“Yikes” and Other Things Not to Say to Someone in Crisis

Over the past two weeks, two separate women I’m not super close with have tagged me in posts about their current life struggles and mentioned that I said or did something that was helpful to them. It was a needed reminder that I am not a terrible person who does and says the wrong thing to everyone all the time.

It’s also a reminder that mostly-online relationships are not frivolous and very much “count” and it’s often the people who physically see you the least who can be most helpful in a real-life crisis.

This was also the week that my Facebook memories reminded me that seven years ago my husband was posting about how I was at death’s door in the ICU and pretty much begging for support. And a lot of the comments made me glad I will not have to attend my own funeral.

People who were real-life close friends fixed their fingers to type “Feel better,” “That stinks,” and “Yikes.” One woman who I used to consider one of my best friends in the world literally wrote “Thoughts and Prayers.”

I understand that often we do not know what to say or do in a crisis. I, myself, have often said the wrong thing or not enough or nothing at all and feel deep shame every time I think about the times when I should have shown up differently. But…wow.

Of course, we will also always remember the people who did what you are supposed to do. The ones who immediately texted that they would take the kids to school or started a meal train or came to the hospital when I was well enough to have visitors or came over when I was recovering to just bring me some juice. Even if those people aren’t actively in my life anymore, that’s something that I will never forget.

I just finished reading You Will Find Your People by Lane Moore which was a reminder that no one actually knows how to be a person and we are all just trying to figure out how to function in a hellscape while doing the least damage to each other. I try to give people grace while also being the most judgmental bitch that ever lived. It’s a tough circle to square.

Yesterday I was waiting for the PATCO train when I mentioned to a stranger that it was weird that all the benches were gone. She replied that “nothing is weird to her anymore since we live in hell” and I immediately sent her a Facebook friend request.

I do realize that we have all spent the past three years dealing with immeasurable trauma – seven years if you are anything but a MAGA cultist. It was actually just when I was recovering from that ICU trauma that Trump won the election and the world shifted into a bleak hellscape that somehow always manages to lower the bar into the core of the Earth.

So, I guess it’s really hard to be a functioning human being, let alone a good friend.

They say if you have one person who will always show up for you no matter what you are extremely lucky, and I have like 6 or 7 so I’m not really sure why I am still complaining. I guess it’s because every hurt still stings.

My expectation for friends is not that we won’t all fuck up regularly. I just want my friends (and family!) to care about our relationship enough to tell me when I’ve aggrieved them instead of ghosting me. We will all aggrieve each other. Friendships are made or broken over whether you care enough to try to fix it. And if you reach out to someone to tell them that they have hurt you and they reply that you just need to do your own “shadow work,” block them immediately.

Around the time I moved from Philadelphia to New Jersey, I lost three very close friendships in one fell swoop, one of which was entirely unrelated to the others and still perplexing. I barely speak to any of my college friends who I thought would die with me holding hands. Weirdly, anyone I went to elementary school with would probably take a bullet for me. My life has followed no discernable pattern.

I know that I am failing at showing up for people as I type this. I have a friend who is due to give birth any minute and I have been texting her for weeks in my imagination. I know that if she reads this, she will know I am thinking of her. And if she does not read this, she is in the midst of contractions and unconcerned with my lack of texts. A few months ago another close friend experienced a trauma and I said I would call her soon and did not call her for about six weeks. Because she is a person who sees me in all my complicated glory, she held no grievance over the time it took while I sat buried in my own bullshit. She was happy to hold her venting for when I had the space to really hear her. And if she had been annoyed by the time I took, she would have absolutely told me and that is why we have been friends for 20 years.

I do not know the point of this post. Maybe I just wanted to prove to ChatGPT that there is still a space for writing that can’t be cloned by artificial intelligence even if my only pay for these posts is the seven cents I might obtain if you click on my Amazon affiliate links (truly it costs you nothing to click this godforsaken link which will remember me the next time you purchase trash you don’t need.

Mostly, I just wanted to say that anyone who says they are 100% fine in 2023 is lying or ignorant so you should generally avoid them at all costs. Hence, people are rightly unhinged right now and behaving in all sorts of ways that will make you deeply cherish your dog. I have no answers but hope that this post will make you feel less lonely, more inclined to reach out to that person (or block them, I don’t know your life), and not respond to my death notice with “RIP LOL.”

p.s. Just as I posted this I saw that my friend Olivia Howell has a new book called Simple Scripts to Support Your People: What to Say When You Don’t Know What to Say. This pretty could have been a sponsored post for the book – check it out!

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