What we can learn when we shift from “fixing” to “witnessing,” 12.02.21
When I was in my early 20s and clinically depressed (although I didn’t know that’s what it was at the time), I worked a predictably depressing job with a predictably depressing commute. The highlight of my days was often the carpool ride to and from work, with a woman in her 40s whose name I can no longer remember.
She had chin-length wavy blonde hair and a fashion sense that conveyed competence in the workplace. She was kind and no-nonsense and had that motherly warmth that I missed, being so far away from my own mom. She was married and had a daughter who was about 10 at the time.
On the long dreary drives in the early darkness, I would occasionally share tidbits from my lackluster life: my angst, my confusions, my anxieties about my then-sometimes-boyfriend. This boy and I spent a lot of time being disappointed with each other. We weren’t always that good to each other, and I was a needy, depressed mess, and we were both too lonely and insecure to definitively call it quits. My carpool mom would just listen and nod sympathetically, her eyes on the rain-slicked roads. She was cheerful by nature, but she rarely commented on my various predicaments, other than to ask a question or two, and she never gave advice.
One morning, she picked me up, and I was a complete wreck. The evening before, the sort-of-boyfriend had called me, confessed that he’d been communicating with his ex for months, that she was moving out to be with him and moving into his apartment with him, and that we (obviously) couldn’t keep on sometimes-seeing each other. I’d spent the whole night crying humiliated, enraged tears.
I poured out the whole sad tale to Carpool Mom.
I suppose I expected her to say something like, Man, what a JERKFACE. You’re way better off without him. I hope his cheating comes around to bite him in the ass. You’re too good for him. He was LUCKY to have a woman like you.
That’s what I was used to experiencing with my girlfriends. There was a kind of script: one of us would complain, and the automatic response was to rush to defend the friend in her plight, to assure her she wasn’t to blame, to reinforce the narrative that there was nothing she…