My friend is going through a really difficult situation involving life, death, and cancer. How can I support him and be there for him?
Wow. I’m so sorry that you and your friend are going through this. In situations like this, words can be so meaningless. I don’t have the skill or knowledge or, frankly, the desire to write about death and provide insight into its meaning and how it affects us. All I can say is that it’s just fucking shitty. To be alive and know that one day we and the people we love won’t be anymore. Life makes you love people and then it takes them away, and eventually you, too. You and your friend are in the thick of it, right there in the middle of what makes life horrifying and worth living. You are absolutely not the first and definitely not the last. If you want, let it comfort you that literally all of us will weather this storm, too. We are here by your side.
As far as supporting your friend through life-threatening illness, there is only one thing I can think to do: ask him how he wants to be supported through life-threatening illness. People tend to comfort people how they themselves like to be comforted, but we all need different things and we have not necessarily been taught to ask for them. Help him ask for them! Maybe he’d like you to keep things light when you hang out, maybe he wants you to witness his fear, maybe he wants to be held when he cries, maybe he’d rather not be touched. Maybe he wants you to listen to him silently, maybe he wants advice and comfort. Maybe he doesn’t want to talk about it at all. Maybe he wants a combination of these different things at different times, and it’s up to you to make him feel comfortable asking for them. You need to understand that the way he wants to deal with this is not up to you, and any way he wants to cope is valid. You need to admit that you do not know, and ask him. And if he doesn’t know, maybe you can figure it out together through trial and error. It can, and should be, an ever-evolving conversation.
I’d also like to say that while this situation is and definitely should be about your friend, you are also affected by it. You need to make sure you are doing everything you can to take care of you through all of this. Secondary traumatic stress is very real, and you cannot be a help to your friend if you are being stretched to your breaking point. Be there for your friend as much as you can, but remember that you are NOT selfish for taking care of yourself too. Understand that you don’t have to be available for him 24 hours a day, whether that means not responding to a text from him for a little while or setting boundaries for how long or often you hang out. Treat yourself like you are treating your friend, and turn to other friends in your life for support. Things can go on that way forever – a chain of support and love and reaching out.
Good luck, to both of you.
I work in a very sexist industry, and I try my very best to help lift other women up, but I am routinely cut down and condescended to by other women. It drives me crazy and it PISSES ME OFF. How do I support the fellow women in my industry, even when they’re being nasty?
Hello, my love. This is such a hard situation! First, I want to commend you on your mission to lift up other women. That is so powerful and radical! And sexism is so fucked up! One of the ways that it works so insidiously is by worming its way into our own bodies and minds, using its poison to turn us against ourselves and other women. We are continually given the message that there is only room for a certain, very small, amount of women at the top and the only way to make it in this “man’s world” (ew) is to put each other down. I commend you for doing the hard work it takes to rise above that deeply entrenched SHIT. Not everyone has, and some people never will. This could explain a lot of what’s going through these other women’s minds when they’re cutting you down. Of course, who knows, they could also just be mean. This is possible because people are sometimes mean and, well, women are people.
One thing I’ve learned in my relatively short life (some wise old people say this too though, ok?) Is that communication is always key to pretty much everything. You will never be able to control what other people do, no matter how hard you try, but if there are specific women at your work that are perpetuating this crappiness, try opening a dialogue. Say exactly what you told me! “Hey, I’ve found our workplace (AND ENTIRE CULTURE) to be really sexist and it bums me out. I feel encouraged to see the women I work with as competition. I’m trying really hard to combat that by lifting up other women. I want to have your back, but I feel like you don’t have mine. Can we talk about that?” It is possible that they’ve literally never thought about it that way before. This conversation could break down walls and be really healing for both you! Or maybe nothing will happen. Either way, you did your best and that’s all you can ask of yourself. At worst, you’ll become known as “that woman at work who has my back even though I don’t have hers.” There are waaaay worse people to be! If you work in an industry where the people you work with are constantly changing, you may have to have this conversation over and over again. If that thought exhausts you already, remember that you don’t have to fight sexism each and every day. You can’t, it would be too draining. Sometimes you need a break, so let yourself take one when you need it. And some women are never going to have your back, some women are going to keep pissing you off and putting you down.
I want to leave you with something to mull over. It’s an idea we should try to explore to its farthest reaches. It may make things harder for you, but it could also liberate you! Here it is: you don’t get to choose which women deserve to be lifted up, because we all do. Internalize that instead, and make a commitment to lift up all women, regardless of their race, temperament, class, interests, style, ANYTHING – even how much they piss you off. Don’t worry, no one is saying you have to do it all single-handedly. You won’t be able to, so don’t even try. But do what you can. It sounds like you already are. I’m so proud of you.