sunset over river archbob

Thanks, Judy

This past summer, I had a revelation. It came on the heels of a ridiculously protracted down spell. Imbalance? Maybe. Depression? Probably. Shitstorm? Absolutely. In the apex of said storm, the revelation came.

Oh. So this would be why mom had no ‘normal’ lady friends.

My mother’s only close friend from the time I was in kindergarten was Judy. Her daughter and I were in school together and got close, too. Judy struggled like my mom… with her marriage, her weight, recurrent depression and all things modern woman. But they had each other. There was no judgment when one of them suddenly burst into tears or fell into depression. There was no attempt to Fix It or Cheer Up. Just a somber nod, maybe an offer of some overnight child reprieve. Maybe I am romanticizing it, but it seemed to work. Even as a little girl, I knew how important it was that mom had someone to call when there was no one else to call.

But. When they were down at the same time, there was no help for either. It happened. Which begs the question…

Why not befriend someone stronger, saner, you know…normal?  Someone who never struggled with depression, self-loathing or other deep fundamental issues. That would be more helpful. Right?

You’d think.

All that energy to buoy you up. Every brand of positive thinking, and ‘but life is so great, can’t you see that?’ to pull you out of it. As if pulling could help. You climb out. You crawl out. And sometimes you don’t. What you want is someone to sit at the edge of the hole, tethering down sandwiches and the occasional gin and tonic. Not pointing at the ledge, just out of your reach. If you would only stretch, it’s right there. Jump, or something. Take antidepressants. Something, goddammit. 

Translation? It is too uncomfortable to watch you in pain, please stop so I can feel more comfortable. There is a lovely animation of this concept. Same hole, different take. A better one, honestly.

Or worse, maybe you are met with panicked hand-wringing. Or a cold shut down. Same translation. No amount of normal activities – casserole delivery or nights out or manicures – will deliver you from that hole. We all do what we can, for sure, and the depths are terrifying for some. Disgusting for others. You will learn this, and it will hurt. Badly.

Still. It’s simple.

Do we need a tour guide through our own pain? No. We need a benevolent chaperone, a witness. Imagine sharing a gorgeous sunset or a glimpse of bigfoot beyond the trees. Don’t we just want someone we can glance at, all ‘did you see that?’ and receive quiet understanding? Brené Brown calls these our ‘move-a-body friends.’ Someone who can manage their own experience of pain and discomfort while having empathy for yours.

Who can you call when there is no one else to call? Who will listen without judgement [spoken or silent…any kind of judgement kills compassion]. We are lucky to have 1 or 2 move-a-body friends. Make a list and keep it in your wallet. Seriously, it’s a worthy exercise. The list may surprise you…who’s on it. And who’s not.

We all need a Judy. No judgement. No fixing. If we are brave enough, we might consider being a Judy. Let ourselves be seen, messy and inept, human. Resist the very-natural-but-unhelpful urge to fix, to cheer up. We may end up sharing a yurt in the shitstorm, but we just may get to share that sunset, too.


patti carlyle

Writer, feminist and activist in Cleveland, Ohio. I curate a collectic blog of quotes, links, images and long form writing. Learn more or find me on Facebook, Twitter, .

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