Self-styled ‘abuse survivor’ … and proud?

I came across this statement on Twitter recently. It pulled me up short.

Abuse survivor opinion tweet

I hadn’t gone looking for it or anything like it. It appeared in my timeline, ‘retweeted’ by one of the people I follow.

As I read the words of the tweet, I remember thinking that I’m a ‘self-styled’ survivor. I also remember that I didn’t have the slightest urge to rage at this tweeter and that made me smile. There have been times when I would have felt very angry indeed, as were many of the people who replied to the tweet on Twitter, hurt on behalf of all ‘survivors’, and so got myself very worked up in spirited defence.

It’s perhaps a measure of how far I’ve come that I was able to quietly reflect and focus first on reaffirming for myself why I sometimes choose to declare that particular status and, with another smile, realise that I feel confident in it. I have gone on to wonder in the days since I read it what might have prompted such a statement from the author of that tweet. It could simply be the work of a ‘troll’, someone who gets a kick out of making inflammatory statements online seeking a reaction, particularly one of hurt, from others. I deliberately chose not to look up the author of the tweet, for the sake of self-preservation, at a vulnerable time. However, since writing the bulk of this post I have now taken a look. I saw that the author defines herself as someone who writes about false accusations and ‘pseudo victims’. Sometimes people make things up, some people do generally like to play the ‘victim’ in life. I’m not deriding the woman, I haven’t looked deeply enough to know what she’s really about. I’ll just say that I think the tweet that prompted this post was misguided.

However, this post isn’t really about that tweeter. This post is primarily about me. I know, I am such a narcissist …

I wanted to write this post because communication is hugely important to me. I believe that good communication is fundamental and can be a real force for good by facilitating greater understanding, Unfortunately, in the years since my status as a survivor of abuse became apparent I’ve learned that many people don’t care about much beyond themselves and their own. Empathy and understanding are too often in short supply, while intolerance and ignorance proliferate. What are prejudice and intolerance if not a lack of knowledge, more specifically a lack of understanding and the absence of empathy? Add fear to ignorance, and watch intolerance and prejudice spread like the proverbial wildfire.

I want to reach out to those people who do care enough to want understand more than their own immediate experience … those who can see past the end of their own noses. I know, now who’s making inflammatory remarks?! What the hell: I’m not perfect and I do despair of reluctance to take a broader view.

I don’t wear the label ‘abuse survivor’ like a badge. It’s not who I am or what I’m about but it is a large part of my experience. I was abused for many years, and beyond childhood. The effects of those abusive experiences have been devastating and have pretty much decimated my life – wrecking my health and costing me, among other things, a career, relationships and a family of my own. I don’t say that lightly. For me, to ‘whinge’ is to cringe; I’m relentlessly positive, driven and upbeat and find it difficult to be otherwise. I’d rather pull out my own fingernails that have anyone think me a negative or downbeat sort of person.

I don’t declare myself abused and decry the terrible impact of it for fun or attention. I say it because those are the facts and because the impact was so great that recovering myself and my life became a full time occupation. I use the term ‘abuse survivor’ when I need to begin to explain my circumstances and also to connect with other survivors.

My Twitter bio. includes the phrase ‘abuse survivor’. Despite the title of this post, I actually don’t see myself as being a ‘self-styled’ abuse survivor. I am a ‘self-styled’ Wordsmith. That word, a cheeky nod to my love and life of writing, also appears in my Twitter bio. Describing myself as an abuse survivor is nothing more or less than a statement of fact. I use it on Twitter because it’s there, and via WordPress blogs, where I’ve found it possible to connect with other survivors – for mutual support and learning. It’s not to say ‘oh poor me‘ or ‘oh look at me‘. Given the amount of shame that survivors feel – that one is pretty much universal – that’s hardly likely. It is to say here I am, this is a part of my experience and I’m here if you’d like to connect. 

Where does pride come into it? Well, I imagine that ‘survivor pride’ … no, as far as I’m aware that isn’t a thing nor am I trying to make it one. I use the term loosely for the purposes of this blog post only … is something akin to Gay Pride. Once again, it’s not about narcissism. We don’t have ‘Heterosexual Pride’. We don’t have it, because we don’t need it, anymore than we need ‘White Pride’. Homosexuality, however, has long been the subject of oppression, abuse, ignorance, intolerance and prejudice. It remains illegal in parts of the world, and persecution is not uncommon.

