January 16, 2016

Nice things for a struggling friend

In this post, I will experiment with modifying my personal research notes to a sane, shareable format.

These notes have a story to them. A while back, I stumbled upon a piece of brilliant advice: “Here’s how to write your thesis without suffering: every day, write down an experiment you ran and record the result, even if all you did was answer a question using a Google search”. Working with ideas as coherent and novel as theses and sharing them with the world excites me, I figured that writing down the results of my google searches really WAS the least I could do towards that goal.

I admit, this example does not lend so well to sharing. My personal version contains more specific  and identifying information which I'd prefer not to share. I edited this version to showcase a more general solution.


What are some nice things I can do for a struggling friend?


I have a friend I predict is having a not-so-great time right now.  I know from personal experience and reading many blog posts about secular grief that "Ask me if you need anything" generally doesn't lead anywhere. They might feel uncomfortable asking. Even without awkwardness, it's a hard task figuring out what exactly people can help with.


Google, alter query as needed


Here I would generally include links and describe blurry recollections of where I'd gotten the supporting notions. I will not include links in this version since they relate to a specific, maybe identifying, problem.

Many secular blog posts about grief - When you do things to actually assist an overwhelmed person, they remember even the smallest instances more vividly and warmly than all of the kind words.

The concept of 'next actions' from Getting Things Done, and expansions on the idea from CFAR - Tasks you aren't sure how to act on leave an open loop running in your head, sapping your attention.

Personal experience - I flailed about helplessly, wishing beyond hope for someone to do something, and could think of nothing to say when anyone asked what they could do to help. When I make a vague suggestion to a friend, the ensuing back-and-forth often gets interrupted before going anywhere.


TAKE INITIATIVE, as I already knew. Do stuff like "I'll be over at 7 pm Friday to pick you up and treat you to dinner," rather than "So maybe we should do dinner sometime..."

Seek them to hang out with, they may try to isolate.
Specifically: invite them personally to social events you know about. Offer them a ride places. Take them out to lunch or coffee. Call them up or IM them.

Reach out to talk with them after anything biggish.
Specifically: A birthday or anniversary of someone they lost. Filing taxes, paperwork. Kids just left back to ex-spouse's house. First date. Anything big enough that they brought it up in your last conversation.

Do something physical, exercise is the classic anti-depressant.

Cook a meal to deliver. Drop by to help with chores, groceries, dinner.  Help clean the house.

Send an email, share something from the web, let them know that you were thinking of them

Follow-up ideas

How do I even find out where my friends live?

Can I generalize this solution? - I did... for this post.

Try with a few friends, see if it actually works.

What's the likelihood of this backfiring horribly?

Send an email 'following up' our last visit with a random Reddit in the postscript

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