Content warning: illness, death.
I listened to a clip of Will McMahon on The Imperfects podcast, describing how to speak to a friend who is going through something really difficult.
But when I look back on it because I think there’s two things that you shouldn’t do when someone’s in that sort of a position […] . If you’ve got a friend who’s going through something like this…
One’s apathy: so “too hard, don’t care, out of sight, out of mind” , and one’s despair - and both of them are destructive to the person who’s suffering.
And there’s a real, there’s a middle, there’s a middle point in there somewhere which is like softness and gentleness and kindness and calmness without falling, slipping either side, which is, “this is so upsetting for me” or “I need to block this out because this is too hard for me”.
Now, I’m not saying it’s gonna be accessible to you all the time and shit. Don’t judge yourself if you’ve fallen into either despair or apathy. God knows we’ve all done it. But for a friend, that sweet spot is a beautiful place to be.
This is something I’ve been struggling with for a long time. My best friend has been dealing with the roller coaster of cancer diagnosis, surgery, treatment, and being declared in remission, only to have it return and repeat for almost six years.
When I went through the most challenging period of my life1, I saw how badly people handle serious illness and grief. The behaviour I disliked the most was when mum’s friends would make the terrible things happening to her all about them. They would sink so deep into the despair side of the coin I was forced to manage their feelings when I had my own stress to deal with. It made a hard time even harder.
As a result, when my friends are facing illness or grief, I am hyper-aware of saying the wrong thing, pulling focus, or making them worry about my feelings. However, I do wonder if this baggage, combined with my olympic-level ability to compartmentalise (thanks, childhood2), has me landing on the apathy side, or the appearance of apathy at least.
Anyway, I’ve been trying to walk this line for a while now with my best friend, but I’d never heard it articulated so well before hearing that Imperfects clip. I like to hope, for the most part, I land in the middle, bringing the softness and calmness described by Will, as well as fun and humour when it helps. I’m sure I’ve messed up multiple times, but I’m trying my best.