If I’d held on to my sense of self faced with that lot, I’d be damn proud too.

And that’s how I feel about being proud to be an abuse survivor. I can’t change what happened to me, it was vile and appalling and has come close to killing me more than once. I’m not proud that it happened but I’m proud that I am not bitter, that I am a kind, caring, empathetic, inclusive, creative, vital … and witty(!) … person in spite of it. I’m extremely proud that I’ve achieved that after such terrible experiences and in an ongoing fight to thrive in the face of a scarcity of empathy and appropriate support and resources.

Like so many things in life, a ‘one-size fits all’ approach does not apply to ‘abuse survivors’. We are not a homogeneous group. Each survivor’s experience of abuse is different – abusers too have abuse in common but are otherwise varied. Abuse is often a life-altering experience with recovery sometimes life-long, but there are some for whom the impact is smaller. There’s no right or wrong way to be an abuse survivor. It is what it is according to each individual’s experience.

I have encountered enormous strength of character, courage and kindness among survivors. But that’s not to say that these people are ‘saints’. They are real people – as complex and varied as anyone else – who happen to have also endured something truly terrible. Abusers don’t discriminate, they’ll abuse whomever or whatever they can get. Abuse happens in all areas, all walks of life.

I could describe in graphic detail some of the abuse that I have experienced and that of other survivors I have got to know, either through work or friendship. I have knowledge that bleach couldn’t sanitise, but bluntly disgorging it here to attest to the veracity of the ‘abuse survivor’ would be crass. That’s not to say that I don’t think greater awareness of what people have to endure, survive and how they can struggle to go forward in life, and why, wouldn’t be helpful.

I believe in freedom of speech. That author of that tweet exercised hers. I’m happy to say that I’d fight for any abuse survivors right to declare themselves as such, and for their freedom of speech.

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Feeding Myself

Note: I  wrote most of this post on Sunday but became swamped by trauma symptoms and wasn’t able to finish it until today, Wednesday 5th. 

My belly is full of wholemeal toast, eggs scrambled with spring onions and cheddar, seasoned with a dash of sea salt and lashings of black pepper.
I’m not a food writer nor do I aspire to be one, but I am inspired by at least two of them. My favourites, Jack Monroe and Ella Risbridger started out as bloggers, before books and the world of traditional publishing beckoned.

Until I reached ‘middle-age’ I had no real cooking confidence. I blogged about that and how that changed, here.

I have a difficult relationship with food. I have an eating disorder. There, I’ve said it, that wasn’t all that difficult was it? Actually, you know what, it really was; it’s difficult for me to be open about it.
I’ve probably had a tendency to struggle with food for most of my life, but there have been two periods where that struggle became a full blown eating disorder.The reason it’s so difficult for me to discuss isn’t because I feel ashamed about it in myself. I recognise it as an illness and accept that the trauma and abuse that I’ve experienced lie at the root of it. However, I am aware of the stigma that it carries.

Many people, including some medical professionals, scoff (I know, I couldn’t resist the ironic pun) at the very idea that binge-eating disorder is described as an eating ‘disorder’ at all. I’m just fat and greedy, right? If you don’t agree with that last statement, you might be surprised by how many people would.

Beat, the UK’s leading charity providing support for, and campaigning about, eating disorders, has this to say: “Binge eating disorder (BED) is a serious mental illness where people experience a loss of control and overeat on a regular basis.”  You can read more on the Beat web site, here.

In recent years ‘fat-shaming’ has become ‘a thing’ and some have fought back against those who seek to mock, deride or in any way bully someone who is overweight. An element of ‘fat pride’ has emerged, with a rise in plus-size bloggers and models.

I’d like to be fat and proud. That’s not because I’m happy being so overweight, I’m not in the least, and that’s entirely because of the impact that it has on my health and fitness. I’d like to have that ‘fat-pride’ while I remain this size because I do not want to feel shamed or otherwise negatively regarded because of my size.

I’m never going to be without curves, that’s the way I’m built. I’m a pear-shaped woman with an ample bosom. I’ll gladly celebrate those curves, in the way that I’d encourage anyone to be body confident; body positive.

I want to beat my eating disorder and lose weight. I want to regain, and revel in, my fitness because of the positive impact that is has on my life. I did beat the disorder the first time around. I did it without help, not because I was trying to go it alone but because I wasn’t offered any. After regaining some control over my eating patterns, it was some years before I was able to lose the weight I’d gained as result of the disorder. I did it between 2011 and 2012, losing five stone.

