The problem with reaching out

SSGWe all know how important it is to reach out when we feel we might be starting to spiral down into an episode.

We all also know that reaching out is not easy.

For starters, we don’t always realize we need to reach out. And even if we do realize it, we don’t always know how to reach out. Or even worse, the very nature of the illness prevents us from doing so.

And as if this weren’t difficult enough, some of us face a whole different level of difficultness when it comes to reaching out: Cultural differences.

As an immigrant, cultural differences often make my life trying at its best and down right miserable at its worse.

I come from a culture where you don’t have to apologize for opening up.  Where you don’t have to feel bad for telling your friends -and I use the term friend loosely here to include non-close ones or even acquaintances*, over coffee that your boyfriend just broke up with you. Where your friends don’t feel uncomfortable if you cry in their presence. When your friends don’t hesitate to hug you if they sense you need a hug. Moreover, where your friends don’t hesitate to ask if there’s something wrong when they see that… well, something is not quite right with you.

Here it’s very different.

I’ve had a lot of people apologize for “dumping” their problems on me. To me, it was only a friend telling me of a particular difficult situation they were dealing with at the moment and yet they felt they had to apologize like they had done something wrong. In Colombia it would be considered just a normal conversation between friends.

Here, people often don’t feel comfortable asking other people if they’re OK because they are afraid that it might be taken as an intrusion.

Moreover, I’ve heard a lot of people complain about other people “dumping” their problems on them. How dare them! I’ve heard people say, when the had someone talk about a problem in their lives.

For those reasons, I’ve learned to be very careful who I mention my problems to.

For those reasons, I’ve learned to apologize too, if I ever forget and end up talking about something personal. I think it’s wrong to have to do that but if those are the cultural rules of this society, I have to comply.

For those reasons, I find myself between a rock and a hard place.

Say, I know that I need to reach out if feel I’m about to fall down the rabbit hole. But how do I do so, when I know that most people here won’t be comfortable with me doing so? That even some of them are going to think I’m unjustly dumping my problems on them?

Now imagine that for some reason, I’m slipping and I don’t realize I need to reach out. I have been told by close friends that they won’t intervene unless they are asked to do so. But how am I supposed to ask for help if I am not able to? If my Colombian friends were here, they wouldn’t think twice to intervene if they see something is not quite right.

And by intervening, I don’t necessarily mean rushing me to the hospital. I mean, talking to me over a cup of coffee. I mean asking how I’m doing and not expect a polite “not too bad, thanks” but truly asking for an honest answer.

It is quite the conundrum, methinks.

How does one reach out? I honestly don’t know how. Not here in Canada, anyway.


* I am sure that is also the case here for close friends

© Summer Solstice Girl and A Canvas Of The Minds 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Summer Solstice Girl and A Canvas Of The Minds with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


20 thoughts on “The problem with reaching out

  1. It’s difficult, I wish I had grown up in a place where expressing emotions wasn’t seen as weakness or embarrassing….maybe I wouldn’t be as messed up as I am. What I will say is that maybe we can change that a little at a time…I’m open with at least two of my friends…when we speak on the phone or over coffee and ask how we’re doing…either one of us will answer with…’crap, same as always’ and coffee will be organised in order to ‘put the world to rights’.
    I hope this medium if not speaking in person, can at least help you to alleviate some of that and allow you to speak freely! I know that’s why I use it so much.

    • I does, it does! I started blogging because I had to get ‘it” out of my mind or I would implode into a black hole.

      And it works for the most part. Bloggin is definitely the main way for me to reach out these days, since I don’t have any In Real Life friends anymore. Plus it helps to know other people go through the same issues. And it’s nice to share coping strategies and laughs.

      Thanks for reading!

