I write this post, shaken, a day after the news of Anthony Bourdain's passing. In response to his tragic death just days after that of Kate Spade's, I've seen numerous posts on social media reminding us all to "check on your strong friend".
This reminder is so important. As is often the case, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. So unfortunately, people who don't speak up often don't receive as much attention as those who do.
As a recovering "strong friend", I write this message to all the other strong friends out there. You're probably the person that all of your friends come to with their struggles, concerns and challenges. You are reliable, kind and trustworthy. You care deeply for your loved ones. For this reason, you make yourself available to be there for them and you don't want to burden them. This desire to not burden others often results in you not sharing your own struggles, concerns and challenges. You try to deal with things on your own.
In my many years as the strong friend, I rarely confided much, especially my vulnerabilities and insecurities, to my friends. Conversations often consisted of me listening the vast majority of the time and not talking much about my stuff. I certainly had challenges that I was dealing with but I never opened up about them. I never judged my friends about what they were going through, but I think on some level, I feared judgement in opening up about the challenges in my life. I never felt comfortable with exposing my vulnerabilities. I felt like I was expected to be the one to have it all together. I see now that this was entirely self-imposed and completely incorrect.
Two years ago, I started to struggle quite intensely with anxiety. It got so bad that I could no longer keep quiet. I had to open up to my family and close friends as it was obvious that I was having trouble coping. For maybe the first time ever, I allowed people to see me cry, I talked about my fears and my sadness and let people support me. I felt raw and exposed. It felt to me like I was monopolizing conversations and making it all about me as I was so unaccustomed to talking about myself in this way. What I came to realize was that my requirement of support was not a burden on my loved ones at all. In fact, I think they were so happy that I finally opened up and it ultimately strengthened these relationships rather than strained them.
Opening up and getting different perspectives also helped me to get out of my own head and see things in a different light which often made me feel better. And even when it didn't relieve my anxiety or discomfort, knowing that I was so loved and cared for meant everything. Because they believed in me even when I didn't, it gave me hope that things could get better.
So yes, everyone please check on your strong friends. But for the strong friends, even if nobody checks on you, know that you can take the initiative and reach out first. It will probably feel very strange and awkward initially but you'll get used to it. The people who love you will be so happy to have the opportunity to be there for you in the way that you've always been there for them.
Please share this post with all the strong friends out there :)