I was inspired by the ‘Hairy Dieters’ television programmes, they focus on that old chestnut, a low calorie diet and increased exercise. The hairy ones aim to make low calorie options that taste good and satisfy. It takes effort to lose weight and every bit of incentive you can muster really helps.

After leaving my husband, I took up running in early 2014. In reality I took to walking on my treadmill and slowly built up to being able to run a mile a day, but ‘I took up ‘treadmilling” doesn’t have the same ring to it. (Click on ‘treadmill’ in the tag cloud on my blog homepage, if you’re interested in reading about my route to running.) I’ve NEVER been ‘sporty’ but I really grew to love running, or more likely the endorphins that the activity released, that and the vast improvement in my fitness and my body confidence.

I’m probably not quite back at my heaviest ever weight, I can’t be sure because my scales have broken and I can’t afford to replace them, but as a result of this relapse into an eating disorder, and so months spent in the grip of compulsive eating, I’ve gained at least six stones in weight over a period of around 18 months.

Last year I asked for help via my GP surgery and the Intensive Home Treatment Team (mental healrh out patient crisis service) many times, and with increasing desperation. I knew that this time I needed help to beat it. Despite my massive weight gain in a short space of time and a new diagnosis of very high cholesterol levels, I’ve been offered no help ar all.

My trauma therapist said we could do some work around my eating issues, but given we already have so many other high priorities stacked up, that’s not practical. The Intensive Home Treatment Team psychiatrist promised to speak to the local eating disorders service about the possibility of support for me there. She told me that she’d get back to me. I chased it up when she didn’t and was rudely told that I’d already been told “NO”. I wasn’t in a position to argue and didn’t receive any fuller explanation.

At least my GP’s urgent referral for trauma therapy had got me onto a two year waiting list … I love the NHS but have long found its mental health services to be chronically underfunded and often poorly staffed, and it’s trauma services (that’s the psychological version not A&E) rarer than hens’ teeth. Again and again I’ve turned to the voluntary (charity) sector, itself often cash-strapped with services oversubscribed. As a result, services often receive scant advertising.Many hours of research can be required to uncover what might be available, and then often complicated application processes follow. Recently I bagged a place on a waiting list for a ‘trauma support worker’ – essentially, someone to meet once or twice a month who can provide moral support, guidance and practical help as you work to rebuild your life. I’m due to reach the top of that list in early 2019.

But back to the impact of the eating disorder, I think that I’m now the most unfit that I’ve ever been, and that does not feel good AT ALL. In fact, it’s really rather frightening, the detrimental impact on my health is evident.

I am beginning to cultivate a more positive connection to food, and the beginnings of this new relationship were nurtured by those food bloggers, Jack and Ella.

Jack’s engaging blog began when poverty forced Jack to feed themself and their toddler son (Jack identifies as non-binary and so prefers the gender neutral pronoun ‘their’) for £10 a week. Jack’s no-nonsense style and inventive recipes are budget-conscious and also an excellent resource for.anyone seeking the confidence to cook from scratch.

Ella’s writing is more lyrical, hers is the poetry of food writing. Sometimes high-falutin’ ingredients could be off-putting if you’re a beginner or more especially if you’re low on funds. I’ve yet to try an Ella recipe, but still I savour her blog. I’m along for the ride, vicariously living her altogether nourishing relationship with food and cooking, and learning from it.

What both Jack and Ella have in common is that they have both introduced me to the idea that preparing nutritious food for myself can be a healing endeavour. The process of preparing and cooking food, chopping, stirring, whisking, can, and should be, a mindful, meditative experience, allowing for calm concentration and a break from a traumatised, troubled, or simply busy mind. You savour the process as much as the end result. There’s also achievement and satisfaction in both admiring and eating your creation, however small or simple! Cooking for oneself can be a nourishing experience, not just for the body, but also for the mind.

I particularly enjoy making Jack’s easy peasy Coconut Milk Soda Bread. Jack’s description of rocking a warm, snuggly bundle is my idea of a great twist on ‘comfort food’!

This weekend I’ve discovered the joy of baked eggs all kinds of ways.

Baked Eggs: Mushroom and vegetarian-style ‘Pepperoni’ and Spring Onion and Cheddar, perhaps not the prettiest dishes but certainly very tasty!

