Looking the other way

There is a girl that I walk past on the way to work who doesn’t look very well. 

She has the haunted eyes that I have come to recognise, and there is something familiar in the determined stride and layers of clothing. They do not hide the fact that she looks barely strong enough to stand. 

I walk on by. 

I feel my stomach clenching as I near the crossroads where we overlap but I walk on by. 

This morning she skidded on the ice near my bus stop. I saw her arms shoot out to right herself…

And this is the question: to reach out or not. To stop one day and say, hey, I understand where you are. I get how it feels, even if I can’t really help. Or to walk on by because I might have got it wrong. And who am I to say anything. And, in the few occasions where strangers took the risk with me in the past, I didn’t really take their advice on board…

I don’t know. 

I do not want to step, uninvited, into her life; and yet I am deeply ashamed that each morning, at the moment, I walk on by.  

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10 Responses to “Looking the other way”

  1. Sashagoblin says:

    Don’t be. We all do,because fundamentally interference amounts to an act of disrespect. Being there to be reached *to* is one thing: claiming (effectively) that you know better how people can fight their own individual struggles is something different, and often more to do with oe’s own need for connection than theirs.Learning to walkon by is one of the hardest – and most valuable – things I learned.

  2. CBTish says:

    No, don’t be ashamed. Everyone is allowed to have a need for connection. You are already in her life. You share the street, you think about her, you write about her. Your pretence of indifference amounts to an act of disrespect. You could start with a little smile, and see what happens. She might ignore you. She might swear at you. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

  3. Mary says:

    I understand (so.very.deeply) where you’re coming from… I’ve come across people over the years (and even just in the past few weeks), who I see regularly and — for whatever several reasons — I know/ believe to have an ED. Like you, I choose not to say anything (if I am not actually in a relationship to that person), but like Sashagoblin I really believe in that route as the more respectful. For me, as hard as it is, it’s like this: If all I know about you is that you have an eating disorder, I can’t really support you. Because I don’t know who YOU are. I don’t want to confirm, for anyone, that their eating disorder is the most important thing about them, and so I don’t use “I know you’re sick” as an introduction — even when I desperately want to tell someone there’s a way out. (One thing I remind myself that seems to help lately is that I don’t know what help people already have in place. Maybe they are IN treatment, and I just assume they are not because I see their struggle outside the context of their larger life). Basically, I think the fact that we know and we care says a lot, but it’s sometimes more respectful not to ask…and more helpful to look inward and question why we feel the need to reach out. It is not at all wrong to care about someone, strangers included. But I’ve found that taking time to look at the underbelly of why I care — the fears and memories and assumptions that co-exist with my compassion — does a lot toward being better at caring for myself and others, both.

  4. James says:

    It’s a very difficult one and it’s little things like this that spiral up and fill you with doubt and confusion. If you’re not careful you end up completely wrapped up in guilt trips, self-criticism and anger and the reason behind it all is completely forgotten and irrelevant! Trigger moments – they creep up out of nowhere and can do tremendous damage, right?

    She’s not your responsibility and I get what Sasha Goblin says – if you reach out to her you may be perceived as rude and cause upset and so on. You might be completely wrong about her and in truth you have no idea what’s happening in her life.

    BUT, my own personal belief is you get what you give. An act of kindness or instance of someone showing compassion and empathy can be so reassuring and provides hope. You don’t have to run up to her and grab a hold of her – all it takes is something as small as a smile or just asking “are you alright?”

    It doesn’t always work out, but good things can come from reaching out. (as you well know ;) )

  5. Becky says:

    Each day, your heart will lead you to decisions that are sometimes scary and sometimes embarrassing and sometimes completely beautiful.
    Your heart will tell you — just listen. :-)

  6. Katie G says:

    I completely understand this feeling. I feel that way any time I see someone who is clearly struggling.

    I’ve only once ever acted on that feeling. The young woman in question was a customer in the shop where I work, and I’d watched her less and less well over 5 years. I couldn’t keep silent any more. So I tucked a note into her shopping simply saying that I knew what she was going through, and how to contact me. She did :)

    Its a difficult thing to call. If anyone had reached out to me in such a way I think I would have run for the hills. It would have depended on my state of mind on any particular day, but in all likelihood I would not have taken it very well. I think you have to trust your instincts as to whether someone would be receptive or not. As James says, it needn’t be anything major, just a knowing smile can say it all.

