Long term readers of both this blog and my previous blog, will know that at this time of year I become quite reflective.So here is the first of probably a few blog posts looking back on this year. A few years ago I wrote a post on Daydreams and Pretty Things about friends who had drifted away over the years. I wrote this post because I was feeling lonely at the time, but I don’t think I realised just how lonely I was feeling.
My life has gone in cycles, times where I had no friends and times where I had a lot of friends. As a young girl I had severe eczema and asthma, and I was absent from school every six weeks due to hospital admissions. Due to many factors, it was hard to make friends. Into juniors I managed to make a few friends, but it wasn’t until I was in secondary school I really found my ‘tribe’ for want of a better word. I had an opportunity to choose people who were similar to me, rather than being friends out of circumstance if you know what I mean?
From there it grew, my circle of friends became wider and wider until I had quite literally loads. I then hit the self destruct button and blew it all. I have blogged extensively about this before so will not go into it too much, but basically I suffered my first bout of depression and didn’t realise it at the time. My behaviour at that time was far from ideal, or friend like and as a result my friend circle shrunk dramatically.
I had a small group of friends at university, but for most of the time I was still consumed by depression and they were not necessarily healthy relationships. Life then moved on, friends moved away as did I. Contact became less and less as our lives changed, and I closed more doors with every episode of depression I suffered.
Fast forward ten years and a relocation to North Wales, and I found myself with only acquaintances. People who I said ‘hello’ to or passed the time of day with, but no real friends. Then when I started to suffer with social anxiety, I convinced myself that I didn’t need friends. I had my immediate family and children, I didn’t need anyone else. That’s how it stayed for over ten years. This year, I realised I was wrong to isolate myself for so long.
One of the problems with not having friends, is that there is no voice of reason. If like me, your anxious brain is very chatty, then it’s easy to start listening to it. When I tell myself I’m not worthy of something, or that I’m a real minger and should wear a paper bag over my head, there is no one telling me I’m wrong. Sure family can tell you, but you don’t believe them as it’s their job to tell you that you are pretty etc right? Friends don’t really have that accountability, they don’t HAVE to tell you that you are far from paper bag material. Friends can be honest. So in a lot of ways friends are great for your self-esteem. They can talk louder, they can look you in the eye. Friends can silence that horrid, negative, destructive voice that lives in your head.
One thing I’m really guilty of is isolating myself as I said before. As soon as I feel a bit low, or anxious the first thing I do is shut myself away. I make myself both physically and emotionally unavailable. Until this year I have had no one to chase me out of my hole, to encourage me to go out, put a bit of lippy on and face the world. I built a life around me that enabled this behaviour constantly, and again having no friends meant I didn’t have to make any kind of effort to go out when I really didn’t want to. The only person I was letting down was myself.
For so long I’ve dreamed about writing, and I’ve started so many novels over the last twenty years. In fact I could probably fill a library if I’d actually written them all. I have never had any confidence in my writing ability, and although family have encouraged me, it goes back to the point of them having to say those things. This year was different. Two years ago, when my youngest started school, I came across another Mum. At first I wasn’t sure about her, but then our son’s became friends. Best friends in fact. This meant I had to step outside my carefully constructed comfort zone. At first I was cautious as we all are, but very slowly I lowered by defences a little and we became as good friends as our children were.
This year we invited another Mum along to one of our boozy evenings, and I probably had not laughed so much in years. Suddenly for the first time in many years, I had great friends who I knew would be there for me. I don’t say this lightly, but these two ladies have totally given me my life back. My anxiety is at an all time low, I have low days but these don’t turn into low months anymore. On days when I am starting to isolate myself, they notice. We never run out of things to talk about, they stop me when I’m beating myself up verbally, we laugh till our bellies ache, they join in with my totally inappropriate humour, and best of all we love a good glass (or 4) of gin!!
Next year I’ll be submitting the first of my manuscripts to publishers. I hope next year will also be a year of change in other ways for me, and for the first time in years I have the strength to do it. It’s nothing that has changed in me, it’s the fact I have two ladies that believe in me, support me and encourage me. Never under-estimate the feeling of belonging, the feeling of people having your back when they really don’t have to. Never under-estimate the power of good friends!!
Finally I just would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who was positive about my First 500 Words post. I had some lovely responses and some equally lovely direct messages. So thank you once again.