There are a few memories that I can never seem to shake. I was alone in my room at two in the morning and nothing was going right. I had no motivation or direction. Neither my school life nor family life seemed to be working. I remember sitting alone on the floor, drinking, and crying while I stared at nothing like there were no options left. I didn’t sleep a wink that night. I sat on the floor until it was time to go to work. But the next day I was productive and didn’t give any indication to anyone that I had been a mess sprawled on the floor hours before.
Once, a friend had a panic attack as we left dinner together. We were in the library so we went to a study room so she could get a handle on it. We started talking about what had brought it on. Through tears and deep breaths, she told me that it happened because she felt so much guilt over the cake she had eaten at dinner. It was a seemingly trivial thing, but what causes the breakdown is never the root issue, not really. It was the tipping point of accumulated crippling body image issues she struggled with every day and had never mentioned.
I was hanging out once and a friend came into the room thinking she was alone. She burst out crying. Her boyfriend was dealing with ongoing struggles with trauma and suicidal thoughts. She cared deeply for him, but the burden of caretaking was overwhelming, and she was slowly breaking down with worry and stress. She didn’t know how to help him anymore. I only learned about it because I happened to be there and she couldn’t hide that she was cracking at the seams.
My younger sister was diagnosed with depression and an eating disorder when she was fifteen. I didn’t get the courage to talk to her about it for a year, I was so scared of saying the wrong thing, making her feel worse, or being a bad example for her. When we did finally talk, I think it helped. I hoped it did, anyway. All I could offer was an ear and someone to verbally articulate support and acceptance of her struggle. But I look back now and know I didn’t mention in any conversation we had that I could relate to her because I was dealing with the same struggle. I looked her in the eye and gave her advice and told her it was okay to struggle, and I missed the fact that I needed someone to say that to me. I also missed that it would have helped to give solidarity with admission of my own struggle. But I couldn’t do it.
There are some consistencies between each experience. For one, every conversation I had with a friend when they were breaking down included half a dozen apologies from them. Apologies for monopolizing the conversation, for burdening others, for feeling down. And I think that shame for struggling is why they waited so long to talk about it to begin with.
Another was the miraculous ability to be blind to our own needs and only have compassion for others we saw suffer. Each of those friends and myself had given advice before to others about seeking helping for problems without ever extending that sentiment to ourselves. It’s why we need to talk, I think. We need to talk about the little things before they become the big things. We need to talk so others can affirm it’s okay to seek help or so that they can hear that they aren’t alone. At this point in my life, I strongly believe that everyone has had a difficult moment that could be improved if we were all more compassionate, open, accepting, and willing to lend an ear. It is always hard to talk about these things but no matter how small or big the problem is, talking is always best because there is help out there.