In high school, I hated when one of my friends would start dating someone and vanish, only to reappear when they needed a shoulder to cry on. They might have been awesome friends when they were single, but I stopped bothering with them pretty quickly. Why would I invest in a relationship with someone who didn’t seem to really care about me?
Sometimes it seems like my friends vanish when I need them the most. Or maybe I just don’t have time for them anymore. Or I’m always cancelling because, honestly, I’m exhausted and I’d rather just do laundry and go to bed. But as a caregiver, it’s all too easy to stop being a friend and become a list of needs. The truth is: you need someone to vent to. You need someone to help you run errands. You need someone to be around when you need them and completely understand when you vanish for a while.
Does it feel like your friends vanished when you became a caregiver? Here’s how to stay in touch.
Embrace short messages
When someone pours their heart out in a long letter, it can be a little overwhelming. Some of my friends and I send each other dozens of nonsensical texts every week. We send each other quick emails or stay in touch over chat. These types of “slow” conversations mean I can respond whenever I have a minute to reply.
Social media can be awesome
Thanks to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like I can peek into people’s lives, even when I haven’t seen them in months. That means I can reach out to them with ‘I saw you just brought your kids to visit your mom for the weekend. How’s she doing? I hope it was a great trip – the kids are adorable.’ rather than the standard ‘Long time no see. How are things?’ Use social media to help start a meaningful conversation and keep it going.
It’s normal to feel a twinge of jealousy when you see your friends doing something fun. People’s social media posts are a way of sharing their life with you. It’s an easy way to let people know what’s going on in your life, what’s important to you, and what you’re thinking about. If someone is posting a lot to social media, they’re inviting you into their life – don’t be afraid to take the invitation. Convinced that a certain someone is a braggart? Hide their posts.
Keep in touch
Don’t wait for people to reach out to you. Sure, it can be hard to put yourself out there, but it’s even harder to deal with the inevitable disappointment.
Sometimes things are just too overwhelming. It’s okay to set up a vacation responder or post that you’re going to be MIA for a week or two. That way people know you’re not just ignoring them. Remember not to vanish for too long – so many people tend to isolate themselves right when they need their friends the most.
I once had a friend stop responding to my emails, so I figured she was upset with me and let her be. I reached out a few years later, only to find out she’d stopped talking to everyone after her best friend’s cancer came back and she lost her job. I wish I’d known what was going on so I could have been there for her. Staying in at least sporadic contact keeps even distant friends a little closer. You’d be surprised how much they care.
Let people know what you need
It feels like people are always offering to help – and then never actually doing anything. Ask people for specific things. Be realistic – not everyone is going to be willing to take on big jobs, but they might be happy to do smaller things. I used to regularly pick up ten or so things at the store for a neighbor. When another neighbor asked for a cart load, I didn’t make the offer again.
Everyone has their own list of obligations, so sometimes it can be tricky lining up schedules – when I’ve needed someone at a certain time I’ve had to reach out to a bunch of people before I finally got a ‘yes.’ Facebook can help with this – you can post and ask who would be willing to come by for an hour on Wednesday nights, rather than asking a bunch of people individually. Sometimes I’ve been surprised by who offers to lend a hand!
I try to not ask too much of any one person. I have plenty of experience feeling unappreciated, so I make sure I let people know how much their help means to me.
You’re not just a caregiver
It might feel like you’re life is all doctors appointments and insurance paperwork, but that’s not who you are. Your friends love you, not your role as a caregiver. It’s okay to vent and share what’s going on in your life, but remember that it’s important to talk about other stuff, too.
Know your boundaries
I have quite a snarky streak, but I’m a firm believer that it’s not funny if it’s offensive. The tricky part is that there’s no consensus on what’s offensive. Is it okay to crack a joke during a crisis? Are certain topics off-limits? Let people know. A simple ‘I know you’re not trying to upset me, but that was too soon/went too far’ usually does the trick.
People are awkward
Many people are uncomfortable with new things. When someone is bumbling around something they’re not familiar with or not sure what to do, help them out. You might have to forgive a few ill advised comments or awkward moments, it just comes with the territory.
Bring them along
One-on-one time with a friend might not be possible, but you can still be social. Don’t be afraid of letting your friends know you’ll be bringing the person you care for along with you. When someone has serious mobility issues and money is tight, it’s not always feasible to get out of the house. Know your limitations – and respect them.
It’s okay to invite someone over
Sometimes you can’t make it out of the house. That’s fine. Invite people over, even with the mess. Maybe ordering pizza and watching a movie isn’t my top choice, but what I really want to do is see my friends. You might be surprised by how easy it is to get people to pick up ingredients and cook dinner at your place. Or maybe that’s just my special skill.