Posts Tagged ‘friendship’

I am just back from a lovely break up North, which was all the more wonderful as I’ve been hosting an American friend, and her grandmother, for the week. My friend S is one of those people who seem to have a tattoo across their forehead that says ‘world-changer’. We met working at an American summer camp for people with special needs, four years ago. She is awesome. Sorry for being off the radar, but we’ve not had internet since heading off on Wednesday. This is a little rambly – sorry!

They arrived last Sunday and after getting them settled in, S and I went for icecream (I like that this is the most American thing I have done in living memory) and talked. One of the things I love about her, is that unlike the vast majority of people I know, she has absolutely no fear of the word ‘depression’. She uses it where it should be used. She does not dress is up and make it tapdance so it seems less threatening. She does not brush it off. She does not refer to it as a habit I fell into, or a path I mistakenly went down, or a series of bad judgements. And, in doing this, she makes me feel more separate from depression than I have for so long; often, I think my close friends still mentally prefix me as ‘depressed-Char’, or see it as part of who I am, a part that is here to stay. In naming it so frankly, S called it out. She gave it parameters and borders and drew a line, where depression starts and I began. This is crucial, as for so long, depression made me think that it was indeed, here to stay, that the chapters without it in my life had ended, and that my future was just one bad, sad day after another. It’s taken so long to feel as though I’ve ‘come back’, and returned from wherever depression banished all of my drive and passions and sense of self.

She is also much more frank, and direct than any of my other friends, who know about this year. Not one of my close friends has ever asked me where I’m standing with alcohol when I pass over the wine bottle, or turn in early from yet another party. No one has ever had the courage, or gumption, or wherewithal, to ask where and how I am. In being direct, S made me feel a little less like a modern-day leper, turning away from societal norms. She made me feel like just another person with just another set of issues, rather than someone standing out from the crowd due to everyone else giving a wide berth and ignoring the elephant in the room. S was pretty much riding that elephant, metaphorically speaking. She made me feel less like a problem, and more like a person, with a problem. I am grateful for this. S has been reading this blog, and came halfway across the world to check in with me. If that’s not an expression of friendship, I don’t know what is. So often, depression (and recovery) leaves me feeling alone and bereft, and despised. Friendships like these, are the antidote to that. I’m not sure you can get through depression, or any mental health problem, without a cheer squad.

Depression causes so many problems as we all have our brand of misery, and people who have not met it personally, struggle so greatly to grasp that depression isn’t just a bad day, or even a bad week; it casts a false impression as, afterall, we have all been sad, have we not? We have all cried, and surely, depression isn’t too different from that? And yet, this feeling of false understanding is often the most damaging to people living with it, as we cannot explain how it hurts and scars and takes an age to heal. It’s not just a bad day or a bad week. It’s so much more. My flatmates and close friends are brilliant, but didn’t know how to approach my depression, and as a result, didn’t know how to approach me when I had it. Because of this, I was ashamed, and took to hiding. Having someone who understands that I am separate from it was invaluable. Having someone who understands what it means, helped me begin to heal.

As a firm lover of period dramas, I am still fairly convinced that I truly belong in the eighteenth century, dancing with men in regimentals and doing charitable works in whatever time isn’t spent making jam and embroidering cushions, but I also love that I am living in an age where I can have a friend on the other side of the world, and see them every now and then. I love that I live in a time where ‘goodbye’ rarely means forever, and au revoirs are entirely possible. In just under a year, I will (fingers crossed etc) finally be earning and out of student-dom forever. I’m looking forward to being able to bring home the bacon on some au-revoirs.

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Things in my flat have been quite stressful recently. In the last few weeks it’s become increasingly clear that my flatmate F, who is one of my best friends, may be clinically depressed as opposed to just grumpy after a difficult internship. It’s been pretty hard, seeing her struggle and we finally had a big talk this week about what we’ll do about it. It’s been hard, these last few weeks; while my personal brand of depression just had me emotionally labile and dangerously introspective, F gets grumpier and angrier by the day. I kind of feel like I’m taking the blows for it. She’s my main ‘person’ – I don’t have family members I can phone after a hard day, really. When she’s off with me, I’m off with myself. Such is the nature of true friendship.

I guess this is where my ‘patient experience’ comes into its own. Most of our conversation revolved around her not wanting to go to the GP (to which I say, what do you have to lose? And – no one LIKES going to the doctors. It’s not a playground, after all), or wanting to wait a bit (to which I say, what do you gain from waiting? There’s a reason that they use a 2-week cut-off for treatment, as once you’ve been low for a fortnight, you’re unlikely to perk up without a boost from somewhere else. The drugs, if that’s the right option, take a few weeks to work – what do you gain from waiting?). I understand all of this – I understand not wanting to go, I understand wanting to just wait it out, to ‘man-up’. Depression isn’t about manning up, however, and thinking you can just get a stiffer upper lip and be fine, is an insult to anyone who’s ever been there. As Sylvia Plath wrote, I have seen the bottom and I know it. I’ve said before that I’m not sure I could last another year like this one. But neither could I bear to see F go through that either. It drove me crazy at times that neither of my flatmates really understood what having depression is like (the perennial, ‘can’t you just cheer up’ line was infuriating to the extreme), but now, I’m desperate that it stays that way. I don’t want her, to know what it’s like. I don’t want her to know what it is to feel disconnected and blank, to feel alone and beyond reach and under water. I don’t want her to hurt the way it made me hurt.

