Just friends

‘So you’re really going to be just friends?’ my colleague asked, innocently cementing my hatred for an expression we casually use time and time again to talk about the art of going platonic.

If you had the misfortune to read my last post you’ll know I recently extricated myself from a rather confusing romantic encounter. We both accepted the onward trajectory wasn’t going to be relationship-ville. To me, in the past, this has always meant a parting of ways. No sexy time equals no time at all. If we bumped into each other in the street of course we’d stop and chat or at least acknowledge each other’s earthly existence, but the hang-outs, phone calls and texts stopped and there’d definitely be a Facebook break-up.

Except this time my ex-lover really, genuinely wanted to stay mates – and presented such a good case for keeping the friendship afloat I just couldn’t find a reason not to. Meaningful, stimulating conversation? Check. Guaranteed laughter and fun when together? Check. Mutual respect and support for one another? All present and correct. And, if I’m honest, having someone so intent on spending time with me purely driven by the belief I’m a pretty cool lady to be around, just feels nice.

I know what you’re thinking, oh cynical reader. And no, I can assure you I’m now about as attractive to this man as a venerial disease. He’s not still trying to get into my pants – and I’ve genuinely lost interest in going anywhere near his.

We even managed a very sensible dating post-mortem discussion in the pub without anyone getting thrown in the river – immensely impressive considering said pub’s proximity to the Thames. This was adulting at it’s finest. Practically dissolving in a puddle of smugness I relayed my newfound maturity to several of my nearest and dearest who were intrigued, supportive and offered varied insight into the idea of being ‘just friends’ with someone you’ve been romantically involved with. There it was, repeatedly, this expression I’ve come to detest.

‘Just’ friends – a word pairing I abhor because, actually, friendship is important. In fact I think it’s probably more important than romantic relationships – I’d be nowhere without the platonic connections in my life. To date I haven’t ever managed to stay friends with someone I’ve been involved with, but I’ve never actually tried particularly hard. And perhaps I should have.

Whether this time will be any different remains to be seen and I’m still not sure whether the brevity of our flirtation will help or hinder things. Is it easier to make friendship stick when the romantic foundation is weak, or harder because those relationship building blocks we so lack leave us with less to cling onto? Yes it was only a fling so it’s a smaller transition from lovers to buddies, but we really haven’t been in each others lives for very long. This, coupled with a few lingering feelings of confusion and resentment over the way things ended (on my part), might make the passage less than smooth.

However I’m a woman in her 30’s with increasingly fewer opportunities to connect and spend quality time with like-minded people who aren’t swamped with other life commitments and responsibilities. In these days of drifting friendships and spending far too much time in playgrounds with my mates who now have young offspring, I’m determined to at least try to sew the tattered threads of our romantic liaison into something new. Here’s hoping I’m up to the task.

 

My depression demolition team

friends

Depression can be very isolating. Soaring stress levels can severely impede what you can do on a daily basis and trying to keep up with social niceties is exhausting, then there’s the reclusive nature of the illness. Why go out and meet people when you can completely withdraw and spend the evening at home weeping in front of an endless conveyor belt of Mad Men episodes?

Depressed people are no picnic to be around and there have been times I certainly wouldn’t hang out with me.

Because of this the pool of people I spend time with has slowly but steadily shrunk over the last few years, leaving a very select few friends and family members splashing about in the shallows with me. Since I stopped being ‘fun’, my wider circle of acquaintances has drifted away to the point that these days the most intimate window into their lives I have is through Facebook.

It’s not the worst thing in the world to be forcibly reminded who your real friends are. I’ve got some pretty good ones. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss my carefree and frivolous partying days – having a big network of mates can be ridiculously fun. But they’re not the ones who will sit on the phone with you at 3am when you can’t sleep, or take you to the doctors when you’re too anxious to go alone.

So I thought I’d take the opportunity to spotlight a few of the people in my life that are helping me through this relentlessly awful time, and some of the incredible things they’ve done for me over recent years. My loved ones have become a fearsome force of destruction when it comes to battling my depression; picking me up every time I fall and refusing to let me to give up. Without them I doubt I’d still be standing today.

First there’s my parents. Pushing 60 and not without their own troubles, they’ve been my rock throughout this ordeal. They’ve taken me in and looked after me when I couldn’t cope by myself and put up with numerous tantrums when frustration made me lash out at those I love the most. I know they’d do anything for me, that this journey has been horrific on them too, and they’re my main motivation for getting better.

D, my best mate from school, although having no way of conceiving what depression is like – being the most joyful, positive and energetic person I’ve ever met – has never stopped trying to understand what I’m going through. She’s made it very clear that there’s no time limit after which she’ll cease putting up with my hysterics, and is the first to correct me when I question why she’d still want to spend time with someone who has become so tired and boring. I’d be lost without her.

W, my best mate from University, is a flaming ball of positive energy. When I’m about to fall down the well, she rugby tackles me back into reality and forces me to think positive. She once travelled all the way from London to my parents’ home to drag me back to the city on a train because she knew I couldn’t do it alone.

My brother M. He seems to have stolen all the wisdom genes in our family, for there’s no-one else who can shift me from completely panicked to calm, in the space of a phone call, like he can. He takes no prisoners in his approach to dealing with my illness and knows exactly when to call me out on my crap, but I trust him implicitly.

Lastly, there’s my friend A, a qualified psychologist who I know, at times, has found it difficult not to overstep the boundary between friend and therapist, but time and again has provided much needed advice and support with infinite grace and compassion. Despite having to spend most of her day dealing with other people’s problems, she always has time for me.

When I start to feel jealous of my 20-something peers whose colossal social spheres seem to involve nothing but having the time of their lives (damn you, Facebook, DAMN YOU) I only have to think about my little pocket of loved ones. I only need to remind myself how truly privileged I am to have these people in my life, and to hope that one day I can show them the same unfailing loyalty, love and respect they’ve shown me.

And then I remind myself to switch off Facebook.

It’s OK to be an ostrich, sometimes

ostrich

Recently I’ve been having some problems with a friend. The issue was trivial, my reaction astronomical. It turns out that when you’re feeling fragile, no matter how aware you are of your colossal over-reaction to a situation, it’s really difficult to slow down the stress train.

I won’t go into microscopic detail but essentially I feel like one of my close friends isn’t being overwhelmingly sympathetic to my current poor health. Then when I dropped out of a music festival the two of us were going to this Saturday her reaction was less ‘I’m sorry you’re feeling shitty, how can I help?’ and more ‘Are you going to refund me for my ticket if I can’t find someone else to go with?’

I was upset, to put it mildly. Adrenaline coursed through my veins, there were some tears and I felt so stressed and hysterical I had to spend most of the next day in bed spooning a hot water bottle and watching crap TV. A ridiculous reaction to something that, although a little upsetting, wasn’t an impending apocalypse. For me, selfishness is one of the most abhorrent qualities a person can possess, but I’m also aware my friend has her own problems and she probably didn’t mean to act like a dick.

My mother had some words of wisdom to impart. “Sometimes, Claire, it’s OK to be an ostrich,” she said.

“An ostrich? What?”

Turns out she meant it in terms of burying your head in the sand. Stepping away from an issue, not even attempting to deal with it until a later date. Sometimes when you’re not strong, the wisest thing to do is walk away. I don’t feel like this situation has been resolved, there’s still a lot to say, many Britney Spears ‘Toxic’ lyrics to be quoted, but now isn’t the time for any of that. Now is the time to make like an ostrich.

So that’s what I’m going to do, and I feel pretty good about it. Who knows, I might even be able to save a friendship this way.