On any given morning when I can sleep past 6:30, I have messages on my phone when I wake up.

Typically, they come from the same sources: the universities, the PMO and the Coastal Scents website. Occasionally, there’s a missed text message, but most days those don’t start coming in until the afternoon when everyone is awake.

This morning, I woke up to a Facebook message from a friend, who’s going through a hard time.

I’ve been aware of his demons from the start, but I always thought there wasn’t anything I could do to help. So, for the last month, I haven’t been trying to.

It’s not that I gave up—I don’t really do that—but when things got heavy in September, I took a step back to focus and work on my own problems.

I had more newsy ideas for my first editorial after Thanksgiving. Instead, I’m going to write about what a terrible friend I’ve been over the last month and what I (hopefully) learned from it.

In high school, I was the person everyone else came to for advice. I’m not sure how it happened, as I’ve never been “the typical” anything, let alone the typical teenager. I was always busy—studying, working at Sobeys and running several clubs and committees at school. Giving advice about relationships was especially hard because I didn’t have anything to go on. For the most part, I didn’t date and I wasn’t unfriendly, but I didn’t go out of my way to build new friendships, either.

That changed in university, which took me a province away from everyone I love. I became much more social and made friends, at school and in other areas of my new life in Fredericton.

I met this friend at work.

I ended up dating one of his best friend’s from high school. We bonded over that, but we became close by accident and somewhere between my now ex-boyfriend’s stay in the hospital last November and all our shifts together before Christmas, he opened up to me. With exception to last month, he’s been talking to me ever since.

And I don’t mind. It doesn’t seem believable, considering I’ve already written about the path this story takes, but as someone who spends a great deal of time in her own head, I know how hard it can be. “Give it time,” I told myself. “It’ll be okay. Things will get better for him.”

But they didn’t—if anything, they got worse.

I’ve never been the person who expects quick solutions and instant gratification, but watching a situation not improve despite my best efforts was jarring. I tried to push forward anyway, but when September hit, I felt completely defeated. Nothing was helping and everything was pulling me under.

Stepping back should have been easy, but it felt horrible and selfish. To make matters worse, I put off talking about what happened, promising to do so someday soon with time I don’t have.

Last night, he and I spoke briefly before he went out.

The conversation was familiar, because it’s the only conversations we know how to have anymore. Part of me wondered if expecting anything different was unrealistic. He said he just wants to talk. Our friendship has deteriorated to a point where it’s always a case of finding time in a packed schedule. That’s an awful place to end up.

I got the Facebook message at 3:46 A.M.

I won’t share the details—those are between him and I. What I can say is I cried when I read it but I finally understood how wrong I was. I can’t take back the time I spent putting him off, thinking nothing I can do will help him, but I can start fixings.

Because big changes don’t happen quickly. And when it comes to people you care about, they know you can’t fix their problems for them.

They just want you to listen.

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