We don’t have all the answers but we might have some ideas.
In the letters below, we discuss a friend’s mental health, awkward moments when things go from ‘chat’ to ‘face-to-face’, and being comfortable in your skin – lumps, bumps and all.
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CW: this article mentions depression, suicide and other mental health issues. Resources below.
Bringing me down.
— your letter —
A close friend of mine has been severely depressed for almost a year and hates talking to people (other than myself, another friend and one teacher) about it.
At this point we have had a few disagreements, as everything I say has been turned against me and has placed me as a bully. She was suicidal and I am scared she still might be. I’ve talked to people but no one can fully understand what I’m feeling, and I feel like every conversation with her is a struggle.
I so badly want to help her and guide her when she comes to me for advice, but it is putting a dampener on my everyday life and emotions. What can I do, without ‘betraying her trust’, to help both herself and myself?
~ Patti, 15
— love from WinWin —
Firstly, let’s not muck around:
If your friend is suicidal, it is absolutely essential to take this seriously and tell someone older, or call a professional service like Lifeline (who will give you tips), or 000 if there is immediate danger. You are not breaking their trust, you are protecting them.
There are a couple of ‘alreadys’ going on here –
— You are already an awesome friend because you care so much.
— Your friend is already going ok with talking to people about her mental health because she is doing it with you, another friend, and a teacher. She won’t want to talk to any old person about it, but she’s practising doing it with those she trusts.
Which means, when she is ready, it won’t be a huge stretch for her to talk to a GP, a counsellor, a psychologist, or someone else who can help. It can take time to find the right people to talk to, and to feel safe with — but your friend has worked it out to some degree with the three of you.
I’m glad someone like the teacher knows what’s going on with her. Would it be breaking your friend’s trust to chat to that teacher about things? To get a bit in cahoots with the positive intention of helping your friend? If she’s confiding in you, and confiding in them, it’s a closed loop, right?
Often, it feels really good to give advice and help people. I’m the same — I simply LOVE to give advice (I’m here writing this column, aren’t I?). Just try and stop me from pegging my pearls of wisdom at your problems because… I can solve this! But can you see how one-sided I’m being?
If it isn’t the kind of help a friend wants, it comes across all wrong. It can sound too chipper. Or simplistic. It can even sound like bullying, like you mention.
Us as advice-givers will also have spent a great deal of emotional energy, and (no wonder) start feeling that the interactions with that friend are depleting us. When that person is in their own world of suffering, there is no ‘advice’ a friend can give. And while you and I might be trying to help, we’re just not qualified (sorry).
Severe depression is a serious illness and (as you know), there are trained professionals who spend a hella long time studying and being assessed and practising to be able to help people. What I am getting at here, is that it is not our job nor our qualification to heal our friends. This might be a long road for her, perhaps involving the help of one of those professionals, or for something in her life to change.
When I do think of how friends have helped me, it is things like the knowledge that they are there… the fact they listen… the fact they encourage me to push myself in the right way… their sense of humour and perspective… their relatability. It is easy to get into patterns of ‘ask advice/give advice’ with friends, like you both automatically assume a role because that’s how you’ve always done things.
But changing the way you two operate might help her and also help you feel better about things. Shift the dynamic and start by focussing on listening. Listening goes a long way.
Imagine, if whenever we have a problem, rather than someone jumping in with a ‘solution’, they asked us what exactly might help us right now? And then they just listen.
Reachout suggest asking your friend what they need with questions like “What can I do to help?” and “What do you find helpful?” and then listening.
And take care of yourself. I’m sure that your friend wouldn’t want you to be feeling down. Reachout suggest some self care strategies so that you remain strong while supporting your mate:
— Monitor your mood.
— Don’t give up the things you enjoy
— Always make sure you’ve got the time to do your favourite things
— Make time to relax
— Set boundaries
— Ask for support
In a nutshell, prioritise your wellbeing.
Awkward face time.
— your letter —
I really like this guy and he really likes me, and we’ve been talking over social media for about 3 weeks now. But we can’t seem to talk in person — we sat next to each other the other day and didn’t say a word. I feel so stupid because I can’t even work up the courage to say ‘hey’!
~ Ima, 15
— love from WinWin —
Ahhh it’s all this texting-messages and emoji-dingbats and group-chattering with young people these days and they really don’t know how to talk to each other’…
Since the beginning of time, two people with a spark have found themselves sitting next to each other, getting nervous, and not knowing what to say. It is the most awkward, funny, exciting, heart-breaking and confusing thing known to (wo)man. Which is why it feels so weird and at times, devastating.
