Being Seen

Today at church I had a friend come to me to discuss our mutual assignment. She basically took it out of my hands and said “Let me do it this time. I know how busy you are. Is there any way I can help you?” I didn’t have an answer other than “thank you” because all the answers to “how can I help?” require complex thought and untangling one task from another.

Later in church another friend came to me. She teaches my 16yo at church and had noticed that 16 had been absent more often than she’d attended lately. It is what happens when the mental health meds aren’t working as they need to, so you decide to switch. But then there is this dip in the middle where the old meds are fading from the system and the new meds haven’t yet begun to work. So we talked about how my friend could help my daughter.

After that, a third friend came up to give me a hug and say “are you okay? I know you have a lot going on.”

At which point I begin to wonder “wait, how do they all know?” I scan my memory for what I’ve written on my blog, on Facebook, on twitter. For a moment I worried that I’d been dumping too much stress and emotion online. Yes some of the things are there. Different things in different places, but even if someone were diligent about stitching those pieces together there are many things that never go online at all.

I’ve come to the conclusion that news travels in old fashioned ways, person to person. My church is structured to facilitate quiet, back-channel communication. Sometimes that can feel gossipy or cliquish, but done right it is a great help to those who need it. Though it is strange to have multiple people offering to help and to realize that there was almost certainly a conversation concerned about me and mine. It is both heart warming and uncomfortable to be seen as needing extra attention.

I still don’t have answers for these friends, some of whom I’ve only known for a few months and others that I’ve known for years. There are so many things that I can’t easily hand off. The things that I can, have pretty much already been dumped or hired out. What I probably need most is someone who will listen for hours and help me untangle all the thoughts in my head. Only then will I be able to identify pieces that other people could do. This is why I’ve scheduled therapy. It’ll begin next week.

I don’t want to be spending that money right now ($90 per session because my deductible is so high it is unlikely to kick in at all this year.) But I’ve been putting it off for four years. (Since February of 2013 when all four kids melted down almost simultaneously.)

This afternoon Kiki needed my help unpacking. She’s home for a week of spring break. Kiki didn’t need me to actually touch anything. All she needed was for me to sit in the room with her while she put things away. Somehow having a witness in the room let her sort a mess into a tidy space. I suspect this is what the therapist’s job will be with me. They will sit while I pull out old boxes of emotion and open them up to see what is inside.

I can say that being seen is far better than not being seen. I’ve had that experience at church too. There were middle parts of those four years where I tried to reach out and ask for help, but either I wasn’t specific enough about what I needed or someone else did not follow through. It is often hard to be specific when seeking help.

That is a thing I need to remember in years to come, when I know that someone is in a stressed place and I want to be helpful, it almost certainly starts with listening. Ask for details about the things in their life, and somewhere in what they say will be a piece I can take out of their hands and do for them. The burden of finding what to do needs to fall on the helper because humans under stress are not good at identifying what they need. Also there are huge social stigmas around asking for help.

For now it is just good to have friends who see me and all my things. Not being alone with the things is a huge help all by itself. And now I can add three people to the list of those I can call if I manage to identify a specific thing that I need help doing.