, so it’s easier than just telling people my story for my own sake). For example, I’ve been going out to more social events where people stand around a lot. When it gets physically painful for me, I just suck it up, look for a chair (and feel so embarrassed when I’m the only one sitting), or leave because I don’t want to be “that person” who needs a special accommodation.
Recently, though, I made a huge stride in that area. My friend (the same one who started my whole thought process about vulnerability) put out an invitation to a concert at a nightclub. I expressed interest without thinking about the venue, then tried to pull out once I realized that it there was no seating, it was just standing. Instead of accepting my withdrawal, she did some research on the venue and found out how to ask for seating. Within 2 phone calls, they had a plan to reserve a table for us in the mezzanine. (You know those cool “Reserved for” tables that they have in nightclubs?)
Of course, I was feeling grateful for my friends’ push and great attitude about not being down on the floor close to the stage (for which I felt guilty), when she said, “I’m so glad we have this table!” I was too busy feeling guilty to realize that the accommodation that the club made might actually be a benefit! The concert was amazing, we walked around downtown Cambridge in perfect Spring weather, and a barrier was dismantled for me. Concerts at night clubs are now something that is within my range of possible. Only now, I realize that sharing my vulnerability is what led to this breakthrough.
I still have no answer for how to positively reframe the look of disappointment on my son’s face when I try to explain to him that I’m too tired to play with him or take him to the park or why the Mother’s Day trip to the Children’s Museum made me cry because I was so tired that I was nauseated but felt too guilty not to go, but I am working on beating myself up less about it.
And look at me go! I can say it. My Mother’s Day was not “fine.” It was physically exhausting and emotionally painful. I love my son and husband, and they showered me with love, cards, and homemade gifts, but I still struggled. But you know the thing that made the biggest difference? Being kind to myself. Don’t get me wrong, being kind to myself is right up there with going to the dentist for me, but even I have to acknowledge that I experience the most amazing change in attitude when I talk to myself and treat myself as I would a friend (aka nicely), rather than my usual mode of dealing with myself (not so much).
So, my work at vulnerability is definitely being made easier by friends who are near me and help; however, long distance friendships can require some different strategies/ skills. Luckily, I also have amazing friends who live in different parts of the country. We’ve developed some pretty cool habits that make it so much easier to share when things aren’t going well and feel more clued-in about day-to-day details of each other’s lives. (More about that next time). Have you had any experiences where you’ve experienced amazing support from your friends?
Woman in MaskImage courtesy of graur codrin at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
It was hard for me to even contemplate writing this. I was raised with an utmost value for privacy – it’s no one else’s business what goes on inside your home. When things are hard, you handle them yourself. Additionally, I feel like I’ve regretted being vulnerable in the past. When you let people see the hurting, ugly parts of yourself, you give them the power to reject you, hurt you. I regretted it so much that I closed myself off from people and kept myself from sharing things, both good and bad, that are going on in my life. I’ve been thinking a lot lately, though, and I’ve decided that I want to try being more open, more vulnerable.
I’ve started an online business that attempts to engage people who want to learn new things. In learning, we open ourselves and become vulnerable, and it’s not fair to ask of others what I’m not willing to do myself.
I’ve chosen to participate in this blog where we’re all admitting that we struggle and need to sometimes turn to others to find the right answers. In thinking about what kind of blogger I want to be, I thought about my favorite bloggers, people who write and really move me (Beth Woolsey and Allie Brosh, to name a couple), I see writers who share very vulnerable parts of themselves.
Allowing Others to Really See Me
I was in the car with a friend who had gone through a traumatic experience in her life a few years ago. She asked me how I was doing, and I broke down talking about the things that were overwhelming me. Even though I thought I was putting up an admirable front, she said she suspected that I’d been struggling. She reminded me that I had been there for her at a dark time in her life, and said that she would be so happy to be there for me. That’s when this idea of seeing that allowing others to be there for us as a gift started to germinate in my mind.
This idea, of vulnerability as a gift, was reinforced recently when a) I asked this same friend to come over and help me organize my home office (one of the banes of my existence!), and it was kind of fun – for her and me; and b) Another friend was feeling overwhelmed by getting ready for an event at her home, so I offered to come help. I’m a crap organizer, but what she really needed was a cheerleader and a sounding board, so I was able to actually be helpful. Like the symbiotic relationships of the animal kingdom, my feeling helpful by providing support to this friend boosted my own confidence in being a useful person in this world.
Even knowing all this, it’s still hard to open myself up and share where things aren’t going well, and where I need help. After all, wouldn’t you rather be the “Wow! Look how strong she is! Isn’t she handling this well?” as opposed to “Wow! That really sucks. I’m so sorry.” Or what I really fear, “Oh no. Not her again. All she does is talk about how awful things are. I don’t feel like talking to her right now.”? But how warm do you feel towards those strong people, how well do you feel like you know them, when they don’t share the struggle behind the strength?
What do you think about letting yourself be vulnerable? About others being vulnerable with you? What about bloggers – do you prefer reading writers who are willing to be vulnerable with you? If so, if not – why? Maybe I’ll try this vulnerability thing out on the blog next month?