When Someone is Suffering, Please Don't Do These Things

I love to run.

I run every damn day.

It makes me feel alive.

It makes me realize I’m actively living, but the last year was different. It was like being on this spectacular run, but all of a sudden it’s straight uphill.

Okay, I can do hills, I’ve trained with hills right? So I tilt forward (5% angle) and I grind into it (hit the forefoot).

Then the wind starts and I’m running right into it. It’s making the hill even harder and I’m starting to feel like I can’t breathe.

But it’s okay, I think to myself... I’ve got this. The entire way back will be downhill and the wind will be at my back. I’m thinking positive and I’m being resilient!

Then the moment it’s time to turn around as I get to the halfway mark, the wind has shifted with me. It’s still going against me and I’m still trying to run so hard and my legs are cramping, my stomach is turning and right when I think I may just die here next to the road, the sun comes out and I find my breath again. I feel incredible. I’m going to PR this run!

And then… I get hit by a damn car. So much for a positive attitude. It can only take you so far. Life, Universe, God (which ever entity we want to call it) is ultimately in control.

This was my lesson of 2020. I was never in control.

I train classes for a living. Classes about how to be a better human being, how to set and achieve goals, build better relationships and be emotionally intelligent when your life is falling apart and here’s the thing: I thought I knew what the hell I was talking about! I really thought I knew what it meant to overcome adversity and how to move forward positively in life. It’s so easy right?? Positive attitude!! Gratitude and a little bit of confidence!

But no… you can have all the intel, know all the workarounds, be ready to dish out all of the advice, but there will be times in your life where you are so blindsided by events and you can overcome one thing only to get the shit knocked out of you by another. And you never even saw this shit coming.

So, no. It’s not easy at all. It’s hard. It’s incredibly mind blowing hard. You cannot out run it, distract it, manifest or numb it away. To do it the right way - you sit in it and you go through it. This takes grit and grit involves a lot of blood, sweat and tears.

2020 brought things to me that made me absolutely cringe from the advice I’d so freely given to people over the years. It made me realize that …

Yes, positive attitudes are important, but so is taking our time to heal and process pain.

Yes, I understand there is a “silver lining”, but working towards that lining takes intention and grace and lots of patience.

Yes, I will for sure “be okay” one day, but this doesn’t make the things that have happened to me “okay” right now.

Yes, I can definitely “keep my chin up”, but I’m also allowed the space and time to cry and scream and rage at life before I decide to bring my “chin up”.

2020 has brought a lot of unfortunate circumstances too many people’s lives and most likely each of us has either experienced this directly or we know someone who has. This could be anything from a traumatic event, a sick loved one, the ending of a relationship, job loss etc. These things aren’t just a byproduct of 2020. These things are life.

My own experience of 2020 has brought hardship to my plate for probably the first time in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve definitely been down on my luck throughout life, but I’ve never had a year of so many sad events with such a profound impact on my life and my children’s lives.

As a person on the receiving end of bad news this past year, I saw first hand all the interesting ways in which others deal when unfortunate things happen to their friends, family, loved ones or colleagues.

Many of us find ourselves at a loss for what to say or do. Adversity makes us uncomfortable and we’re unsure how to address other people’s failure. Many people choose to do nothing in fear of saying or doing the wrong thing or they choose to “give space” so as not to bother the person.

Here’s the thing- that used to be me.

I was afraid to impose.

I was afraid to make myself vulnerable enough to support them.

I was afraid they would ask me to do something I wasn’t able to do. I was afraid that maybe I just didn’t care enough.

And now, seeing things from the other side of hardship, I realized I was a coward and never again will I choose to do nothing when someone I know (no matter how distantly) is hurting.

I will never say "I don't know what to do". I will just DO.

I’m still recovering from all the shit of 2020 in my life and although I still have a few tough days, the good ones outnumber the bad. My heart is no longer breaking and I’m putting all my broken pieces back together in order to move into my beautiful new beginning.

The very fact that I’m writing again is showing my growth so I felt it right to post this article as my first one back into this personal development space I love so much.

When I was at my worst, the people who reached out to me and the way they reached out is hands down, the only thing that kept me going and I will always be eternally grateful to them. You have no idea how much a text message can impact a person’s day. A simple message that takes you less than 5 seconds to send can be the thing that gets someone out of bed. So this is my thank you to all those people and you know who you are.

Below, you’ll find a few thoughts I’ve put together to help us connect to one another in these difficult times and to guide you into knowing a few do’s and don’ts when it comes to supporting each other.

When someone is experiencing a difficult time, it’s hard to know what to say. I don’t have all of the answers, but here are my insights learned this year as someone “on the other side”.

When someone is going through a tough time…

Do NOT tell them your own story. Do listen to their story. When someone would attempt to empathize with me during my time of crisis by telling me how the same thing happened to them, it felt extremely dismissive. I understand they are only intending to show they can relate or to help inspire me with advice on how they overcame their own hardship, but this is a conversation for a much later time.

