I had a close group of friends from university, and others from different areas of my life. I tended to be the linchpin of the university group, the organiser, the one who brought us together. We each went off in different directions after graduating but would congregate at my home. They were like a second family to me, but my disclosure of abuse and mental breakdown was not well received.
There were mutterings about how abuse only happens in ‘terrible families’ and that seemed to lead to the conclusion that I must be terrible by association and so was best avoided. Some shared their disbelief with me that someone they considered to be so strong, bright and capable, could be so weak as to have depression. At one point I was told to get down on my knees and beg God for forgiveness for my terrible sins (after my attempted suicide). Some of these reactions were repeated as more friends became aware of my circumstances.
Illness, of any chronic or acute kind, can be isolating when it leaves a person unable to live as they once could. Mobility and energy may be compromised, together with many other aspects of normal life. They may become housebound or even bed bound. Friendships are tested, strained, and may even break down. People are often unsure what to say or do in these circumstances. They will often back away, for fear of doing the wrong thing and contact can ultimately be lost. Others are just not good around illness, while others are fair weather friends – around for the good, but not for the less so. For a decade my life revolved around healthcare appointments, depression and panic attacks, psychotherapy, pain, and my loo – thanks to a debilitating, progressive, and during that period, untreated, digestive disorder. The condition led to my becoming agoraphobic for a lengthy period, and further isolated.
*Over time I cut myself off from the very few friends that remained, for fear of having to face more rejection or misunderstanding and stigmatising judgements that, ill and traumatised as I was, I didn’t have the strength to challenge.
I came to realise that I had never been particularly discerning where friendships were concerned. Devoid of self-esteem, because of the abuse I’d experienced, I took all comers. I’d grown up without my needs being met, brainwashed into believing my purpose was to serve the needs of others. Anyone who wanted me to be a friend, got me, I didn’t stop to consider whether or not this friendship was right for me – it’s perhaps no surprise that these friendships broke down in (my) extremis.
New people came and went over the years. Isolated and desperate and so ever less discerning, I leapt into a number of unsuitable friendships, often made via the Internet – one of few means of contact with the outside world.
Finally, after all these experiences and additionally the challenges of a very unhealthy marriage, I came to a point where I could no longer imagine trusting anyone ever again.
I decided I couldn’t go on like that.