I also tried a Sainsbury’s recipe for a healthy snack – roasted chickpeas – simply a can of chickpeas drained, patted dry and mixed with a teaspoon of smoked paprika, a teaspoon of chilli powder and a quarter teaspoon of  both cumin and ground coriander, then roasted in the oven  I really fancied these savoury nuggets but was disappointed with the results. I’d been expecting the promised crunchy snack but in reality felt I could’ve been eating cardboard!

Chickpeas: drained, dried and spiced
then roasted to look great … and taste like cardboard

Put chickpeas to better use and make your own houmous, it’s a gazillion times more healthy than shop-bought versions and tastes great. The easy recipe in the Healthy Living Yearbook is another favourite of mine.

Homemade houmous

I may have Complex Trauma but I’m not a complex cook; I’m a ‘spoonie’! Unfortunately, cooking often falls off the bottom off my to do list when ‘spoons’-  a.k.a energy and the capacity to function – run out.Quick and easy recipes are my way to go.

I’ll discuss my efforts to again overcome an eating disorder together with my hopes for and also my reservations about seeking support via Overeaters Anonymous, in a later post.

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Feeling normal, embracing normal …

I doubt I’m alone among survivors of abuse and people who’ve experienced mental illness in having wondered whether I’d ever feel normal again.

I think the word normal is actually of limited relevance when considering ourselves and each other. After all, what is normal? Here’s one definition:

Normal (adjective) conforming to a standard; usual, typical, or expected.

We do tend to prefer normal, particularly when it comes to people. Dealing with those whose behaviour is usual, typical or as we expect – that’s our comfort zone. The unusual, the atypical, the unexpected, can be unwelcome, even alarming.

AreYouNormalSpeechBubble

Many of us do celebrate difference and embrace diversity. At the same time, prejudice and intolerance not only exist but are rife in some situations, invariably born out of a mixture of ignorance and fear. Ignorance here not rudeness, but a lack of knowledge. The fear born out of a lack of understanding leading to a unwillingness to tolerate or accept.

Having a mental illness or other disability can see you popped straight into the box marked ‘not normal’.

TheNotNormalBox

Some of us really love putting others into boxes and have trouble thinking ‘outside the box’. If you yourself think that way, it can get a bit lonely!

The ability to pass as ‘normal’ can help you to be accepted or at least tolerated. I’m quite good at pulling off the appearance of a functioning human while actually finding life quite difficult. I’d never have guessed you were .. a depressive/anxious/sometimes struggle with social confidence/have been abused – is a familiar refrain. I’ve chosen not to wear a label around my neck declaring my impairments for all to see. I tend not to define myself in terms of them. I am not ‘a depressive’; I do have a history of living with the illness Depression. I do not want to live in the box marked depression, or any other box for that matter. I have a toe, a finger, a memory, a passion, in very many diverse boxes.

I’m tidy and organised. I love theatre, books, coffee shops and tea rooms, charity shops and second hand sales. I’m positive and enthusiastic. I was abused in childhood and beyond and the effects of that on me and my life have been profound and far-reaching. I lost a parent to suicide and I’ve survived an attempt to take my own life. I live with a number of health conditions – they are mostly invisible but have a not inconsiderable effect on my life. I don’t have children. I don’t have contact with my family. I have some issues with eating, I continue to work to overcome them. I like scarves and earrings. I love recycling and reusing. I adore words and writing! I like public speaking. I love arts and crafts. I’m driven and ambitious. I’m compassionate and sensitive. I can be very chatty.

All that, and more, is my normal. It may not be yours, but it is mine, and proudly so.

One day recently, I found myself feeling of normal mood. That’s what prompted me to write this post. You see I haven’t felt terribly happy about being in a ‘normal mood’.

I’d like to feel happy, hopeful and free to such an extent that I catch myself smiling often, even laughing, at the sheer joy of it. I felt like that for more than three days in a row last week! This was a new feeling for me. I sensed that, in the midst of my fifth decade, I am at last learning what is to feel free, even safe. I realised that I am finally beginning to thrive.

I wanted to always feel so bright and such delight, but my mood began to slide after an unexpected confrontation with a terribly traumatic period of my life. It came in the form of a psychiatrist’s report on my mental state in the period immediately following my disclosure of childhood abuse, found while organising paperwork.

