All I’ve Got – A Pensive Interlude With Little or No Humor

“Still, I know of no higher fortitude than than stubbornness in the face of overwhelming odds.”
– Louis Nizer

Being sick at home makes you think and I’ve been thinking a lot about my friends recently.  All of them are spectacular and, on the surface, fantastically together.  But the truth is this glittering sheen can be a facade and beneath the great hair, fabulous clothes, and scarily sharp brain, there lurks the occasional demon.   I have friends in bad marriages, friends with eating disorders, friends with crippling depression, friends with addictions…and I stay almost entirely out of their problems.

Let me be clear.  I care very deeply for my friends, many of them are surrogate family members to me, my parents, and siblings.  All of them are men and women of extraordinary ability, skill, depth, and intelligence and I am supremely lucky to have them in my life.  I often feel like the odd man out (being neither a genius nor an prodigy and not extremely talented at any one thing) and wonder if I would have any connection with the galaxy of brightly burning individuals I’m privileged to call friends if not for my three only remarkable attributes: my sense of humor, my loyalty, and my tenacity of will.  Not to say pigheadedness.  All I have is irony and words.

So how then do I justify staying out of their dark, sometimes life threatening situations?  I ask this of myself a great deal, but the answer I always come back to is that I, C. Small Dog, have not the smallest right to interfere.

First of all, I often don’t know how to help.  I am not a therapist, dietitian, police officer, parent, court of law, or psychiatrist.  And my life experience (if not my job!) has taught me that good intentioned idiots can often cause just as much or more damage than badly intentioned masterminds.

Secondly, I have limited experience with many of the trials my mates are going through.  I came close to an eating disorder once a couple of years ago but I was able to 1) recognize it and 2) order it off the premises before things got bad.  I’ve never been in a traumatic car accident and required years of surgery to recover, I’ve never had a miscarriage after several rounds of in vitro fertilization.  I have never contemplated suicide.  I have experienced depression vicariously through a family member and have seen the overwhelming darkness it smothers everything else with, and I know that I have probably inherited a predisposition to it.  Indeed I also came close to falling off the edge into the blackness at one point in my life…but again, I was able to decide not to.  After a major internal struggle, I might add.

Not everyone can decide that.  All the willpower in the world can’t dispel some problems, choice is sometimes just not available.

This is difficult for someone like me to process.  I believe, bulldoggishly, in free will and choice.  I literally cannot comprehend a situation where my ability to choose has been taken away from me, thus I am utterly ill-equipped to advise friends in the grip of hormonal imbalances, psychological struggles, and medical challenges.  I’m very much from the tough love school of friend therapy, which anyone could tell you is often the worst possible thing someone could do.  Occasionally, though, it’s the best.  You don’t come to me for sympathy (because I’m bad at it), you come to me for action.

And that is how I justify my position.  My brand of help isn’t always required.  And when it isn’t, I stand by a silent witness to their struggles, reaching out when they reach for me and backing off when they snap that they are fine.  I will make no commentary, pass no judgment, and tell no one of what they are going through.  I do not feel entitled to intrude on what is often a deeply private pain without an invitation.

But once invited in, you will not get rid of me without ordering me out.  I will camp on your floor to make sure you eat, drive to your house at two in the morning to take the bottle out of your hand and dump whatever is left down the sink, or wrap my arms around you to keep you from hurting yourself.  And I won’t let go.  Because that’s what I have to offer: stubbornness.

5 thoughts on “All I’ve Got – A Pensive Interlude With Little or No Humor”

  1. Interesting way to handle it.

    I have walked away from friends whose lives seem stuck in a repeating tape loop of self-created misery. Boring. If you can fix or change it (and are not in a debilitating clinical depression), get on with it. If you can’t figure it out alone (and few of us can) ask for and get help. Then DO something.

    I am compassionate and empathetic and very sad when my friends are hurting. But if all they do is piss and moan, I lose interest. I’ve had to cope with a lot of very, very difficult things in my own life, sometimes with very little support, so have a low tolerance for whining.

    But whining is easier than taking action — which has consequences.

  2. You’re a babe. I wish I could be more like you. I have experienced almost every single one of the above mentioned self-destructive behaviors and really, it was the “get up and let’s go” people that got me through it more than the “I’m so sorry I totally understand” people. Both are great and both are needed. Also, I’m naggy and impatient and a helper so I have a hard time leaving people alone with their problems when they ask, so good for you for knowing your place and being supportive at the same time. 🙂
    Come see us soon! Also, we need your address. That is all.

  3. This is EXACTLY how true friends should deal with these situations (barring, of course, immediate and life-threatening emergencies). Seriously, if more people stood by, accessible but not meddling, the world would be a better place. It isn’t as though people dealing with challenges/illnesses/what-you-will aren’t aware, and to intervene (often for the benefit of the whistle-blower only) can be to insult, to alienate, to patronize, to condescend, or to push the person deeper in. As you mentioned, these situations (including psychological illness and/or addiction) are NOT “choices” or signs of weakness or “cries for help”: they’re part of who an individual is, just as much as the color of that “fabulous hair” or the way that person is witty or talented or supportive.

    Also, although to an outsider certain circumstances could appear to be horribly debilitating, the “sufferer” may in fact be handling his or her problem or at the least managing it in a way that works. Just as some people make the educated, guided choice to live with various conditions without the typically-advised medication, some people choose to recognize and live with their “flaws” as part of the fabric of who they are. You can’t give up part of yourself without denying part of your identity, so perhaps it’s worth the sacrifice.

    …but in summary: lovely British approach to being a friend; the American superman-saving-the-day/counselor-talking-it-out thing gets ridiculous.

    amorevolissimoooo, S.

  4. C,

    I understand how this feels. I must also concur that your approach is a good one. It’s not the one that I use most often if one were to base one’s opinion on visual stimulation alone. However, I think we have some similarities here.

    Like you, I don’t feel particularly talented at anything. I don’t have a rapier-like wit and repertoire with words as you do. I do have stubbornness though! To pair with my pig-headedness I have an ability love fiercely in the way that is required for the one I care about. Put simply, I’m persistently stubborn about doing what’s best for others and I’ve been blessed to be able to see what that is extraordinarily clearly (I think that’s because I act on my knowledge, but let’s not get side-tracked.)

    After my mini blog post on your blog, I have but one thing to say. Thank you for what you do and keep doing it! There’s good reason we (your friends, family, etc) love you and enjoy having you around. Though you can’t see most of those reasons, have faith to know that they are there and very, very real.

    Happy Christmas and all that fluff,
    🙂 me

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