I've been here. You'll be ok.
Tonight I got a call from a friend who is going through something hard, very hard, like the kind of hard that ends up in a memoir. I have walked the path that she is on, and it sucks. It sucks a lot. Like the kind of sucks that makes you look back and say, "I should write a memoir about this, but that would mean reliving it and I do not want to do that." But I was happy to relive it for her. She was worth it. Making her walk a little easier was worth it.
There is a scene in Hamlet (no really, stay with me). There is a scene in Hamlet in which Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, Hamlet's buds from school, are sent by Hamlet's step-dad/uncle (seriously, this family!) to find out what is wrong with his step-son/nephew. While talking to his friends, Hamlet says one of my favorite lines that Shakespeare ever wrote, "there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Basically, he is saying that attitude and perspective trump circumstance and experience. Cake is great unless you are gluten intolerant, then cake sucks. Having someone to help to make the thinking about a thing go from bad to not so bad to good is fantastic. Like, ok, you can't eat cake and that sucks, but the cheese tray is all yours.
So, my friend is stuck in the middle of a bad scene in a really bad tv show with no idea how it ends. I don't know how it ends either, but I know the players and I've seen some other episodes of the same show. I talked to her about it for a while, and I told her that I don't know if it is going to be ok, but I do know that she can get through it. How do I know this? Because I've been through it too.
I was taught, like many people of my generation, that you put your chin up, keep your lips shut, and smile even if it is raining excrement all over your birthday party. Especially if it is raining excrement on the cake, because no one will want your cake if you admit that it isn't perfect. (another bonus for the gluten intolerant...no crappy cake). So we go through all the hard bits of life protecting ourselves with a flimsy umbrella called "I'm fine." Even when we are definitely not fine.
Here's the thing. I walked most of that road that my friend is one professing my "fineness" with every step. The road could be paved in broken glass, and I would have commented on how shiny and sparkly it looked in the sunshine. The world could have fallen off on either side of the road, and I would have marveled at the view from my dangerous cliffs. The road could have disappeared into a fog of doubt and self-loathing, and I would rejoice that at least now I couldn't see the glass or the cliffs. I told you, it is a sucky road. But the part that made it worse was the fact that I was on it alone most of the time...primarily because I threw most people who tried to walk with me off the cliff...because I was fine.
Only, I wasn't fine, and neither was my friend when she called me. However, she is much smarter than I was, and she yelled into the fog, "Hey! This sucks. It's scary and painful. And have you seen the cliffs?" And that gave me the opportunity to yell back, "Yeah! But if your get a good pair of shoes the glass won't hurt as much. And if you stay near the middle, you can't fall off the cliffs. I'm in the fog, so when you get here, I'll walk with you." The road is much less scary if you don't have to walk it alone.
So I'm on the path with my friend. I've been here before so I can point out the potholes and the blind turns. I can't walk it for her, but I can help. It's a hard thing to ask for help. I am terrible at it. I don't know why I am terrible at it; almost every time I've done it my life gets easier. And yet whenever my Rosencrantz and Guildenstern show up*, I go all Hamlet and declare that just because they think life is great, my thinking bends another way. I am lucky because I have some really awesome people in my life who ignore me and build on-ramps on to the road, sweep up the glass, and string up nets near the cliffs. I try to tell them that I don't need those things, but they give them to me anyway. I have even smarter friends, who will just ask for help. And here's the crazy thing, when they ask me for help, it actually makes my road my road a little easier. Like the glass is still there, but it's sea glass instead of that stuff that people cement into the tops of walls to scare off birds and squirrels. I'm glad my friend asked for help, not just because I could help her, but because it reminded me that asking for help is way better than crap covered cake and flimsy umbrellas. *Rosencrantz and Guildenstern totally tried to trick Hamlet into going to England so that he could be killed, which is another thing that I learned from Hamlet: don't just ask for help from anyone because sometimes they work for your step-father/uncle and he is trying to off you.