How to Be a Good Friend in Times of Need

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Doctor Neha: Welcome to Talk Rx with Doctor Neha. Today, Arcelia is with us, and she is a brave high school student who is willing to ask her questions so that all of you can learn. I hope you enjoy this—and if you are past your teen years, I hope you get a flashback. Welcome.

Arcelia: Hi. I have a friend who is very unmotivated to go to school. Even when she’s at school, she has a tendency to leave halfway through the day. How do I help her get back into being motivated to go to school and to do what she wants?

Doctor Neha: Well, first of all, you’re an amazing friend. High school is this place where belonging and connection to others is paramount. When you’re young, it’s in your family. Then you move into middle school and high school, and now all of a sudden, your friends are the most important.

I can see how important she is to you. When she leaves school, leaves halfway through the day, doesn’t show up, or isn’t doing her work, tell me what happens for you?

Arcelia: For us, we all get a little flustered because we know she’s staying home because she doesn’t feel like going or she says she has a headache. We know she’s getting behind in school, and she’ll become more stressed out, and sleep less because she’ll be up later doing homework she missed. We just get flustered because she’s not there, and we know she needs to be.

Doctor Neha: You miss her.

Arcelia: We miss her a ton.

Doctor Neha: This is the interesting thing: I asked you about you, and whom did you talk about? We. Do you see how identified you are? It’s you and a group of friends, probably. Is that true?

Arcelia: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: You kind of think of yourselves as a unit.

Arcelia: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: It’s as if “If one of us isn’t here, and isn’t doing everything that they need to, everybody cares.” There’s something beautiful about that. What is your nationality?

Arcelia: I’m Spanish.

Doctor Neha: I don’t know if it’s similar in the Spanish culture as it is in Indian, but we’re all like a clan. Everybody’s helping everybody, right? It feels a little similar with you and your friends.

Arcelia: Right.

Doctor Neha: Okay. Are you worried, concerned that your friend is depressed?

Arcelia: Yeah, we’re concerned that she’s a little depressed. She has horrible sleeping patterns. She barely sleeps at all.

Doctor Neha: Hold on one sec for me. Shift from “We are concerned” to …

Arcelia: I am concerned.

Doctor Neha: See how that feels different in your body?

Arcelia: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: Tell me where you can feel it? Can you physically feel your heart racing, your stomach turning, anything like that?

Arcelia: My heart gets a little faster.

Doctor Neha: You see how that instantly becomes a little uncomfortable? It’s a lot easier to say “We,” like the general, “We’re concerned about our friend.” When you own it and say, “I’m really concerned about it,” your body starts speaking to you. Normally what people do is they stop breathing, because it feels tense. What I want you to do is the opposite. I want you to feel your bottom on the chair right now, and I want you to soften your abdomen. I know that’s not what society tells us to do; it tells us to suck it in. I want you to allow your stomach to relax. Let gravity pull your shoulders down, and then I want you to take a nice, slow, deep breath in so deep that it fills your lungs and your stomach expands. Will you do that with me?

Arcelia: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Doctor Neha: Okay. As you exhale, I want your belly button to move back towards your spine. We’re going to do it two more times. How do you feel right now?

Arcelia: A lot more calm, kind of serene.

Doctor Neha: So step one in helping your friend is you managing yourself. If you start getting anxious about this person who you think is depressed or not doing what you hope they would do, you start getting all worked up and now there’s two of you drowning. First you’ve got to own how you feel—it’s me, not we. You don’t want to speak for other people; speak for yourself.

Then the second question is, “What does it bring up in me? My heart starts racing. I get nervous.” So tell me what happens to you when you get behind in school or you aren’t doing what you need to be doing?

Arcelia: I get so stressed out.

Doctor Neha: Do you see that you’re actually getting stressed out trying to make sure she doesn’t get stressed out?

Arcelia: Yeah.

Doctor Neha: It’s so much easier to focus on other people than it is to take ownership of ourselves. Now, let’s go back to your friend. As much as you love and care about this person, is it true that you are allowed to make your own choices?

