Concerned

Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:

I’m worried about a friend and I need some insight. Sarah is a smart
retired professional. On the surface she has a wide circle of friends,
but we have all noticed that she says, “I need down time” or “alone
time,” “unplugged time,” “retreat time,” and other variations on that
theme more and more often in the past year. He health seems fine
and she still complains about “those twenty extra pounds” so it is
unlikely she has a severe diagnosis. When I last visited I saw a stack
of Amazon delivery boxes “ready for recycling” that was three feet tall!
She seems to be cocooning at lot and even though she had three
different invitations for Thanksgiving, chose to spend it alone, going to
the movies and then watching football at home. I know Sarah has the
right to make decisions about how she spends her time, but is there
anything I/we should say or do, or should we just let her pass through
this phase?

Concerned

 
Dear Concerned:

You are a good friend. This may indeed be a phase, or it may be you
are observing early (or not-so-early) signs of depression. In either
case there are things you can do, without impinging on the friendship
between adult peers who like and respect one another. Let’s give her
the benefit of the doubt for the holiday, and consider that she may
truly not have wanted to be around other people’s families. Ditto for
needing more alone time, at least in spurts. But if you are not the only
one noticing her patterns, they may signal a behavioral change that
goes beyond the norms of privacy and a desire for more solitude and
quiet.

 
Ask her to tea or a meal at a time of her choosing. Without saying
anything close to “People are worried about you,” might would easily
and reasonably trigger shame and defensiveness, ask how she is
doing. Say you’ve noticed how much more frequently she is choosing
her own company over being social. Ask her how she is enjoying it,
whether she misses being with other folks, and whether she is feeling
okay or if she is in any way down or troubled. Listen to her answer,
assure her that she can always talk to you, and that you want her to
know how much people like and respect her. Then make a date to do
something a week or so later. Perhaps a movie or another meal. Give
her space. If her patterns persist, tag team another friend to do the
same. Winter is a time for hibernation even among humans. But if her
patterns intensify, up the ante by having two of you talk to her.