Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother
I have a friend close to the breaking point with stress. I and other
close friends are very, very worried about her. We keep trying to make
suggestions that she just waves off. She says therapy is the only place
she feels safe (even from our “help”), that she is totally overwhelmed,
and that “nothing will ever change.” Yesterday she arrived late before
a football game and almost took my head off because I asked a simple
question, demanded a drink, and was clearly miserable. Her husband
seems clueless about how bad things are. I don’t think she is suicidal.
Just bleak and unlike her normal solid self. What can we do?
Dear Intervention –
This situation requires careful handling. An email will allow her the
distance to listen better. Give it a try. Here’s my draft. (Fill in the
blanks with details pertinent to the situation):
When you came over for the game the other day you were strung so
tight I got even more worried about you. I’ve been thinking about how
stressed you are. All I ask is that you read this email to the end and
consider my idea. We never have to discuss it. You never have to tell
me either to &%^&%^ off or that it was helpful. But please give it
time to settle. I tried to think about your point of view as well as that
of your friends.
I love you and I am worried about you. I think that is true about many
of the people who care about you, though none of us have found a
way of expressing it that you are in a place to hear. You’ve said
everyone has an opinion and you cannot cope with hearing them. I’m
sure you have enough on your hands. But that doesn’t mean the input
was wrong, or that you are right to block it out. None of us outside
may have a full handle on your life, but if the collective is all saying
“change something,” please listen with at least one ear open.
Here is what I am suggesting. Send an email to the closest people
whom you love and value. It should go roughly like this: I know you
are trying to help me cope. I am trying too but there’s lots you don’t
see on the day to day and might not understand or agree with my
interpretation of what I should do. But I value you enough to want to
hear what you have to say and to at least consider it. Please send me
a reply with no more than three observations/ideas for change. I
promise to read it and take your email (and those of a handful of other
trusted folks) to my counselor and discuss them with her. She’s the
one place I can deal with my life in complete safety. It’s too hard to be
vulnerable every time someone like you wants to tell me what to do. It
makes me annoyed and I sometimes just shut down. But if you love
me, please do this once and then please stop telling me what to do in
ways and times I cannot cope.
The price for getting to say exactly
what you think is to do one of these for me: [insert list of time
consuming chores]. I promise to take what you say seriously and to
discuss the collective input from my counselor. But I want you to stop
being “helpful” after you do because that is just one more stress and I
am pretty stressed out as it is. If you can do that, reply. If not, please
be considerate of what I am going through.
Then see what people say. Read each email and talk them over in your
safe space. I know you are always in defensive mode when you talk to
us because you are afraid we are going to give more “helpful
suggestions.” Please don’t write this email off as just one of them. It is
the tip of the iceberg for the anxiety that your collective friends feel
about and for you.
So for a promise to do [X from list], here’s my two cents: I am asking
you to [then insert you single most important suggestion].
I promise not to give you more input if you promise to follow through
in counseling. That’ll be hard for me too :-). But you told me that
nothing would change. That is a very bad recipe for your future. I love
you and I am your friend. You can talk about anything with me and I
will listen. I don’t want you holding anything in because that’s more
stress for you. I want to be a safety zone. But know how concerned I
and other friends are. Please consider asking them, reading what they
say, and then considering some changes with the support of your
counselor. I love you. Subject closed – Hugs.