One evening recently I had a notification pop up on my phone. It was a good friend who had recently moved away from my town and who I hadn’t seen or spoken to for a while. The message was simply “Hey! How are you?”. This sort of question doesn’t usually lead to much thought on my part; yet at that moment it meant a great deal to me and felt significant for reasons I couldn’t immediately understand. So I stopped in my tracks for a second and began to wonder exactly why.
“How are you?”. It was a phrase both familiar and unfamiliar at the same time. I heard it all the time, in every passing conversation. I’d heard it from my own lips often enough. It was an automatic phrase, a colloquialism barely genuine in question or reply.
But here it was: a sincere “how are you?” glaring up at me from my phone. It felt authentic and all too rare. And in that instance I realised how much I needed to hear it. I admitted to myself that I was really feeling a little lonely and little flat.
I hadn’t heard from many people lately. I hadn’t reached out to many people either. A lot of my closest friends now lived further away than I’d like. I still felt in touch with my friends; my involvement with social media made it hard to feel isolated. I’d seen what they were up to from their posts and they likely saw mine too. We all felt ‘connected’ in that way with our social media presence, but it was nothing like the intimacy of talking together in person.
Being ‘present’ on social media really doesn’t tell you anything about someone’s mental well-being. For that, you have to ask. Your friend might post that they’re on holiday, going to the cinema, listening to music or with their family – but they might be struggling with complex feelings that don’t translate to an Instagram story. As most of us will admit, on social media we unashamedly exhibit the best days, when we’re in the best spirits, or feeling the most confident. We often (literally) filter out the bad parts of everyday life, along with a lot of our genuine feelings. I didn’t consider posting about my loneliness that day, for example. For any of my friends to know that, they would have to ask. And luckily for me, someone did – and I immediately felt better. Those three words take no time to ask or type out, but they might make someone’s day.
But there is another layer to all of this. For this interaction to have any real meaning, my response had to be genuine. I would have to admit to my friend that I wasn’t feeling too great and let them console me. Being honest about this is often much harder than it seems. By now I have perfected the rather automatic response of “good thanks, how about you?” – to any question of the sort – even when I know I’m not ‘good’. But in these moments it’s important to know that your friends are there to support you – they deserve to know how you really are. Be honest to the people who love and support you. In most cases they will make you feel better about things.
I even encourage you to even repeat “No, really, how are you” to your friends sometimes – it might encourage a truer response. They may still choose to hide it from you- but at least you gave them the opportunity and space to share their feelings.
The whole process of receiving the ‘how are you’ text made me realise: firstly, how I had such a good friend, secondly, how I could be a better friend myself, and thirdly, how everyone could be better at asking this simple question in a genuine way. We are often too alone in our thinking, and can feel better sharing it with someone.
If you live in Gloucestershire and are aged 9-21, you can get support from our TIC+ counsellors. TIC+ works hard at raising funds so they can arrange for a counsellor to see you for free, all you need to do is call us on 01594 372777 or text us on 07520 634063 to arrange an appointment. We know it can be hard to take that first step but, like the other young people we’ve helped, you’ll be so glad you did.
If you need to speak to someone urgently, call Childline on 0800 1111, NHS 111 (on 111) or the Samaritans on 116 123. There’s always someone there to help, and any conversations you have with them are confidential.
For more advice check out our SUPPORT RESOURCES page!