This has thrown me a bit; on the one hand, I’m glad I’m here to insist she gets help if she needs it, but I’m also worried, or a little bereft, that just as my own depression finally seemed to fade, it’s wormed its way back into my life in full force once again. Part of me is also, secretly, a little angry – I never had anyone pushing me to go and get help until I was so far gone that I gave even a seasoned GP a bit of a shock. I never had anyone who really knew how to manage someone with depression to make sure I was on track and who knew how to check in properly. Like the patient at the GP’s, once again I’m thinking about why it was that my own ‘journey’ took so long, why the drugs didn’t work despite all the praying and the crying and the changing. Was I less deserving of recovery? Was I in need of so great a lesson that it would take twelve months to learn? Am I less of a priority, more of a liability?

Ahh, depression, you are such an unwelcome visitor in my home! Like a stubborn houseguest that wreaks havoc with your thermostat settings and leaves trails of crumbs for the mice to follow, it turns our lives upside down. It permeates the air and dampens our spirits. It sands us down to fragments of what we were. This is no smoothing of rough edges or honing of souls; it just destroys. It moved in and now won’t let me move its feet from under the table. It’s made me feel quite emotional, these last few days – not quite wringing hands and yelling ‘WHY GOD, WHY?’ but also not desperately far from that. Although I know that this is not really something I am ‘in charge’ of, it still kind of feels like that. It just makes me feel a bit vulnerable. I know that life is all about the mountains and the canyons and the highs and the lows and whatever – but at the moment, I’d be willing to give up a few mountains, just to be on an even keel (or, by extension, a prairie) for a while. I’ve had a year now of feeling tied to depression, quite literally – tied down, tied out of, tied up – and this kind of makes me think it’s never going to stop. It’s always going to be stuck to my shadow. It’s always going to be under my roof. It’s one pernicious, unwelcome visitor.

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This is just a bit about what’s been happening this week – nothing too interesting!

I went to see The National this week with a friend. It’s one of my favourite bands at the moment and I’d been looking forward to it for a while. It was a great concert, though we left early after I fainted in the crowds – which happens quite often if I’m somewhere very warm and busy, particularly when I’m under the weather as I am at the moment. It was quite dramatic as it was so packed that I couldn’t get to the floor in time  when my vision started clouding and ended up properly passing out and being half carried out by a very nice guy, which has got to be the closest I’ve come to a ‘knight in shining armor’ for some time – though sadly he went back in before I could say thank you properly. If this were a Jane Austen novel, we would totally be engaged by now – just saying. Next time I’ll make sure I’m wearing some sort of empire line dress and carrying some embroidery or a sketchbook or something.

I listened to one of the band’s tracks, ‘Runaway’, so much this year – it was a constant fixture on my ‘melancholy music’ playlist. It rang pretty true, for a long time. Hearing it live kind of made me realise that I’m so much better than I was – it doesn’t grab me the same way the lyrics once did. I don’t feel quite as dragged towards drowning, as I did.  I don’t listen to it as much now. It’s strange sometimes, the things we use to mark recovery. For me, so often it is realising that I no longer read several books a week just because I lay awake not sleeping, or that I’m listening to cheerier music, or that I’m eating three meals a day, which is something I pretty much didn’t have the appetite for, for most of last year. I still have my blips, and if anything, these last few weeks have been a challenge and I’ve questionned often,  but I no longer feel like I’m at rock bottom. It’s a good feeling.

This time of year always makes me a little sad as it’s when friends who have graduated head off for new starts somewhere else, and this year in particular is a bit of an exodus. One thing I’ll miss a lot is that for the last two years, a small  group of girls from my concert band and the sister brass band, have met regularly for movie nights after realising that we’re all a bit obsessed with period dramas (Mr Darcy, anyone?). We named ourselves the ‘rugged heros appreciation society’. At the start, we didn’t all know each other  – sort of a group of friends, and  friends-of-friends, but now, we all know each other so well and it’s been one of the few places this year that I’ve been ‘just Char’ – as I didn’t tell them about my depression.