I encouraged myself not to panic about the decline in mood and confidence I was experiencing; I’ve learned that doesn’t help and that, in fact, it’s likely to make things worse. I calmly and mindfully took care of myself and took steps to reach out for some additional support… slowly my mood and confidence levels rose. They didn’t again reach the heights, but settled somewhere around OK, I suppose. I was not thrilled about that.

After years of work to recover myself and my life, learning to love and accept myself and processing the trauma I experienced, I can now celebrate my own brand of normal – with all of the quirks and imperfections that entails. I can learn to live with normal, rather more mundane, mood states. I may even learn to celebrate those too. Sheer joy and jubilation is wonderful to experience, but who gets to feel like that all the time? It seems impossible that I could ever tire of such joy and freedom, having finally found it, but if I had it for always perhaps I would.

Embracing the mundane mood may seem dull but it is normal. Everyone has ups and downs in life and of mood. It isn’t normal to be so depressed that you feel you have to die, as I felt when so very ill for many months last year. Today I’m not depressed, neither I am a fountain of joy, but I am OK, and I’m coming to realise that that’s actually a pretty good state of being.

Hello, hello, hello – it’s good to see you!

Goodness me, this year is moving on at speed! It’s March … already.

Was it really over a month since my last post here?? My apologies dear readers, I have missed you 🙂 . I haven’t been idle. Much has been happening as I continue to recover and build a better life –  one in which I thrive.

I’m now writing for Depression Army on a monthly basis. I do it as a volunteer; it’s a vitaLpart of my ‘rehabilitation’ and my life-rebuilding efforts! My first post, The Spade List, is all about digging back into life, tentatively or with vigour, after life is interrupted by serious illness or trauma. My second, R-E-S-P-E-C-T, is  … I hope … a powerful piece about the stigma that still persists around depression and other mental illnesses. I even wrote a rap song to accompany it, which is waaaaay out of the comfort zone of this forty-something. Write a rap? Me? Oh look, I did!

Please do visit the Depression Army website and let me know your thoughts, if you have any, about my articles. You can do that over there, on this blog or tweet me @heartsetonlivin.

HSOLavatar.jpg
Look out for my Depression Army avatar, created for me by Lauren Stormclouds

My third piece, Depression and Creativity, has been submitted and will be published in due course. This month, I’ll be writing about themes of power in relation to depression and mental illness in general.

All this does not mean that I’ve deserted this blog, although it may have seemed so, that’s far from the truth. I’m working on new content, which will appear soon.

TTFN

hsol x

Small comfort(s) – friendship in the face of trauma and illness – PART TWO (first lost then rewritten!).

*PLEASE READ PART ONE BEFORE READING THIS PART :)*

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.

Small comfort(s) – friendship in the face of trauma and illness – PART THREE.

*PLEASE READ PARTS ONE AND TWO BEFORE READING THIS POST :)*

I knew that if I wanted to do more than just survive, if I wanted to THRIVE, building trust and building friendships had to be an integral part of rebuilding myself and my life. However, there were more difficulties therein. How when you’re continuing to deal with chronic illness and, for want of a better expression, chronically difficult, often traumatic, circumstances, how do you make new friendships?

New person: Hello! What’s your name. What do you do?

Me: Erm, I’m heartsetonliving, I’m recovering from decades of abuse and subsequent illness 🙂 

New person: *is thrown* Oh. Er. *falls back to the usual script* Do you have family?

Me: I lost all my family due to a combination of death, abuse and abandonment. I haven’t been able to have a family of my own due to illness and a dysfunctional and damaging marriage 🙂 . 

New person: Lovely! *legs it*
I jest. That’s NOT what I say! Smiley

But I hope perhaps you get the picture. For a long time my full time occupation has been coping with the aftermath of years of abuse, managing illness and rebuilding myself and my life. What I do end up doing is skirting around my circumstances, probably coming across as awkward and evasive, perhaps even furtive and untrustworthy – which is far from the reality of who I am.

It is possible to find friends in similar circumstances to yourself as Ruby Wax has said it can be a relief to find support and empowerment from your own ‘tribe’, people who can more easily relate to you, and you to them. In a mental health setting where I was a voluntary worker in a mentoring role, I unexpectedly made a close friend who has since given me more support than I can ever remember receiving. After the ‘straw and camel’ event of late spring followed by the desperate summer, I am still alive today, able to write this, because of that friendship. There can also be complications making friends ‘in your tribe’, with others like you having more than their fair share of problems, often limiting what they can offer.

