Reach Out / by Michelle Cowan

Sometimes, I forget that one of the cures for any kind of troublesome thinking is simply opening up to someone else about what is happening or what is on my mind. No matter how trivial or ridiculous it seems, if I share my feelings or thoughts with someone, through ANY means—email, phone, in person, letter-writing, singing a song, crying when there are no words—the load lightens. I have to get the jumble of ideas or emotions out. And when I’m able to share details, it feels even better. Somehow, sharing really matters.

So obvious, and yet I forget that! Lies enter my head, like (and this is in no particular order):
1. It’s not that big a deal.
2. This is too huge/incomprehensible to deal with.
3. I’ve dealt with this a thousand times. Let’s just ride this one out.
4. I can handle this myself—or I SHOULD be able to handle this myself.
5. That person won’t be able to respond in a helpful or satisfying way.
6. I don’t want to bother someone else with this.
7. There’s no way to express this in an adequate or understandable way.

The key is replacing those lies with the following truths:
1. If I feel it, it matters. If this is an issue for me, it deserves attention.
2. Once I express something to someone either by speaking or writing, it becomes less of a monster. I can think through the thing and see it for what it is. If I am dealing with a long list of worries, stresses, or to-dos, looking at them written down makes the thoughts less repetitive and more contained. The mountain in my head is usually smaller than I think.
3. If I am dealing with an issue again, there is more to investigate. It still deserves attention. I will learn something new this time or more deeply cement truths I have not fully grasped.
4. I probably can handle this myself, but it will be much easier, lighter, and faster to ask for help. Simply getting a new perspective can mean the world when life gets confusing or overwhelming.
5. I have been surprised time and time again by people’s reactions. Often, the act of getting something out is all I need, regardless of the response, but by sharing, I at least present myself with the opportunity to receive a new gift. Also, if I don’t think one person can give me what I need, I probably know someone else out there who can. Reach out to that person.
6. I am never bothered when a true friend reaches out for help. I like hearing other people’s stories and want to be there for them. It deepens relationships. The person I try to contact does not have to pick up the phone or reply to my note if s/he does not feel like interacting. My friends value me and will be there however they can be. The main benefit for me is simply trying to communicate what I’m holding inside.
7. I can express this thought or emotion in any way I can. There are no rules. No method or means of expression is inferior. If I have to draw someone a picture or just dial a number and start sobbing, that is good enough. If the extent of my willingness or abilities enables me to send only a tiny email or IM that says, “I’m hurting,” that’s fine. When I can’t offer a big explanation, leave the house, or speak on the phone, there are smaller means of reaching out. If all I can do is send a letter that won’t get to the recipient for days, I can still write it. Trash the overtures and immediate reciprocity. I don’t have to have something to give in return for their time. An opportunity will rise to return the favor later. For now, let the monster loose!

I rarely have to suffer alone. Even if I can only seem to reach out to the same individual for a period of time, at least I reach out. The person might ask for some space after a while, but the process of choosing who to open up to usually follows a natural course. My perception is generally the only thing making me believe I’m “too much.”

Don’t bottle things up, my friends. Even little issues need airing, or they will fester and grow into infectious beasts. It’s amazing what a little word to a friend will do. Even if I have to start out doing nothing more than asking about the other person’s day, that form of outreach is good enough.

The main thing: Human beings are connected. We are made to share joys and sorrows. Everyone needs a chance to do what they are built to do. Reach out, regardless of how it looks!