It was a good escape; quiet nights where we watched films and talked about other things – my placements, their dissertations and jobs, boyfriend problems, band issues, family struggles and flatmate arguments. It was a good refuge when so often I felt like I was always Char-withdepression or Char-whoismessedup or Char-incounsellingbecauseshesnotcoping. Sometimes it’s nice to be just char, with no attachments or labels, just char, who plays tenor sax and sings second soprano, who likes Mr Thornton from North and South because he has a social conscience in addition to looking good in a waistcoat, and who starts to get a bit giggly over a glass of wine. Just Char, who is the one who goes to church but doesn’t push religion on people, who sometimes takes patients’ problems home with her and who likes babies and old people and children but doesn’t like bad attitudes or green peppers on pizza. Just Char, who is good at listening and organising and bad at saying no and singing above a high G, and neutral at most other things. I’m going to miss our rugged hero evenings, not just because nothing quite cheers you up like Mr Darcy coming out of that lake in a wet shirt.

So often in the last year, I thought that it had got to the stage that depression had completely taken me over – it was all I was, and would be, and if it ever went, it would leave nothing of me behind as it had destroyed and stolen everything else that I once was. It’s good to feel that I’m just-char, again, most of the time, nothing out of the ordinary, nothing special – but someone, something, other than depression. I sometimes still feel a bit overwhelmed with the ties that both depression, and recovery, hold on me- but it’s good to feel like I’m back again, the same as I was, that most of me survived. It’s good to finally realise that after this year, I am still who I was before. It’s good to realise, that even after a leave of absence, who I am, will always come back.

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A big part of this blog is charting my journey through counselling in an effort to get closer to ‘recovery’ and further away from ‘relapse’. I was back in counselling yesterday, and I think I’m finally settling into it. I did write some stuff to use as prompts if I needed it, but ended up managing to work my way through without it mostly. One thing L had me do was to make a list of all the characteristics I like about myself. I’ve never really been that full of self-esteem to be honest (I went through school as a chubby, bookish kid who didn’t touch alcohol – what chance did I have, really?) and I find things like that very hard. I don’t really like admitting that either – I think a part of me is always terrified that when I start listing all the things I don’t like about myself, and all my faults and idiotic tendancies, that people will just completely agree, or change their opinion of me and start to hate me. Irrational? Yes. Understandable? Probably. Beatable? Probably not. Today, after a lot of pushing, I managed a lift of four things, which then made me collapse spectacularly into tears, as all of these things I like most about myself – my determination, my work ethic, my empathy – are all things that depression has stolen from me in recent months. I can’t concentrate like I used to, I can’t pack as much into as day as I used to, and sometimes, I am so overcome with dark emotion that I feel completely  blinkered from others, and feel myself slipping into overwhelming apathy. I don’t care as much as I want to. I don’t lead as I should, or manage to be a fully supportive team member. I hate it. A lot of the time, it’s as though all the things I hate about myself have amplified themselves to gargantuan proportions, and the things I would usually classify myself by, and use as my flag, have quietly keeled over in the background and died. Sometimes I wonder, will I ever be the same, will I ever have that get-up-and-g0, that no-problem-is-too-big ethos back? Will I ever feel connected again to the world around me? Will I ever start the day with a smile that isn’t forced, and a mind that isn’t weary from lack of sleep?

I was feeling quite vulnerable and negative when I got home, and was delighted to see a letter had arrived, unexpected, from a dear friend. I met the writer, C, at the US summer camp for people with both learning and physical disabilities, that we worked at four summers ago. C has a lot of qualities I would love to acquire more of – she is, to the untrained eye, one of the most confident, competent, caring, young women I know and will ever meet – but when you get that bit deeper, she is even more beautiful when you catch a glimpse of her vulnerability. Her letter really picked me up today, and I’m so thankful for her friendship  – it’s patches like these when having a group around you, is so important.

Friday night was interesting – I was helping out at a fundraising concert held for the learning disability group I help with, which was basically a lovely chilled out set from a Christian Singer-songwriter who is apparently quite well known in these parts. I really really love it when a community manages to be completely inclusive – I love the people in this group so much, and I hate it when they tell me that they’ve had a bad day because some kids yelled something offensive at them, or the bus-driver was cruel, or the shop-assistant didn’t have time to help them. It makes me switch into ‘social vigilante mode’ and start wanting to defend them at whatever cost – this does not always go well! At this concert, everyone was counted and loved. The performer got a few of the younger girls up on stage doing backing vocals, a young man banging some bongos, and it was brilliant. So many of them just ‘get God’ in a way I find hard to myself, and they are so aware of the value they have in His eyes.

I went up today to check in with the little cutie from my last post, and he is doing well, settling a bit more, and the methadone doses are going down every day. I wrote a note to go with him when social services pick him up, just to say that I met him and held him, and thought he was perfect. This might seem sentimental and risky, but I want him to know that he means something to someone, and has an incredible value, today and forever. I don’t want him to feel alone. Life – too painful, too beautiful, to do alone.

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