I came up with three reasons why we are like this, not all of which necessarily reflect well on us, but what can you do:
1. We consider ourselves to be talented individuals who can do nearly anything if we put our minds to it.
2. We do not want to get used to depending on others, in case there comes a time when others are not available to help.
3. We dislike the burden of reciprocity.
Our self-sufficiency extends to our emotional lives. If we are sad, stressed, or lonely, we deal with it on our own. I grew up thinking this was natural and admirable. But lately I’ve been wondering what the heck friends and family are for, if not to assist us in times of emotional need. You may find it unbelievable that I never considered this before, but I haven’t. When I feel depressed, I isolate. I don’t want to burden others, and I don’t believe they can actually help me.
Then the other night I mistakenly called one of my close friends (who moved to another state a year ago) on FaceTime while trying to figure out what my own ID was. I quickly terminated the call, but an hour later I got a text from her thanking me for calling and asking if I wanted to chat.
My first thought was, Wow, she thinks I called on purpose! My own assumption in a similar situation would be that the person probably made a mistake because why would they call me randomly? (I personally prefer a heads up on calls so I can “prepare” myself.)
My second thought was, Wow, she’s happy I called! It dawned on me that my friends might actually want me to call them. (I always assume that if they want to talk, they will call me – I rarely fell a “need” to talk because of my self-sufficiency.)
My third thought was, Wow, now I understand why so many of my long distance friendships have faded away or even ended badly. Those friends probably thought I didn’t value them. Here I was thinking they didn’t want to be my friend anymore when all the time they were probably thinking the same of me. And it was my fault.
Truth is, I’ve kinda sorta known this in my heart all along. But I blamed my depression. It makes it very difficult for me to function normally, which includes keeping up with friendships. And there’s the whole self-sufficiency thing. After all, how can friends really help with depression? Nothing can help.
I’ve noticed something recently, though, that makes me think I’m seriously developmentally delayed when it comes to friendship. I’ve had long talks with a good long distance friend twice in the last three months (two different friends). Both times I opened up about how depressed I’ve been (something I’ve only started doing recently, as part of exploring new coping mechanisms). Both times the friends listened, gave advice that didn’t necessarily help (because nothing helps), and talked about their own and other people’s experiences with sadness.
After both phone calls I woke up the next morning feeling awful. Because talking to friends doesn’t help. But then, magic occurred. At least to me it felt like magic. As the day went on, I felt better. Lots better. Like, almost normal better.
You guys, last night I picked up the quilt I started earlier this year and haven’t worked on in eight months and I sewed four squares together! This is a big deal.
I can’t tell you how astounding this all is to me. True, only two experiences isn’t a large enough sample size to base any conclusions on, but you know what I’m going to do next time I feel hopeless and down? Call a friend! My preliminary findings seem to indicate that the act of talking with a good friend who cares and takes the time to listen and respond actually helps me feel better. Not because of anything they said, but because they were there to say it.
You might be thinking, Duh, and I get that! Like I said, I’m clearly lacking in some kind of fundamental understanding of how to make use of the benefits of friendship. But I think I’m starting to get it.
Photograph taken by my father in Keystone, Colorado.