When someone is hurting and their emotions are so incredibly raw, please do not make it about you.

This is not a competition to see who’s had more life shit happen to them. It’s about support and compassion. Now, if the circumstance is unique and something you’ve had a very similar experience in, this can be important to acknowledge. It lets the person know how much you understand, but simply say- “I’ve been in your situation before and I get it.” Then transition it to them. “Tell me what happened” or “Tell me how you are right now”. If they want to know more of your personal story, they will ask. Right now, their heart is heavy and when you share your own story, it only becomes heavier. I had a very limited amount of bandwidth available when it came to what I gave energy towards and I needed every bit of my mental strength to get through my own crisis. I couldn’t carry theirs. I honestly didn’t want to hear their story.

Do not tell them it could be worse. Do tell them you’re sorry this has happened and that you care for them. “Well at least you’ve got this or that so you’ll be fine… “ Please do not take this time to ass kick someone into seeing the silver lining. This is a time for them to be allowed to sit in their suffer and process what’s happening. It’s okay for them to get kicked down and lay there for like a minute! We must allow ourselves the grace and comfort to mourn anything lost to us, taken from us or that’s happened to us. INSTEAD tell them: I am here for you and I support you”. Or “I know you need this time to grieve and I want you to know I’m here. Whether you want to talk, laugh, cry or just sit in utter silence. I support you”. I want to feel supported while I’m going through my time to suffer. I want to know that when I feel like I could just die, you are here to take space with me.

I want to know that when I’m mentally beating myself up, you thought enough of me to reach out.

Do NOT push positive sentiments or quotes on them. Do push positive affirmations through love and support. “It will all work out” “It’s going to be okay” “Worst things have happened” “Everyone’s gone through it and they survived” “This to shall pass” “Look at the silver lining!” “Show gratitude!” Or any other positive, go getter sentiments. These things are of course all true, but it’s not the right time. When someone is hurting, they need exactly 2 THINGS. Love and support. You show them these things by not trying to FIX the situation. Telling them to be positive is telling them NOT to take the time to heal. It’s telling them there’s something wrong with them if they can’t see the positive. It’s making everything feel so much worse.

Do not tell them when it’s time to move on.

Do tell them you’re here and you will always be here. You do not get to decide this. We all grieve things in our own way and time. There is no set limit to when one must GET UP.

As a friend you should gently guide them towards coming out of their darkness when you sense it may be time and you may need to gently give them a nudge. But please…. Be ever so patient with them. They are still a little broken.

Grief, sadness, whichever word we want to call the process of getting over something tough comes in waves. One day, you feel much better and you think you’ve finally moved on so you go about your life and then it hits you like a force of wind. A trigger.

It could be a person, a word, a topic or even the way the damn wind blows… it just comes and you didn’t even see it. You weren’t ready. Your shield had been put away. You’re on the floor and you’re just crying or raging or doing whatever it is you need to do to release your emotions.

If someone has bravely reached out to you for help, please do not give them tough love right now. Do not scream at them to get up and get better. Do not tell them it’s time to move on or that you’re tired of hearing them cry about this. Please, I beg you to not think this is what they need right now. They do not deserve this no matter how strong of a person you think they should be.

Be intentional with your words.

Speak rationally, but with love.

Share space with them.

Meet them where they are.

It’s like drowning. We think we know exactly how we should react if we were drowning. We think we would never be that person to panic and lose complete control. We would be better. We’d find a life boat. We’d hold on, we’d just stand up… but we don’t. We panic and we break and we lose all of our rational pieces.

And looking at a person drowning- it’s easy to say “STAND up! You’re FINE! Just BREATHE!”

But when you’re the person drowning, your brain isn’t working the same way. You’re scared and you’re confused and being screamed at and on top of everything happening, now you’re disappointing someone and this makes you drown a little more. Break a little more.

And finally… Do NOT think it’s okay to do nothing. Do DO something. Anything. I get it. You care and although you feel horrible (empathy), you don’t know what to say so you say nothing and then one day turns into 10 and you just figure it’s too late now. It’s OKAY not to know what to say, but it’s NOT okay to say nothing.

Even if it takes you weeks… please say something! You can even preface it with saying you don’t know what to say. You can literally ONLY say that and it’s still so much better than nothing. It takes courage to reach out to someone you may not know well, such as a colleague or distant friend, but I promise you one thing- the people who did reach out to me and perhaps said ALL the wrong and annoying things listed above still meant more to me and helped me to overcome the sadness of my circumstances. They were so kind, thoughtful and brave. They inspired me to never again be a person who says nothing in fear of saying the wrong thing. Many of us are uncomfortable taking “action” for a number of reasons. We don’t want to bother people, we’re uncomfortable, we figure you want to be left alone, we don’t know how to relate to the situation or we just have no clue what to say.

This is all very understandable, but please DO NOT let it justify you doing nothing. When someone is going through a really tough time, they will always remember the people that reached out and it will mean the world to them. Be that person even it it makes you so very uncomfortable. Be Brave.



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Jenn Newlin 

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