When texting, tweeting, e-mailing & phoning don’t work, sometimes you can try knocking.
Worry when a blogger goes silent
I’ve been worried about Debt-Debs. A fellow debt-blogger, Debs took the initiative this past summer to ask me questions and to establish the fact that she and I live not only in the same city, but in the same neighbourhood. We decided to meet and had a great talk at Tim Hortons in August. We started to follow each other’s blogs and to communicate regularly. Debs, a type-A keener, had a huge blogging network and new ideas that made my type-B head spin. I was impressed by her Word Press savvy, and grateful for the help she offered to give me with some of my technical stumbling blocks. We were going to meet for a second time – this time at her place – in October, but I received an e-mail message from her the day before our intended meeting: “Something has come up and I won’t be able to get together tomorrow. Will be in touch so we can reschedule.” But there was no rescheduling, and the online Debs soon vanished. No more blog posts. No more comments on other blogs. No more tweets.
As a relative newbie to the online scene, this was a first for me, and I felt a dread about it. This can’t be good. Every possibility went through my mind. She’s sick. Her husband has been injured. She’s lost her job. Her marriage is breaking up. There has been a death in the family. I sent a direct message via Twitter. No response. I sent an e-mail. No response. I texted. No response. I phoned and left a voice message. No response.
Navigating another’s withdrawal
She doesn’t want to be contacted. It’s a scenario that is hard to navigate. I’ve been in situations where I really have wanted to be left alone, and my guideline in dealing with the withdrawal of others is to offer support and then accept the response. I generally interpret silence as “No, please leave me alone.” But there’s always that doubt. Does this silence really mean, “You need to ask more loudly”?
A couple of weeks ago, I received an e-mail from Anne@UGifter: “I was wondering if you have heard from Debt Debs at all? There are a whole bunch of us who are worried about her, as she’s disappeared from the face of the (internet) earth. I know you met up with her before, so I was hoping you might be able to text her or something?” I answered, saying that I had tried to contact Debs several times, but that I’d received no response. That made Anne even more concerned. “Oh wow, the mystery deepens even further! I’m surprised she hasn’t even answered calls. I really hope she’s okay . . . I know a lot of people would be relieved to hear anything, just a confirmation that she’s dealing with life, etc. For someone so engaged to completely disappear for so long makes me worry.”
Would I be overstepping the boundaries if I knocked on her door? I played in my mind the possible consequences to such a move: Maybe they’ll think I’m overbearing and insensitive. Maybe they’ll slam the door in my face. Maybe I’ll just make them feel awkward and add to their suffering. I was not comfortable with these thoughts, and not surprisingly, over a week passed with no door-knocking. Then Thursday night, I read a post by Cecilia@thesingledollar in which she mentioned her concern for Debt Debs and other bloggers who had “disappeared.” OK, I thought. No more delay. I made a search in my e-mail messages, found her address, and MapQuested directions (which my daughter tells me is terribly outdated – “Don’t write that!“) for what turns out is an eight-minute drive from our house.
Friday morning, I stopped at a store and bought a blank “thinking of you” card on my way to work. If she doesn’t want to see me, I can at least leave the card with her. Part way home from work, I realized that I had left the card in my office, still blank. Doesn’t matter. I’m going. Once I exited the highway and entered our neighbourhood, I turned off the radio so that I could get in the zone. Give me discernment. Give me the right words. There were two cars in the driveway. They’re home. I knocked.
A man opened the door. Debs’ husband – “the Irishman.” He smiled and let me in when I asked for Debs. There was a Christmas tree, not yet decorated, by the staircase. It didn’t feel like a household in grief. “Who can I say is calling?” he asked. I gave my name, and as he went upstairs, I became acquainted with the yappy little dog who seemed very put out by my presence. Soon I heard footsteps coming down the stairs.
“How are you doing?” asked a familiar voice.
No injury. No apparent illness. Clearly still united with the Irishman. Tired. But healthy.
“The question is, how are YOU doing?” I said. And I hugged her.
Debs seemed to be a bit unprepared for my emotion, and I told her that I had been worried. That many people had been worried. She hurriedly explained that the “something” that had come up in October was work-related, and that it had resulted in 16-hour work days and 7-day work weeks. “Can you stay for a while?” she asked. I said I’d love to stay for fifteen minutes or so. “Would you like some tea, or wine, or beer?” I opted for tea, and we sat at her kitchen table.
Our fifteen minutes together turned into forty-five, and I got an idea of the relentless pace that both she and her husband have kept over the last two months. Not a fun time. And not a time that allows for any blogging at all. She has stayed clear of her “Debt Debs” e-mail and Twitter accounts as part of a strategy to cope with the mountains of work she’s had to tackle. We talked about what we like about blogging. About our respective debts. About prioritizing blog activities. “I remember one guy stopped blogging, and I couldn’t understand why someone would do that,” she said. “But life can throw you for a loop. And it’s happened to me.” I talked about the limits I find it necessary to impose on my blog life. Debs said she has a hard time scaling back on something once she’s become passionate about it. It tends to be all or nothing for her.
“So how is everyone doing?” she asked with a nostalgic smile. It took me a few seconds to realize she meant fellow bloggers, and I told her what I could about those we both know. I asked if I could tell people that she was OK, and while she said I could, she was a bit worried. “I’m sorry I made everyone alarmed! I just … People are going to say what a b@#!% I am for not keeping in touch!” I assured her that they wouldn’t. I knew how happy I was to discover that she was fine, and I knew that everyone else would feel the same relief.
Debs’ crazy work schedule is going to come to an end December 31, and she’s considering getting back into the blogosphere in the new year. I encouraged her to do so. “And remember it’s OK to set boundaries on the time you spend on your blog life,” I said. She said she might need some advice about that. Perhaps our next get-together will be at my house.
If any bloggers out there find that they have to step back at some point, consider letting your readers know about it. Behind every post, every comment, and every read, there’s a real person. We care about you, and we really do want to know how you’re doing. And even though our interactions are almost entirely online, we are a community.
Technical difficulties made comments impossible a few days after this was posted, but everything is working again. Your comments are welcome.