Sunday Journal #01: Having the Health Talk With A Friend

Is there someone in your life that you love and care about, but they drive you crazy because they are so irresponsible with their health? Working long hours, taking on too much at work and home, and then probably ignoring the warning signs for possible health concerns. Maybe you are just dying to tell your friend that she needs to slow down, after all the world won’t stop if she does. You might even be practicing your speech right now, the one where you tell her she’s no good to the world or her children or herself if she doesn’t have her health. Please don’t do it. At least not like that.

As a woman that has been on the receiving end of many ‘you need to slow down’ talks in the last year, I can tell you this, if your friend is already in that place of being over stretched, the answer might not be as simple as just taking a break or slowing down. Let me preface what I’m about to say with this. I know that I am blessed to have people in my life that love me enough to check in on me, but I wasn’t always in the right mind space for what they wanted me to hear. Did I need rest last year? Yes, I was tired to the bone. Would slowing down have been the right thing for my body? Probably. Could I rest – no. Not because I think I’m so important that the world would fall off of it’s axis if I stopped turning up at work or posting Insta stories. I couldn’t rest, because calm and quiet was the enemy of my mental health. Every time I would make a conscious effort to take a break the mind chatter and fear would start. My brain would jump to worst possible scenarios, I would be gripped with fear, and it would remind me of the failings of my body.

I don’t plan to share details online, but I was dealing with some heavy health stuff for most of the second half of last year, and the first two months of this year. It was scary, but I’m happy to say that I’m much better now.

At my worst most exhausted moments, even when my body was begging for rest, my anxiety wouldn’t allow it. It was impossible to get deep rest with all the mind chatter, and in those scenarios it was easier to focus on work than my health. Somehow though I could never communicate that to the people in my life, and every time someone would say to me ‘but you need to take care of yourself,’ I would literally want to scream ‘DON’T YOU THINK I KNOW THAT??’, but I never did that. Instead I stopped answering the phone, turned down offers for coffee, and basically retreated into my own little bubble.

So if you can’t tell your friend you love to slow down, what can you do? Here are some notes I made in my phone over the last few months on how to talk to a friend that is dealing with health issues:

  • When you call her, start with something other than ‘how are you feeling?’ Don’t make her feel like the only reason you called her is to check on her health. Share a story from your day, tell her a funny thing your kid did, or maybe just say – ‘hey what’s new?’ Have seen any good movies/read a good book lately? Let her know that she is more than her illness.
  • Sometimes when you talk to her, don’t bring up her health. Not even once. Just shoot the shit, say goodbye, and carry on.
  • Instead of saying, ‘are you going to take a break soon?’ say ‘have anything fun planned for the weekend?’ Maybe make a suggestion – ‘hey, I saw that this exhibit is on at the Art Gallery and it made me think of you.’ How nice it is to know that happy things still remind people of you.
  • Rather than saying you need to slow down, try asking her about her feelings. If she’s dealing with health stuff it’s okay to ask ‘are you afraid?’ Or if it’s emotional stress, maybe ask her if there is something on her mind that she wants to share rather than assuming what she might be thinking.
  • Instead of saying ‘you need to rest’ say ‘it must be hard to rest right now, have you been sleeping okay?’ Remove the blame from not resting or slowing down.

Also, take into consideration that some people actually can’t stop going to work for a reason you don’t know. For example, your friend might be self-employed and the main breadwinner for her family, a single mom, or someone who doesn’t have extended medical insurance. Remember that wellness, healthcare, and days off are a privilege for many people. It’s not that they don’t want those things, they aren’t always accessible.

If things get to the point where you absolutely have to intervene and force your friend to slow down, remember, she is likely exhausted, overworked, mentally drained, and possibly scared – approach her with sensitivity.

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