When you’re down and out
When you’re on the street
When evening falls so hard
I will comfort you
I’ll take your part when darkness comes
And pain is all around
Like a bridge over troubled water
I will lay me down*
There are a few men in my life I call my ‘best’ friends. Three of them, actually, and they know who they are.
How do they know? Because we occasionally remind each other — by words and actions — of that hallowed relationship. And because best friends share secrets. Not gossipy family, friend or co-worker secrets. But gritty details about our lives, the dark side of who we are—our penchant for addiction, financial excess, laziness, unkindness, selfishness, gripping fear. What most christian folk would call Sin with a capital S.
These three guys have been a lifeline to me literally and figuratively. And though our friendship hasn’t been tested to the extreme I’d like to say that if the chips were down for any of them—if they were at rock bottom—I’d do anything to help them out of the hole. Because they’ve done that for me. Not once, but many times over nearly three decades.
I mention this sacred bond between men—true brotherhood—because it’s been these guys who’ve rescued me more than any clergy or family member, counselor, mentor or psychiatrist (though all those people play important roles in my support system). And which has everything to do with a man’s mental health.
As I mentioned earlier in a post regarding people in the Northwest struggling with mental health issues during the winter doldrums, I touched on the topic I’ll call “ESP” and the vital importance of a trusted loved one to come alongside you as a temporary lifeline. To be an empathetic listener, a cheerleader, a team-mate in the rough and tumble game of life who can help you get back on your feet and stay there when the violent gusts of anxiety and depression run you aground.
One of those ESPs (Emotional Support Persons, and one of my three best friends) has been struggling for many months with an issue that’s shaken him to the core. For the purpose of anonymity I’ll call him Ned (which is my endearing secret acronym for his personality). And for years he’s been my ESP to the extreme. When I was unemployed (several times) he called me every day just to make sure I was getting out of bed before 10 AM (which wasn’t easy). He took me to lunch weekly–on his dime. And he played host on several occasions for overnight trips to the mountains to hang out in the deep snow of the North Cascades.
He was the bond of friendship that pulled me back into reality, into positive self talk, into getting back out in public and finding a new normal.
But in a curious twist of providence the tables turned…
(For more on my story about brotherhood, emotional support and a cheat sheet to get unstuck from a weeks or months-long bout of anxiety or depression look for my follow up post next week)
*Simon and Garfunkle; Bridge Over Troubled Water