Walking back to work, I see a figure drop to the ground abruptly next to me. They are clearly upset, distressed, and they immediately bury their face into their hands. They are now slumped on the ground pressed up against a pole.
I am not alone; there are at least half a dozen other pedestrians who are watching the same scene unfold, like them, I keep walking.
My feet carry me a further twenty meters before I pivot and do a one-eighty. I am now in full mental deliberation as I approach the stranger, a man.
Was it any of my business? Did this person just want to be left alone? What if I made the situation worse? What if there was nothing wrong?
In these instances, I don’t believe there is a difference between strangers or friends. This is where that boundary disappears, and we are grouped together and bonded by the same thought process of “if this were a friend of mine or me, I would want someone to help.”
As I approached the stranger, I asked the same question I was asked a week earlier when I disheveled and distressed ran into a friends arms, “Are you okay?”
The stranger’s response of “no, I’m not” led me to take place sitting next to him on the walkway where I said, “Let’s talk about it.”
What I learned from my conversation with this stranger was that he was having a really tough day. For an outsider listening in his struggles throughout this day might not be considered to be the end of the world. However, for him, it felt like it was. It was just one of those unlucky days where everything seemed to be going wrong for him.
What I quickly realised was that all he wanted whether he knew it or not was someone to help him back up, ask the magic question, and talk through the problems he had faced throughout the day. I acknowledged how frustrating his day sounded, and the more I did this, the lighter he became. It was clear that by the end of our conversation he just needed someone to go “yeah that does sound shit, and I don’t blame you for being upset, but you are not going to let it beat you, because everything you have said is fixable I promise!”
It is a powerful moment between two friends or two strangers, and something undeniably incredible happens when those three words, “Are you okay?” are strung together in a sentence. They have the power to have a monumentally positive effect. What the sentence are you okay? Does is open up a conversation where any type of thoughts large or small can be vocalised to a captive and empathetic audience.
The person asking the question does not necessarily need to contribute extensively. Sometimes all they need to be is a soundboard or a voice of reasoning that cuts through the cloudy thoughts, in turn providing a genuine reminder that everything will be okay.
A week ago, I too had a shit day, it wasn’t the end of the world, but I was shattered, and there was no sugar coating it, things just did not work out at all, which is not the most uncommon theme in my life. However, for this particular instance, it got to me, and while I usually can laugh it off, I wasn’t that day. So, In a moment of absolute desperation, I reached out to a friend outside of my immediate circle, knowing I just needed a vent and a new perspective.
Approaching new friends in these kinds of situations can be terrifying. I do though believe in life; we are gifted specific friends to help us handle different situations in life; in this instance, this friend was my go-to for whatever reason. Looking back I don’t regret taking that chance, but the process of understanding and accepting he was who I wanted to talk to wasn’t so simple.
There can be certain friends where if it is the first time the vulnerability of admitting you are not okay or that you just need them as a friend to vent to can be extremely daunting. There can be a worry that your friendship is not yet at a level where you feel you can expose this extremely raw and personal side of yourself. Dependent on the friend (well at least for me) there is also a lingering sense of humiliation and a genuine fear that there might be some degree of rejection. This fear of rejection stems from the idea that they might not be bothered to deal with my problems, or far worse that they feel that I am now burdening them.
While every worry I have leading up to approaching these kinds of friends might be valid in my mind, it usually does not reflect the actual outcome, especially in this particular instance. I couldn’t have asked for a greater friend, and all doubt and concern swiftly washed away as he engulfed me in a hug and asked, “are you okay?”
There was no judgment, no belittling comments, and not one instance where I felt that I was either a burden or annoying him. This was someone that acknowledged I needed comfort and they provided just that, there have been times in the past that I have been a soundboard for him, and like those times It wasn’t long after when everything had calmed down that naturally the dynamic of the relationship slowly shifted back to one of banter and laughter. Which is exactly what I needed and wanted, just a friend to help put the smile back on my face.
To me, what made the entire experience so genuine was that he didn’t let me leave without checking in again even after it was clear I was doing a lot better. This time though when he asked “are you okay?” when I answered I was able to confidently say “yes I will be” knowing in my heart I was telling the truth. Sometimes that follow up is all it takes to feel a million times better.
One friend’s generosity turned an afternoon of distress into a night where I am reminded of what it felt like to feel listened to, and that sometimes a fresh perspective and the comfort of knowing that someone is there for you if you do need a chat even if it is over something inane is enough to turn things around.
What I think we need to remember is that we are only human, and as my nan used to say “life was not meant to be easy” as negative as that statement is I agree with it. However, the follow up to that sentence is that while it wasn’t meant to be easy, we have the resources like good friends to help us navigate the not so easy parts of it. The beauty of friends is that the transaction is not one-sided and we, fortunately, can do the exact same for them when they need us.
I do understand it is not the easiest thing to put your hand up and ask someone for a chat, but I do think it needs to be stressed that you don’t have to wait for someone to ask you if you are okay, you are allowed to make the first move, and there is no shame in doing that whatsoever. Have that courage and back yourself and have faith in the people around you.
Everyone is going through something, whether it be small or large and allowing yourself to enter into that conversation is the kindest thing you can do for yourself and maybe even for your friends. Things don’t need to be fixed within a day, and sometimes they won’t be, it is okay to not be okay all the time. but it’s like I said before, it’s the comfort in knowing that there is someone there that cares about you and will take the time to listen that can make a huge difference.
If you are doing okay, and don’t know where to start in reaching out to someone who you might think is not your aim should be to open the conversation. A simple text to say you’re checking in or wishing them a good day is painless and takes virtually no time at all, but it can make all the difference to someone’s day. I implore you to be that friend, it cost nothing to practice kindness, and it can only do a world of good. Something as simple as driving around with your best friend, or climbing into a comfy bed and talking through someone’s day, going for a walk or sitting on the phone so a friend can vent helps more than you realise.
Finally, If you are reading this and feel that you don’t have that person you could run to or reach out to, or have been waiting for someone to ask you if you are okay, please message me. I do not care if we have never met, spoken, or know each other don’t be a stranger….. let’s open the conversation
– M xx