Have you ever dialed a friend’s number and while the phone rang, you simultaneously hoped they would pick up, but also dreaded the possibility of their “hello”? I have. Many times. Sometimes, the contents of a call can be too much so while I know it would help to hear a friend on the other end, I have also wanted to hear their voicemail more so that I could keep my break up, my mess up, my embarrassment, my shame, my anger, or my discontent hidden. The truth of the matter is, if no one is on the other end, I could chalk it up to them disappointing me by being unavailable instead of my lack of patience or belief that they will return my call. It is an easy and convenient mental error to make.
This truism came to me after I saw the comedy show, “Chris Gethard: Career Suicide,” which explores mental illness, suicide, alcoholism, and ebbs and flows of life. It was an honest and reflective look into Gethard’s personal story, but more importantly imprinted the message that people should not be afraid to step up and be a friend to the people in their lives that might be struggling with mental illness. When Gethard ended the show urging people to be unlike the clinician who ignored his calls after he was supposedly not a patient anymore and to be like the person who picks up the phone and interacts with another person in their life, I knew those $38 were well worth it.
As a 22-year-old New Yorker, I cannot count the number of times a phone conversation has helped me through the angst, the frustration, and the confusion that life can bring. A “hello!” is music to my ears and opens the door to telling a story to another person in the hopes that comfort, solidarity, and even healing can occur. Moreover, it improves our communication skills and gives us the space to express, articulate, and wrap our heads around anything from the events of an annoying Monday to a profound loss of a close friend or relative.
I know that as a teenager, I would not have reconciled the pain and anger from my parent’s divorce if I didn’t have friends who answered their phones or called back in a timely manner. Or how pleasant it was to spend an hour on the phone with a friend swiping through our respective Tinders, taking the loneliness out of the act and replacing it with discussion of what we want out of relationships.
I think we often underestimate the significance and goodness of coming together, showing up, and having a chat, so we don’t do any of these things nearly enough.
Sometimes it isn’t for lack of trying so much as we cannot pinpoint what we need so we stay silent and brush our thoughts under the rug. Now more than ever we can choose who and what we make time for and it seems like more and more we can neglect conversation no matter how important or powerful they can be. If you’re not convinced that a phone call can make a difference, consider how we have hotlines for everything from suicide to domestic violence to helping teens – all so we can feel less alone and accessibly heard.
Whether you believe in the impact or not, I dare you to call someone who matters to you and share how you are doing and ask the same from them. It might be the best part of their day.