If you had to ask me the exact date that Leo and I became more than just WordPress/Slack friends, I wouldn’t be able to tell you. If memory serves we had already chatted online a few times before we officially met at the WordCamp Cape Town 2016 speakers/volunteers dinner. I don’t even know what it was that we first started talking about, maybe Brazilian jiu-jitsu, something we both had experience in or maybe it was something else. I honestly can’t remember.
What I do remember is the feeling I had when I heard that the reason he had been offline for some time was due to his (then) recent suicide attempt. That hit me like a slap in the face, mostly because it was the first time I could really deal with the concept of suicide up close and personal.
I lost a good friend to suicide. It happened a few years after he had moved to the US and we had lost touch with each other. At the time I had the same gut reaction I had always had when I heard about suicide, one of contempt for someone not strong enough to deal with their situation. In my ignorance I assumed that suicide was something you could just ‘get out of’. I wasnt until I met Leo that I realised that mental wellness is more than just picking yourself up from feeling down.
I can’t remember who it was that initiated our irregular check ins, you’ll probably find if you ask him Leo will have a better memory of what happened. I seem to recall he reached out to me and asked me to keep an eye on him. I thought this was quite brave of him, seeing as we didn’t really know each other that well, but since around the beginning of 2016 we agreed to check in with each other more or less once a week. At first he asked me to call him on it if I sensed bullshit in his response. As we started chatting to each other we soon learned to go a little deeper each time, nor relying on the standard ‘I’m fine’ response. I soon found myself really studying how I felt when we chatted to each other and really being honest with myself and him. As far as I knew, he was doing the same. Even if he had no idea what exactly I was going through, nor me him, I think we both found that having a constant connection to a real person who was honest about the trials of life made the hard times easier to navigate. Eventually we were so comfortable with each other that we just start conversations with each other at random, sharing the downs and ups of our day to day lives.
At the beginning of this year I received a message from Leo, that inspired me to write this post. I hope he doesn’t mind me sharing it publicly.
“Your regular check ups on me have been quite the light during those tricky and seemingly dark times and I want you to know how much I both appreciate that and appreciate you. Its not often one can consider someone they haven’t even met a friend but I do truly consider you a good friend and if I have seemed aloof and absent I do apologise. Things seem to slowly be getting back on track and I am trying to slowly piece back myself, my career, and my connections and I hope 2018 holds a kinder outlook for me and I also wish the best of this year for you.”
What a great way to know that you mean something to someone else.
I highly recommend you reaching out and finding your positivity buddy. There are no rules, simply be upfront with them. If I could suggest some guidelines, tell them what you require from the relationship (once a week/month/day check-ins) and make sure you both agree to be totally honest with each other. Then, both of you, keep to you word as much as possible, knowing that sometimes a check in might get missed due to work or life. It’s OK, simply check in when you do remember. You’ll be surprised at the outcome for both of you.
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