So often, we don’t know what’s going on with people, behind closed doors. We bump into someone we know, give them a smile and a wave, “How are you?” we ask, and they say they’re fine. Very often, though, they’re not fine. We have no idea what is going on inside someone’s head and what’s happening in their life – grief, anxiety, fear, panic, depression, desperation. All hidden behind some small talk and a cheerful laugh.
I vividly remember a day when my daughter was around 2 months old, walking through my local town, pushing the pram, in the late afternoon, just as it was getting dark. When someone I know spotted me and asked me how I was doing, I smiled my biggest smile and said “Oh fine!”. We had a brief chat and then as I walked away, I had tears in my eyes and all I could think was “I’m not fine”.
Of course, we can’t just walk around, telling every Tom Dick and Harry our innermost thoughts. Where would it end?! I obviously felt it wasn’t appropriate to offload on that person about my new mum exhaustion and confusion (and actually, what I now recognise was post-natal depression) and sometimes, it does us the world of good to paint on a smile and pretend that everything is A-OK.
But it’s important to remember that what other people tell us about how they are and what’s actually happening, aren’t always the same thing. And it’s important to remember that when we haven’t heard from a friend in a while, it might not be because they’re being a crap friend. If someone is behaving a little oddly, we should give them the benefit of the doubt – we don’t know what’s going on in their lives, what they’re dealing with every day.
I was reminded of this today, reading this incredibly brave article about miscarriage on the Guardian. I used to work with Amy, the writer of this piece, and although I don’t see her often, I bumped into her at an event around four months ago. We had a quick chat, and she asked me about the five-year-old. She seemed happy. I had no idea that she was going through this private hell. Amy writes: “I want you to know why I was boring, and then sad. Why I ignored invitations, was sober on hen weekends and miserable at birthdays. Why I left rooms abruptly and steamrollered conversations. Why I lied every time you asked, ‘How are you? What have you been up to? How was New York?'”
I’ve cancelled plans with lots of patient, understanding friends recently, thanks to the hormones that kick my ass and bring on depression and anxiety, for around ten days a month. I sometimes tell my friends why I’m cancelling on them, but sometimes I make an excuse (I even bore myself talking about how I feel so much).
So the next time a friend cancels on you, or you think it’s a while since you’ve heard from them, don’t get cross. Check they’re OK, and even if they say they’re fine, remember they might be putting on a brave face.