(Editor’s note: This article was originally written in June of 2018).
June, 2018. In a mere three days, we lost both Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, two brilliant creators who must have been staring down unimaginable demons.
Their suicides brought to light the need for open discussion about depression and mental health and caring for those who show signs of struggle.
But what about those who don’t? Those high-functioning creators and caretakers who fight a silent and unseen battle?
Who would have suspected that Spade and Bourdain, two people who seemed to have it all, were at risk of taking their own lives?
In response, this simple message was distributed widely on social media: “Check on your strong friend.”
Check on Your Strong Friend
It was a clear reminder. Sometimes it’s those who seem the strongest who struggle the most.
That was nearly two years ago. The conversation needs to continue. And now, as a pandemic keeps us separate and isolated, and a growing recession has us fearful and uncertain, checking on each other has never been more important.
Check on Your Strong Friend… the one who seems so unafraid, who pushes her limits and leads the way. Check on the friend who outwardly has earned her “bad-ass” badge but inwardly worries she’s never quite up to the task. Check on the one who insists she’s “fine” or “just tired” or “a little stressed out right now.” Let her know that admitting she doesn’t feel strong doesn’t make her weak.
Check on Your Creative Friend… the brilliant mind who wows everyone with the majesty of her words or beauty of her music. Reach out when she abandons her latest project, when she says it’s “just not working” or the inspiration is “lacking” or “what’s the point?” Check with her when she admits she no longer feels the passion or worries her next effort won’t improve upon the last. Let her know she’s more than the sum of her work and that her creativity is a gift she offers, not an obligation.
Check on Your Caring Friend… the one who is always there for everyone else; the one who takes on your burdens as her own. When she says “some days it’s just all too much,” don’t try to tell her to look on the bright side and appreciate all that she has. She feels things more deeply than you can imagine. Her emotional empathy can overpower her and her sensitive soul suffers from the suffering of others. Let her know that the best part of care is shared.
Check on Your Successful Friend… the one who “has it all,” and seems to effortlessly juggle through life without dropping a single ball. Listen when she jokes about trying to be everything to everyone or chides herself for running late to yet another event or obligation. Success comes with stipulations and can feel a constant weight to carry. Lighten her load.
Check on Your Kicking-Illness’s-Ass Friend… the one who raises a fist at chemo or pushes through the pain of an auto-immune disorder, the one who feels she must smile and serve as a poster-child. Remind her of Stuart Scott’s words as he “fought like hell” in his battle with cancer: “And when you get too tired to fight, then lay down and rest and let somebody else fight for you.”
Check on Your Friend with the Perfect Social Media feed...the person who looks like she’s living the dream, who always looks great, who hardly seems real. What she’s put on display is often an outward show and not a reflection of what’s lacking inside. We never know someone’s true story – we only know what we are allowed to see. Let her know she is seen and accepted, without show.
Check on… Anyone and Everyone. Do it for them and do it for you. Checking on others allows them to check on you. In times of challenge, our demonstration of care is often all we have to give. It is enough to give that. And giving from your heart fills it as well.
For those of you struggling, know that strength is a muscle built from challenging times. And that admitting weakness and accepting support is the strongest thing you can do.
Current circumstances may have us socially distant but that needn’t mean we are far apart.
I am checking on you, my friend, and I am here. How are you doing?
Valerie Gordon is a long-time storyteller, a 10-time Emmy award-winning producer, and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist and the Commander-in-She blog. She offers keynotes, workshops, and webinars to help high-achievers gain the skills necessary to grow their careers and turn the page to a better next chapter. Follow her on LinkedIn.