*I walked away from one long-standing friendship that had been different, one of give and take, warmth and good humour. Ten years passed. While my life stalled, that person’s life moved on in significant strides as they continued to grow and develop in a typical sort of fashion. But they seemed not to let me go entirely and as technology progressed through those years, so they would pop up with a greeting from time to time via the Internet through one medium or another. I would look the other way, trying to pretend I couldn’t see, too scared to hope. Finally I took the plunge and responded. Having recovered some health and rebuilt a good deal of myself, thanks to extensive psychotherapy, and regained some confidence; I decided this was the time to tell all.

They knew little more than that I had been low. They didn’t know that I had been living a ‘double life’ throughout our friendship, let alone anything about the devastation to my life, ongoing consequences and the fight to recover and rebuild.
That must have been some shock I delivered that day!
They didn’t know what to say … anxiety gripped me as I thought, here we go again.

We have persevered, but it’s been quite the rollercoaster ride, for both of us. We have floundered many times, and just recently I thought we were dead in the water.

It’ll be 25 years next year since we first met. I hope we’ll celebrate that.

I thought if this friendship could work out, it would give me the confidence to reignite and better engage with another long standing friend to whom I was not so close but whom I had not discarded entirely. We’ve remained in occasional contact by post or online. I know I have often backed away out of embarrassment or an inability to explain my complex circumstances. Perhaps I might introduce that friend to this blog …

My reunited friend and I used to work together seeing each other almost every day, and socialising from time to time. After three years we both moved on to different circumstances, a hundred miles or so apart. We wrote letters and met when we could. It was a friendship I cherished, not foreseeing the chasm that would eventually open up between us. These days we live more than two hundred miles apart, we sometimes email (OK, I do a lot, often in great angst or worse), sometimes we text, sometimes tweet, occasionally natter on the phone.

I can’t help but wonder how our friendship would work if my life were less of a ‘train wreck’. It’s like the proverbial elephant in the room and one around which it is extraordinarily difficult to negotiate.

My friend is not with stress or strain in their own life but has an extensive network: a close family, children, friends and work colleagues. Aside from this friend and following the death of a loved one a year ago, I have no one close to me from my life before 2010. I have no sense of connection to my history. I’ve been isolated due to illness and my circumstances. There is no doubt that I am in need of support right now, probably more so than I have ever been. But it can’t be fair to put so much onto the shoulders of this friend, can it? Immediately there’s a huge imbalance in the friendship. I’m crying out for that friend to provide support of the sort, they might more likely find from family – something I don’t have. We’ve re-established contact after ten years, and been immediately thrown into a whirlwind of intensity (admittedly by me) because my circumstances are so intense, rather than say laid-back or easygoing, or at least more everyday.

How I wish I had all the answers. I keep pressing forward trying to learn and make progress, trying not to berate myself when I think, when I see, I’m making a hash of things and I worry my socks off that my friend will decide our friendship isn’t worth the hassle I bring.

Consistency in support is so important to me right now. I don’t have roots, or solid foundations on which to depend and so feel secure as I tackle whatever life throws at me. My life has been built on quicksand. I want to know where I stand with friends, feel solidity, security from them. A more ad-hoc or casual approach is unsettling, sometimes even frightening. A regular text – even just to say hello, thinking of you, offers reassurance and a boost. A seemingly small comfort, actually offers enormous benefits. A simple set of ground rules can similarly reassure. Not knowing when next you might hear from that person or even how on earth this friendship is meant to work becomes stressful and anxiety-provoking. But my friend doesn’t need this like I do, in their more ‘normal’ life.

What if a friend doesn’t feel able to deal with that? What if naturally, in more average circumstances, the friendship would never have evolved to be that way BUT you, in your circumstances, clamour for them to meet your needs in this way – because there is no one else to do so?

Who compromises??

As someone in need, and someone who knows others in similar distress some to whom I have reached out to try to support, I want to say that the friend should be the one to compromise. It could be argued that they are more easily able to do so because they are not the one in distress. On the other hand, I find myself saying that it isn’t right to pressure or coerce anyone to do something with which they’re not comfortable.

Friendships, for all of us, take work to maintain – the level of work required can be multiplied many times in the face of illness or trauma.

I know, I’ve written an essay! Many congratulations if you made it to the end. I’m afraid there is no prize 😉 ! I’d genuinely love to hear of your experiences of managing/making/maintaining friendships in similar circumstances – whether you’re the needy or the needed 🙂 .

TTFN x