If you are going through a rough patch in your life, I don’t think it’s unreasonable to look to your friends and family for a shoulder to cry on or a friendly person to bitch to.  It’s at times like this that you find out who your true friends are.  Sometimes it’s the folks you least expect who come through for you and turn into life-long friends.  And often, the people you expected to have your back disappear completely from your life without a backward glance.  Rough times can be great sorting out periods.

However, I have noticed that there really is a line in the sand where sympathy is concerned.  On one side folks can feel for you and pray for you and talk to you about your problems.  They can play a little game with themselves where they thank God that their life is sooooo much easier than yours, (I don’t know HOW she copes with all of that!) and tell themselves that their own lives will never get that bad.  Basically, they can pity you without guilt and lie to themselves about anything that might be coming down the (as yet unseen) pike for them.

You can expect this reaction when you have ONE major thing go wrong in your life.  Maybe your child becomes quite ill.  Maybe you are in a horrible car accident.  Perhaps there is a death in your family.  You might have a disabled child or your house might be in foreclosure.  Any myriad of things could go wrong (and often do!) and this is how the majority of your friends will react.   They will be there for you with only the slightest whiff of pity in the air…

Suppose though that TWO or more major things go wrong in your life simultaneously.  Your spouse dies in a car accident that leaves you paralyzed.  You find out your child has terminal cancer and then your baby is born unexpectedly disabled.  All four of your sons are diagnosed with autism over a 6 month period, during which you get pregnant with another boy.  Your problems are long-term and unfixable and they keep getting worse everytime you turn around…

This is called crossing the line.  You have dived right over people’s comfort levels and now they don’t know what to say to you.  For the looky-lous, it’s no longer even mildly entertaining to think of how much easier their life is than yours.    They are filled with both pity and guilt whenever they chance to think of you (which they try not to do–don’t you EVER have anything GOOD to report?!!)  Things have gotten unimaginably horrific for you and you seem to be in a downward spiral and… what if you should pull THEM down with you?  What if some of your bad luck rubs off?

This might sound jaded, but I live this everyday.  I am speaking to you from the wrong side of that line.  Hi.

I have been here for a LONG time.  My child is almost indescribably disabled.  He’s got at least 5 major things wrong with him (I’ve only talked publically about his autism).  He is destructive and tends to tantrum in public places.  Pity and sideways glances that slide away when they realize that we’ve noticed their interest are part of our daily lives as a family.  I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “Why don’t you just put him in an institution and be done with it?  Why are you purposefully making your life so hard?”  If I express the vague desire for more children I am openly mocked.  “WHY?!!!  Don’t you have ENOUGH on your plate?  What if you have another Sawyer?!!  Don’t you have enough kids?!”  If I try to tell people that I am tired I get “Well, what did you expect with all of those kids?”

It’s not that I want sympathy, but it would be nice if people tried to understand our life before judging it.  If people could stand in my shoes for a few moments without freaking out, and realize that yes, our life is hard but not so hard that I don’t want or need good friends.  I need someone willing to listen to me bitch too, even if my rants go to a higher level than carpool troubles or where to park the new car.

That’s why I’m soooo grateful for my best friend Kate.  She understands.  She GETS it.  We are both on the wrong side of the line together, holding hands and fixin’ to red rover ourselves back over to the right side again.  …Together.

…After all, isn’t that what a best friend is for?

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