      • Same here! just wish I’d found it sooner lol. It’s the first time I’ve ever stuck to something like this diaries were always a major flop!
        We make lovely little WP families that make such a difference…you’re so right that it’s great to chat to people who get it 🙂

  2. SSG, again you hit the nail on the head! What would I do without you and the others as my blogging friends? I tend to keep Real Life Friends at arms length because I learned long ago not to confide too much personal information….they really didn’t want to hear it and it drives people away! Great post, my Colombian/Canadian sister! Hugs, Your American Sister, Rainey ❤

  3. Oh, this is so right on. And the cultural differences aren’t even just international, racial, etc. Just the difference between my family growing up – much like your Colombian community – and the rest of the world. And the rest of the world becoming colder, more distant, more afraid to physically touch one another, more isolated and unwilling to connect to others. It’s a sad thing.

    I know I need that connection. I don’t have anyone with whom I feel like I can have it. And especially when I actually realize I need it, which sure as heck isn’t all the time…

    • yep, I couldn’t have said it better myself. I’m a hugger. Come from a culture of hugs. But I can feel Canadians struggling so hard trying to resist the urge to run away if I try to hug them.

      I even wrote a post about that, a few years back 😉

  4. Agree with your conundrum completely!

    I really have nothing to add and certainly no solid answer to your question. All comments made so far are qualified and true.

    So as not to take the risk of reaching out, I started sketching and blogging as a way of talking to myself instead. I never ever expected or imagined I would find friends in WP who I can reach out to and talk to without fear, but am so very glad I have.

    • I could see that in your sketches. Perhaps that’s why I find them so moving, why they speak to me so loud and clear. And that’s why I started blogging too. It was that or falling over the precipice. And then, oh surprise, I found a community too!

      Happy New Year!

  5. I think you just gave your friends permission to intervene and I doubt few would mind listening to your problems if they felt it would help. Maybe they don’t know what to say. Maybe if they learn at those times they don’t have to say anything, just give you a shoulder to cry on and a hug both you and they would feel better. God Bless!

    • Yes, I realize most people don’t know what to say. And I also realize that in some occasions, not even the most skilled person would find anything to say. But the thing is, as a friend, you don’t always need to say something. Being present is more important that saying wise words. It is a problem when culturally, people grow up not being comfortable with other people’s problems/suffering. When you have a culture where people are uncomfortable with feelings, then you know there is something wrong with that culture.

      So, I definitely agree with you. Most of us don’t need wise words. We just need someone to listen. Or a shoulder to cry on. Problem is when people are uncomfortable offering their shoulder.

      However, I would have thought that the permission to intervene comes with the friendship, no? I don’t understand why I have to specifically give my verbal permission to my friends. And that’s part of the cultural barrier I was talking about. To me, that’s part of the job description.

  6. While the blogging community is helpful, as you say, it makes me sad to realize so many people feel they have no one to talk with when they are not well. I’m sorry you feel this way……..I personally have just a couple of very close friends who I know I can count on to always “be there,” and that’s enough. We all need someone who is there for us….I hope you are able to find some “in person” support. Wishing you all the best in 2013.

  7. Yes, the culture in the US is very much like this, though I never realized it until you pointed it out. It is sad that we hesitate to reach out to people. I guess that’s why we blog. I think the world would be better if we operated a little more like Columbia.

    • In certain ways, the way families work, the way family members love and support each others, yes. But Colombia always have a lot of problems that we don’t have here, poverty, violence, starvation. No culture is perfect, unfortunately.

      We just have to pick up the best of each one, I guess

  8. This rings so true for me. I am so much more open online, via my journal or whatever, than I am in ‘real life’. I can’t open up to people face to face because of the things you mentioned. I don’t know what it is with us Canadians.. I don’t want hugs, but it would be nice if I had someone to open up to. :c

    • while I do like and need hugs, I understand not everybody is the same. And that’s OK. However, a heartfelt hug from the right person at the right moment, can do much good.

      But I do feel isolated in many ways here. Not in every possible way, but in many ways.

      However, I much rather feel isolated but safe than connected but afraid.

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