    Its also about protecting yourself and deciding, if you really did develop a relationship with this person, are you in a place yourself where you can be supportive? Recovery takes a huge amount of what is often perceived as ’selfishness’, but learning to put yourself first is the most important thing. Walking on might be really hard, but if its the best thing for you then you have to keep doing it.

  7. Chloe Cook says:

    I often see people who are clearly ‘ill’. Every part of my being yearns to go over to them, give them my card and let them know that I am there and willing to help them if they want to get better. I haven’t actually done it yet. Not really sure why. Frightened of being rejected maybe? Being rejected = not being wanted, not being loved, not being worthwhile. That’s probably a little bit the the virus that’s left in me. Maybe the timing just isn’t right, for me or for them. I just try and trust that if it’s meant to happen, and your lives are meant to come into contat, it will happen somehow. Hope that helps a little. Hugs xxx

  8. lissie says:

    I don’t think that you owe any duty to talk to her, help her.

    But at the same time – I feel like I could be that girl.
    I have slipped and slid into work or college every day this week, and have fallen onto the pavement twice now (it’s actually very embarrassing when it happens!)

    And although I’d like to have leapt back up with no shame, I still wish that some of the people walking past had just said ‘are you ok’, even when I haven’t fallen, have just slid a bit.

    You never know how much your words mean to someone who is having a bad day. You don’t need to say how you relate, or offer long-term help, just a simple kind word can mean so much

    very few people ever realise how much one word can help someone. Whether all they’re worried about is falling over in the snow, or whether there’s something more than that going on, all it takes is a simple ‘are you ok’ to change someone’s day.

    So yes, when you see her, I’d ask her if she’s ok. There’s no need to make it about more than just getting through the icey snow. Compassion means so much to everyone, whether they’re struggling with grip-free shoes, or something more than that.

    You don’t have to invade her life, just say something when things look tricky from the outside.
    Afterall, as you said, you would have been resistant to any attempts to invade your life like that. The snow is a perfect reason to show some concern without imposing yourself on her.

    You are a wonderful person xxxxxxx

  9. Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for these comments. I totally didn’t expect such a great response and so many interesting points. It’s made me realise that I have been quite black and white (surprise surprise!) in my thinking, and also in the way that I have been judging myself. I’ve also lost, in this thinking, the stuff about personal boundaries and assumptions. I guess the lesson I’m taking away is that it’s the little things (a smile, a kind word) that can really make a difference, and just being open to the connection and caring is maybe the best that we can do.

    Sashagoblin – spot on. It can be hard to see whose need I am trying to meet. You are soooo wise. xx

    CBTish – I’m going to start with a little smile. Smiles always make a difference, regardless of what is going on :)

    Mary – Gosh – that’s such a great point. And I have jumped straight over everything else to focus on my perception of her illness. The other thing that you point out (and which I hadn’t really recognised) is that it’s an opportunity to think about how I want to be in the world now, and to recognise that I have moved beyond just thinking about how I appear. I probably wouldn’t have noticed – or cared – a few years ago.

    James – it’s the balance thing, isn’t it? Reaching out without invading. And yes, I agree, I think the more we give the more we get back…it’s just knowing how, and how much…

    Becky – Yes. I think we do know on gut instincts. I think maybe that’s why I’ve been confused – sometimes the heart clashes with the head. I feel I should say something when actually I know that it’s not quite right. A smile is, however, always a great starting point :)

    Katie G – Thank you. The circumstance thing is important and shows the importance of the right time and sensitivity. I guess it’s also about working out where I am at the moment – and yes, if I don’t put my recovery first, I won’t be able to give anything in the longer run.

    Chloe – it does help and you are right. It’s funny how paths cross and relationships happen when they are ready to. Think I need to step back and not try to force the situation. xx

    Lissie – Thanks for such a lovely comment :) – and this “You never know how much your words mean to someone who is having a bad day. You don’t need to say how you relate, or offer long-term help, just a simple kind word can mean so much” is exactly right, regardless of the situation or the assumptions or my history or hers… Thank you.

  10. I agree with what has been said so far. Just talk to her. Not about the illness – just talk. Just be nice.

    (There’s a small chance that it’s not ED but a physical illness that’s mkaking her so thin.)