Arcelia: Oh yeah.

Doctor Neha: Have you had an honest conversation with your friend, or do you guys talk about your friend, not to your friend?

Arcelia: We’ve talked to her once, but she just kind of…

Doctor Neha: I’m talking about I.

Arcelia: I have talked to her once, yes.

Doctor Neha: That’s so good. When you did that, what was the response?

Arcelia: The response was, “I’m okay. I’m just tired.”

Doctor Neha: Okay, so has someone in your life ever tried to get you to do something that you weren’t ready to do?

Arcelia: I think, naturally, yes.

Doctor Neha: Right. A lot of times, people want us to be on their schedule. I’m not sure what your friend has to learn by failing a class, not showing up, being stressed out, or having depression or anxiety. Something’s happening, but I don’t believe it’s not about this person coming to school or leaving school. It’s on an emotional level. So it’s time to get curious, not furious, okay?

You don’t want to get all anxious, and you guys are all trying to figure it out, as in “I don’t know why she’s not listening to us.” Move into saying something to her like, “I noticed you weren’t in school today or yesterday. I miss you. How can I best support you? What can I do to help?” If this person says, “Nothing,” the hardest thing in the world is to say, “I’m here for you. Just know if you change your mind, you know how to reach me.”

Arcelia: That’s so cute.

Doctor Neha: Now where do you feel that in your body?

Arcelia: Well, currently my eyes, because I want to cry.

Doctor Neha: Something touched you. What was it about that that touched you? You care about this person, so of course it means something to you; otherwise, you wouldn’t be the amazing friend that you are.

I want you to know I cry a lot too. Take a nice, deep breath in and out. As you breathe out, I want you to let go of anything that doesn’t serve you, any thoughts that might be in your head like, “I can’t believe I just cried!” Just let it go, because what [those tears] tell me is how honest you are about trusting yourself and letting us see what’s most important to you. True?

Arcelia: True.

Doctor Neha: What touched you about telling her that you missed her? Isn’t that different than trying to say, “Come to school! Why aren’t you here?”

Arcelia: It is. It’s showing how much I care about her, and I think she would get a lot out of that.

Doctor Neha: Yeah, and it would be a lot easier for you. What many people don’t understand is that we try to control other people by offering help like, “Come to school. I’ll help you with your homework.” The truth is, sometimes what they need most is our love, and they need us to let go. That’s a little counter-intuitive. Sometimes caring about someone is actually letting him or her go through what they need to, but making sure they know that you’re there. Okay?

Arcelia: Got it.

Doctor Neha: You give me hope for the next generation, that someone could be so mature and so honest, so that all of you at home can learn. This is the deal, if there is a situation that you don’t like that is happening for someone else, make sure that you’re not trying to control it. Instead, show up for them, owning your own part in this, by saying something like, “I care about you. I notice that this, this and this have happened.” Talk about the physical things that have happened, like you’re not at school. I noticed you left yesterday at 3:00.” Don’t put any judgments in there. Don’t say, “You’re going to fail school. You aren’t doing a good job.” Leave all of that out.

All you say is, “I missed you. I really would have loved you to be there. It’s so much more fun when you’re around.” Then shift into curiosity: “How can I best support you? What do you need?” If they say, “Nothing, nothing,” because they get uncomfortable, what you say is, “No problem. It sounds like you’ve got it handled right now, but I want to make sure you know that you can reach me if something changes for you.” Sometimes, caring about somebody else is knowing when you’re doing it for yourself and knowing when to let go and simply being there for him or her.

Send me your questions — drop me a tweet at #AskDoctorNeha or write your question and comments down below.

Awareness Prescription

  1. Manage yourself first (pause, breathe, notice your body’s physical signals).
  2. Mention what you’ve observed, seen or heard (just the facts ma’am, just the facts).
  3. Ask: “How can I best support you?”

To friends—the family we get to choose,

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