A lot of us hesitate to reach out, especially when our peers also appear to be struggling. We claim we are too “busy” or don’t have enough time, energy or effort to seek out appropriate support. We don’t want to inconvenience our friends either, so we retreat into ourselves and end up miserable. I’m here to tell you that we can do things differently. The idea is this: "I’ll take care of you, you take care of me.”
A therapist I saw this summer brought up the concept when I told her that my entire life would fall apart the moment the cold rainy days hit, and deadlines piled up and filled every slot in my Google calendar. She told me I needed a “safety net," something that would not allow me to fall through the cracks and into the hole of despair, instant noodles and IKB all-nighters.
I was rather annoyed at her idea of a safety net: a human.
“What do you mean, a human?” More frustration, but also some degree of curiosity.
“A human. A friend,” she said simply.
The basic gist in this: sometimes, our brains screw us over — well, mine does so all the time, but that’s a story for another day. Anyway, like this therapist said, in those moments, we need the people who love us to show up at our house and say, “Dude, get dressed right now. I’m gonna stand over you and watch you get dressed, you’re doing it right now.”
Aggressive? Very much. Would it work? Probably.
Think about it. You can’t get yourself out of bed, and you haven’t eaten vegetables in days. You obviously can’t get yourself to engage in proper self care. But all of a sudden, your friend calls and tells you that they have also spent the last two days in bed, and haven’t seen the sun since then.
How many of you would be willing to show up to their friend’s house with a kale smoothie, clean bedsheets and a relentless determination to kick them out of bed? The answer is most of us wouldn’t hesitate. After all, how many of us are willing to do for our friends the very things we can’t do for ourselves?
“So, are you trying to tell me I need friends to hold me accountable?” I asked the therapist. I was still skeptical.
“Forget accountable,” she said. I heard a sigh, which was followed by a subtle rolling of the eyes, “You need people to freaking hold your hand.”
“I can’t ask that of my friends,” I said. “They are just as busy and stressed out as I am! I don’t want to be a burden.”
“So,” she replied, “make a deal with your friends that they’ll check in on you every Tuesday, and you’ll check in on them every Thursday.”
I have to admit that the idea of scheduling “regular check ins” with my friends ahead of time did sound ridiculous, at least at first.
But since then, I’ve discovered that the beauty of super awesome interdependent care — my therapist’s words, not mine — relies on the fact that it’s a give-and-take process. I’ll support you through X, and you’ll support me through Y. It’s not magic. It’s acknowledging that we can’t do everything on our own.
It’s been over a month since this meeting, and since then, my close friends and I have tried our best to put into place a system of interdependent care. Or, as I lovingly refer to it now, a safety net.
We check in on a daily basis, while observing our limits. We plan meals together. We have sleepovers. We have each other’s emergency contact phone numbers. My friends know when it’s appropriate to tell me to get my shit together and they never hesitate to step in when I need help. I try to do the same for them. It’s not a bulletproof plan, but nothing in life really is.
Remember how in high school, every group had a designated “mom friend,” you know, that person who was overly caring, overly protective, sometimes annoying? Well, what if we all took turns embodying that role?
This midterm season, why don’t we allow ourselves to be vulnerable? Let’s try to let go of our fierce desire for independence. Let’s stop pretending everything’s fine when clearly everything is not fine. Let’s mutually agree to be there for one another, both in the near and far future.
In my experience, when you’re away at university, your friends become your family. I feel grateful to have people in my life I can turn to, but I am aware that’s not the case for everyone. If you read this and feel alone, check out The Kaleidoscope, our very own student run support group at UBC. If you feel lost, it’s a good place to start.
The authors of this column are not mental health professionals. If you need additional support, please contact Student Health Services, Sexual Assault Support Centre and/or the Wellness Centre. In case of an emergency, call 911.