“What are friends for?” – It’s a rhetorical question so ubiquitous I doubt anyone knows who coined it first. The saying implies that a friend is someone who would do anything for you. Shout you a beer when it’s their turn, lend you a few bucks when you’re short, stick up for you when your back is turned, give you a hand when you’re moving house – this is all the kind of stuff that any friend worth their salt would do without hesitation. Then there’s over and above the call of duty stuff like picking you up from the airport and chauffeuring you around Dunedin for a whole day when you’re in town for a football game – thanks again Morgan!
But what happens when it’s something a bit harder? This year I’ve learned that there are two categories of friends. Those who run towards you when you’re hurting and those who run away.
Running away is understandable. I get why. When people don’t know what to do or what to say, and/or they fear doing or saying the wrong thing, disappearing becomes the default choice. But doing something, even if it’s the wrong thing, is better than abandonment – which is what doing nothing can feel like to a friend in distress.
It doesn’t have to be daunting or scary. You don’t have to have magic answers. Just being there and showing a bit of empathy can make a massive difference.
One example of a simple moment from this year that really helped me was when a work colleague insisted that I talk to her about what was upsetting me. After listening carefully, her heartfelt words – “I would be really upset too if that happened to me” – have stayed with me ever since. Hearing them was such a relief. It was the first time it had properly occurred to me that maybe I’m not just being a pathetic idiot. It was only a 30 minute conversation but without it I would still be tied up in knots blaming myself for how I feel.
Sometimes you don’t have to say anything at all. Another example of an act of a friend that made a massive difference for me at my lowest point was a friend who invited himself over to my house, dragged me out with him to buy timber and let me sit nearby like a lost puppy while he replaced some rotting railings on my deck. I didn’t have to swing a hammer, participate in any conversation, or offer anything meaningful in return. It was only half a day out of my friend’s summer break but without it I wouldn’t have got the kick start I needed to prepare the house for sale and get a big chunk of financial stress off my plate.
But if half a day or even half an hour sounds like a lot, you don’t even have to commit that kind of time. A few minutes of being a friend can make all the difference.
Just a couple of weeks ago, one of the really touching things that’s happened since I started this project occurred after full-time in Petone. As I was heading across the pitch towards the exit a big chunk of the WaiBOP squad came over, surrounded me, and told me how much they appreciate me and my support of the team. It was a lovely moment and one I really needed right at that particular time. What the players couldn’t have known was the fact that the day before I had been in agony, and seriously considering cancelling the rest of my flights and deleting this blog. What they did gave me the strength I needed to push through it. And I couldn’t be more grateful for that boost. It only took them five minutes, but without it I wouldn’t be here in lovely Dunedin, soaked to the skin, but having enjoyed some good football amongst some even better company.
I wouldn’t have seen the really spirited and gutsy display WaiBOP put on against a strong Southern side, especially after going a goal down with less than a minute on the clock. I wouldn’t have seen the way they fought back and at times dominated their opponents before unluckily conceding again right before the break. And I wouldn’t have seen them keep fighting all the way until the end and leave the pitch with their heads high and smiles on their faces despite the result and the difficult conditions.
Supportive and non-judgemental messages can really help but sometimes they have to be heard quite a few times before they sink in. Hard times can cause you to make up stories in your head of worst-case scenarios and they can take a lot to dislodge. Sometimes evidence is required to disprove them. So it pays to follow through. Check in regularly. Don’t just say you’ll be there. Actually be there. It doesn’t take much. Just offer a few words of encouragement every so often.
I myself have been in situations before where people close to me have been doing it tough, and I’ve not known what to do. But one of the key things my experience with depression has taught me is that you are not responsible for fixing other people when you have no control over the thing or things that are hurting them. Your job as a friend is simply to be supportive. And it’s not as hard a hard job as it seems.
Pay it forward because the shoe could be on the other foot one day.
Southern 3, WaiBOP 0
[My other images of this game are available to view and purchase here]