Sometimes the idea of talking to our friends about ‘the real stuff’ is difficult. But why is that so?
There is a running joke that I am an expert at cancelling plans and disappearing from the lives of my friends. “Don’t worry, she’ll ‘go underground’ but she’ll resurface after a while.” I disappear, and sometimes I don’t offer any explanation as to why. I’ve lost many friendships I’ve built over the years because I couldn’t muster myself to get out and try all over again. Things don’t go south, but I’ve allowed the relationship to fade away because I start stepping back.
There’s a quote that says, “Many people will walk in and out of your life, but only true friends will leave footprints in your heart.”
But what if I’m the one who slips away?
“You know what? This is already slowly breaking down. It’s okay. I don’t think my presence means much anyway.” I then start to question my presence, and usually end up resigning myself to my fate by doing my disappearing act. It was easier to write things off as ‘I’m a bad friend’ than ‘no, I just don’t have the strength to try.’
As hypocritical as this may sound after my confession, I cannot stress enough on the need to actually talk about what you are going through with the people in your life. For some, it brings comfort to talk it through with a particular friend. You do not have to be an expert to listen. For some, talking to a GP, a mental health helpline such as Befrienders or the Samaritans, or talking to a ‘stranger’ could be helpful. There is less pressure to show that you’re doing okay when you’re not. This is, however, on a case-by-case basis, and everyone’s perspectives may be different on the matter.
Talking it out helps. Talking about your problems don’t necessarily make them go away, but it gives people a sense of comfort and helps them gain a new perspective on how to better cope.
But how can I start talking about my problems?
There is definitely no lack of guidance out there in determining the best way to kickstart a conversation about what we feel. But here are my 7 steps on how I would try to lead the conversation to talk about what I’m feeling:
1. Start with small talk
Normally this is the time when I would gauge the situation. It’s not so much “will this person be able to accept what I’m saying,” but more of “I shouldn’t be afraid to bring this up, but let’s ease into it.” I would catch up with them on how they’re doing in their university, workplace, or any projects I know they have been up to. There are either one of two outcomes that may develop from this. Either: a) there is a pleasant atmosphere as you both may be talking about things you love, or b) there is comfort as you both are relating to each other about how things have not been the greatest lately, and there is a growing sense of comradery.
2. Start getting personal slowly
After getting an overview of how each of us are doing, I would try to steer the conversation towards what each other’s passions are. When people talk about what they’re passionate about, their eyes light up. There is also a sense of fulfillment that runs through us when we talk about what we love to do.
3. Talk about what you are actually feeling
This is the nerve-wracking part. What I have come to notice is that I’ll normally start the topic slowly. I start by talking about a personal trait I have, e.g “You know how I’ve not been around much lately?” “You know how I’ve closed up from a lot of people?” “You know how I’ve been feeling down lately?” It’s a casual slip into the conversation before going into detail about what I’m actually feeling. Do not feel pressured to tell everything out at once, or to tell it all to one person.
4. Talk about your progress
There is a tendency for us to end things on a positive note. Although being able to be positive in the midst of struggles is admirable, a lot of us use this tactic subconsciously to sweep things under the rug. Allow yourself to reflect on how far you have come. The fact that you are trying to open up about what you’re going through is itself a feat!
5. Do not downplay what you feel
A phrase I often tell peers is “Do not invalidate your emotions.” We often try to cover up our metaphorical wounds immediately by rushing to say “but I’m fine now” – even when it isn’t completely true. The fact of the matter is that we may all be at different stages: either just realizing things need to change, in the midst of trying to get back up, finally at a place where we are happy with ourselves, or relapsing. Ultimately we connect as we are all gearing towards healing in our own ways.
6. Choose to celebrate you
Reward yourself, even for the little things! Have that slice of cake and coffee right now with the friend that you told your struggles to. I had unknowingly cultivated the habit of downplaying what I have achieved or what I’m happy about. I’m learning to celebrate the small things: whether it being finishing one chapter for my studies, getting out of bed, taking a shower, having a deep conversation with a friend, or going for a social networking event without falling apart.
7. Find a way to hold yourself accountable
Accountability. Sometimes it is not enough to have someone just to listen – sometimes, we need someone to keep us accountable. It could be keeping us accountable on making sure we stick to a routine, making sure we get a task done, to check in on how each other is feeling every now and then. This is an optional step, depending on what you need.
We are our own harshest critics, and it’s time we learn how to treat ourselves better. Make time for you, for you are important!