Check on your strong friends…

You know, the ones who never call to cry on your shoulder or ask to borrow money or ask for a place to stay. The ones who never appear to be going through anything. Remember to call those friends and ask how they are doing.

They may seem strong and they may very well be strong, but then when a tragedy strikes in their lives everyone around them goes, “We had no idea!”

I’m no exception. In my family, the squeaky wheel gets the oil. It’s always the ones with drama who get a home-cooked meal to sob over. On the other hand, the ones who are (or appear to be) doing just fine get nothing. You don’t hear anything from family, either, until there’s big family news (or gossip) to share.

“I always knew you would make it, and be alright” says a cousin who calls me about once a year to complain about another cousin whom she has been supporting financially for years.

What does “making it” mean? If it means I pay my own bills by getting up, going to work and making smart investments, then ok, yes, I’ve made it. I’ve got the house, the car, and all of the material things that are markers of having a good life, so I get it. It all looks good on paper, or the Instagram feed. But if “making it” means that I can go years without without hearing, “How are you?” from a friend or family, then no. That’s not making anything, but a life of weak connections and superficial stuff.

Then you have the friends who only call when they need something. These friendships are tricky when they are not always totally transactional. Sometimes they call to ask you out for lunch or brunch or happy hour. They reach out to ask if you want to collaborate on a project or hit the running trail on the weekend. They are fun, good people and you genuinely have a good time with them, but there’s something missing. Sure, they ask you how your work is going and how the kids are and if your partner made partner yet, but they don’t really ask about how you are doing or how you’ve managed through the pandemic with work and kids and the prolonged periods of isolation.

Do they care, or do they not know how to care? (I mean, don’t they have their own lives to worry about?)

Knock on wood that tragedy never strikes. These will be the same people who will be shocked and devastated, filling their timelines up with photos of you and them during pre-pandemic happy hours and mud runs.

The calm before the storm is all that time that they thought you were their “strong friend” and “the one who “has really got it together.”

Little do they know, because little do they ask.

And why don’t they? People LOVE to talk about themselves and their problems. Maybe it is because we live in the era of the selfself care, self love, selfie. Where in this equation is community?

If we have learned anything from the past 22 months of this pandemic, it is that people shrink in isolation and thrive in communities. Human beings need real and honest connections and a sense of genuine belonging. There is purpose in our lives when we get up and go somewhere, like an office or a school or to church, or a running group. The face time and togetherness leads to deeper connections beyond the surface-level scripts of, “How’s it going?”

We all see what’s happening in our society with the sudden and devastating rash of suicides in the news. When I was trained as a journalist in the early 2000s, I was taught that we don’t cover suicides in an effort to protect the public psyche, but with seemingly so many lately, and the rise of citizen journalism and social media, there’s no way to keep quite about suicides now.

From Regina King‘s 26-year-old son Ian Alexander, Jr. to the voice of Charlie Brown, actor Peter Robbins, to former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst, who was also an accomplished attorney, MBA and TV host to Moses J. Mosely, who is well-known for playing a zombie on The Walking Dead–even people who seem to have it all, are choosing to opt out. And, each time I read news of people opting out of life, even when I didn’t know them, I am saddened.

No one will ever know why some choose to end their lives. Did anyone call to check on them? Where they considered the “strong friends” in their social circles?

Feelings of isolation, loneliness and (in some cases) anxiety, depression and mental illness, are just amplified after prolonged periods of staying home and away from people, especially the ones whom we love most. But the one thing we can all do to ease the burden of loneliness is to call our friends and family and check in once in while, especially our “strong friends.”

Picture of Markette Sheppard

Markette Sheppard

Markette Sheppard is an Emmy award-winning TV host, children's book author, marketing executive and founder of Glow Stream TV. Follow her online @markettesheppard and @glowstreamtv.

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