The fact this happened for you, after a few weeks of awesome zingy messages could mean two things. Either you both know that you have zingy feelings and there’s a massive spark that is a bit overwhelming. Or you both don’t. Fizzer.
It is possible to relate to someone only by text. You can pull out the best, edited, flirty version of yourself with little risk. You can think a bit about each response and craft it to sound great. Obviously, face to face is different. You probably feel really nervous in person because you like him; the stakes feel high. You want to BE WITH THIS GUY (interpret that however you like).
Next time, take a deep breath and try to say something. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Fumbling… Cute! If he likes you, he will get a kick out of the fact you’re trying. If a fumble gives him enough of a reason to judge you or lose interest then this is a very easy ‘thank u, next’.
In person, if he seems like a different guy to the one you’ve been zinging with via text, then take some time to check out his own unedited version and fumbles.
It’s going to sound incredibly simplistic, but try and relax. He sounds great, but if you’ve tried, and you just don’t feel inspired / relaxed / natural enough to pull out your best, unedited, flirty version of yourself in person, perhaps you’re better off as mates.
No word of a lie; friendship is a great way to start things off.
How much to show?
— your letter —
As a teenager who happens to be plus-sized, I feel very self-conscious about what I do and don’t look like, and how others think about me.
I have been bullied about my stretch marks and scars. Is it seen as acceptable to display stretch marks and cellulite? Is it worth being proud of them or should I avoid showing them to avoid judgement?
~ Petra, 17
— love from WinWin —
Please bare with me as I leap atop my soapbox. I want to get one thing straight because in your question you used the words ‘what I don’t look like’…
Of the images you see on social media and plenty of magazines (not this one!), there is a lot of complete, utter, edited, mind-boggling, unfortunate BS.
So you see, what you don’t look like may not even be a real thing.
For every glossy, smooth, perfect, up-close image of someone’s inner thigh, there is a clever-clogs sitting somewhere with a laptop and photoshop airbrushing out the things that make skin look like skin (pores!) and bodies look like the real and lovely things they are (lumpa-bumpas!).
You’ve heard this before, right? We are constantly bombarded with images that make us think perfection is normal. It started off with magazines and fashion images… but now, on social media, this editing extends to people’s entire lives / careers / kids / hotdogs.
Errrrything ‘looks’ perfect. It’s a lot of pressure on a humble hotdog and I for one am exhausted. The truth is — and I won’t win a Nobel prize for originality for saying this…
Nothing is perfect.
Once more with emojis:
Nothing 👏 is 👏 perfect.
Carefully stepping off my soapbox, now.
Most importantly, you only have to do and show what you are completely comfortable doing and showing.
I get the sense you feel a bit obliged to feel a certain way, and I wonder if it is a bit to do with what’s going on at the moment. We are witnessing a huge movement around body positivity, and social media is full of it: normalise your nipples! Grow out your body hair! Show your scars! Do the wobble dance! Don’t get me wrong, I love a fabulous wobble-dance and this is a fantastic and important time of change for women: we want to normalise the idea that bodies are simply what they are (lumpa bumpas!).
But sometimes this starts sounding like we’re all supposed to immediately and assertively strip off our clothes to proudly wobble-dance down the street to the local IGA.
Sometimes, this stuff even goes as far as implying (or asserting) that there’s something wrong with us if, erm, we’d rather keep our conservative jeans on and not wobble-dance today, thanks.
There is no rule about this stuff. Your body is your thing. If one day you wake up and feel amazing and want to wear your highest cut cheeky-mini shorts, then do it. Embrace that sass and wobble with pride! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
(If the very next day you wake up and would just rather not, then don’t. That’s cool too.)
Experiment with it all a bit. Have fun. Think about why you feel a certain way, and whose voices you are interested in listening to. When you feel happy about the balance of what you’re showing and not showing, the comments / observations / remarks won’t penetrate as much.
All names have been changed.
An important note (with love) from WinWin
The more support the better, right? If you are having trouble, or if talking about your question or issue in this form raises any concerns for you, there are SO many excellent places you can go for free help.
For free and confidential info and advice:
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636
Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800
Butterfly Foundation: 1800 33 467
You are never alone!