A now former friend of mine recently called me a user. This insult was stated in concert with various other insults and unfounded accustations, which only served to maximize the hurt in hearing them. Not because someone that I thought knew me well would say such things–that part still stung, obviously–but because I’ve always strived to be an honest and open person. Even if I fall short. Which I’ve admitted here many times. I screw up. I make mistakes. I’m human. When my integrity comes into question, I wonder why. I’m not delusional enough to think everyone thinks I’m just the super greatest person alive, but when I hear something like this, I roll back and try to understand where it comes from and whether or not it has any merit.
In this case, despite the fact that I know this pariticular insult came from a place of projection and insecurity, I’ve come to the conclusion that it wasn’t wrong. I am a user. I do use people. Just not in the way it was implied. I use people as I expect to be used: as a means to help cope with the daily grind of life and the constant barrage of emotional torment. I use people to offset my inability to ask for help. I use people for their philosophy and spirituality and intelligence and their ability to make me laugh. I use people to talk when I finally feel safe enough to do so. And I absolutely do use people for their love, for their hope, for any sense of optimism they can offer. In turn, I open myself to be used in the same way.
And you know what? That’s not a bad thing at all. It’s what we should all strive to be for one another. A person to use to find peace and understanding when we can’t see it anymore on our own. Sure, therapy is a wonder at times, but there is nothing at all like connecting with a person or people who get you (or even someone who may not, in the right circumstance) and using them as a shield, as a confidant, as an outlet, as a lifeline.
According a recent study from the CDC, approximately 41.5% of adults suffer from symptoms of anxiety or a depressive disorder. If that sounds high, well, it is. On average, 2 out of every 5 people you know fall into this category. Most often, you may not know. They may mask it. They may tout an awesome life on social media and spend their nights alone in tears. They may shake your hand or give you a hug (or desperately miss doing so, as the case is at the moment), smile wide, and tell you all about their great home and family and work and anything to avoid letting anyone know they are suffering.
I’ve spent much of my adulthood on a cliff overlooking an emotional canyon. In those times, I’m on the verge of a breakdown constantly. I wonder when the balance in life will come, or whether I’ve grossly overestimated the amount of good I’ve done. I refuse to let myself watch Publix commercials (okay, a little lighthearted there, but seriously Publix, dial it back a bit, would ya?). Most importantly, I turn to humor and hope and optimism to try to cope. I write. I funnel all of that pain and grief and anguish into something that doesn’t involve falling apart in front of someone (or a group of someones as the Board of Directors for Broadleaf once learned … sorry about that, folks!). What I have’t done enough, and what I work on so hard all the time, is using the people close to me for help.
Imagine you’ve slipped on the edge of a cliff and are dangling by a rock you can barely maintain a grip on. Someone you know, or even a complete stranger, drops a rope. Are you going to say, “No thanks, I don’t like to use people for help.”? I think not. An extreme example, sure, but I’ll stick with it.
The fact is you, or someone you’re close to, or someone you run into in a store who isn’t as friendly as you would have liked for them to be, is suffering right now. Before you discount their behavior or look to put distance between you and their up-and-down moods, consider the world from their point-of-view.
One of the primary lessons a writer must learn is empathy. There is no conceivable way to create a story any reader will care about unless you can create characters whose motivations make sense. A reader emotionally connects to characters through shared experience, through a relatable flaw, through hurt. It sounds simple. I wish it was. Seeing the world through another’s eyes and heart is a trial that doesn’t always offer the verdict you’d like. But try. Have some empathy. Look deeper. Ask questions. Trust me, people want to talk. Desperately. They want to share. They want to deal. They want to know they are not alone. They may not want to do it right now, but they want to know they can when they’re ready. Be that person. Goodness knows the world would be better if we all were.
I am user. But if I am, then I must also be willing to be used. I want to talk. I want to help. So, if you’re in need of an outlet or an ear or whatever input I can offer, use me. If you need a hug, use me. If you need anything, use me. You are not alone.