Ships. All the ships….

I was talking to a friend of mine this morning about friendship. About how truly lovely it can be and how challenging, interesting and fun and 1000 other adjectives.Anam Cara

We were talking about the “rules” of friendships and how some of them differ drastically, just like the friends. How you can be friends with someone you never thought you would, how those people can change and grow, as we do and how at different times, friends become different things. The friend I was talking to is my sister.

I am so very blessed to be able to call both my siblings friends. I like them as people and I love them as siblings. They are pretty awesome in all they do and they enhance and enrich my life. I’ve got the funkiest 70 year old Mamma who is also a great friend of mine and who continues to disperse wisdom that sometimes saves me from myself. I have friends who are cousins, aunties and uncles, nephews and nieces who I love and like and choose to have in my life. They are people I admire, people who have it mostly worked out and if they don’t – well, we travel that journey together.

The older we get, the more we tend to accumulate our friends. Albeit it, the rate of our new friendships may dwindle over the years as we become more discerning and a little pickier about who we choose to spend time with. I applaud people who continue to make new friends as they age, it becomes more difficult as we get more set in our ways. I’m fortunate enough to share my life every day with a great friend and a great love. I’ve made new friendships through him and some of those are strong bonds, as if they were my very own friends, and not an inherited set.

I am SO blessed to have the wonderful people in my life that I call friends. Writing this blog has made me reflect on all of them. There are lots. There are new friends who fill me with delight just being in their presence. Friends who came into my life and feel like they have always been there.  My friends sit in my head in a ring of concentric circles, the close inner ones and the further away outer ones who are no less meaningful, but the “rules” are somehow a bit different. (If you’re reading this, then of course you are on the inner circle! :)).

Quotes and songs abound about friends and no doubt those people were inspired by the special connections they had in their lives, as I do with mine. Friends come in so many shapes and sizes, with many needs, careers, lives and most delightful attributes. Friends can be siblings, parents, relatives, strangers, life-long friends, friends of friends and even ex-lovers. (The “rules” for these ones, are unique right? I’ve never been a believer that you can be friends with exes, but I’m open… and learning!).

I am friends with so many people who inspire me to be the best version of myself. Friends who live all over the world and who I may not see from one year to the next. I am friends with people I met on a life-changing experience who I continue to be in awe of, because they outshine all around them. I have friends who mean the world to me because they always have. One I inherited because our parents were friends. That particular friendship has grown of its own volition and strengthened with time to be one of the ones I treasure the most. One of the men I respect most.

I have a friend I thought I could NEVER be friends with when I first spoke to him on the phone. He subsequently moved in to live with me and he is one of the most treasured souls I know and my friendship with him is a privilege. Another man I have great respect for.

Some of my friends have had the most challenging years of their lives. Some have been struck with grief and sadness and such atrocities that no-one should ever be party to. Some soldiered through depression when very few people still understand it (WTF??) They are the ones that I feel closest to in times of duress. As a friend what is it you can do when you witness horrible things? You show up I guess and that doesn’t have to be a physical showing up. It’s a mental connection of some kind. It’s a continued connection. It’s an email or phone call or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram connection. It’s thinking of them and letting them know. Friends who can still be friends in these times are truly unique. They give back when all the life is being sucked out of them. I find they are incredible, caring souls and I am in awe of their spirit.

We are fortunate to have the use of technology which allows us to be more in touch than ever before. Is it the same? Does it count? It does for me. Words of encouragement, words of support mean the world to me. Questions about how are you doing? What did you get out of that experience, how was it for you if you like! They count. They matter. They make me feel cared for and important, which is just our basic human need fulfilled.

I am sure that my encouragement and support from afar are also important to my friends in duress. I hope that words of encouragement and support are graciously received in times of happiness too. There are so many shared experiences that I miss, living away from a lot of my friends, but it doesn’t mean I am any less happy or sad for them. Sometimes that’s when the distance feels the greatest.

I have friends who are making life changing decisions in the coming year. They are my special kind of heroes. Follow your bliss, do what you want to do and have the guts to do it, because you know in your heart it is right and true and may cause waves, but they are nothing you can’t handle. Hats off. Some have had changed forced upon them and shine like bright stars that I can only admire.

What is a True friend? I have true friends that I don’t speak to for months. I know that I could pick up the phone and call and be in their kitchen having a cuppa like nothing ever changed. Is that a true friend? I hope so, because my life is littered with those ones! I have friends I would die for, would kill for (only one there, so don’t be alarmed!) and who I also know would do the same thing for me. Not that that’s a measure of friendship. It’s swings and roundabouts with friends. Sometimes you are the leaner and sometimes you are the leanee. If we both had to lean at the same time, that would make for a very unstable grounding.

My strongest, most endearing friendship is with a woman who in many ways is similar to me, but in many ways very different. I love her like a sister and always have. From the first day I met her and we didn’t stop talking until the wee hours. Someone I would lay down my life for.

Friendships grow and change and they come in all forms. They are without judgement. That’s a very difficult one to hold onto, but that’s the absolute glue of a friendship.

They are the ships, true ships in our lives. Ones that move and change, ones that remain solid and steadfast, ones that were once something else and have morphed into a different ship. Friendships often pop up in my gratitude journal. There are boundless ones I am grateful for. Some of the most endearing friendships to me are those of people who worked for me and endured some pretty tough times to come out as friends on the other side is a blessing and an honour for me.

I hope there are no boundaries about how many friends you can have in the next version. I hope when I pop into the next life, nobody says – “Sorry, you were particularly greedy in your gathering of friends in this life, so we will have to limit you to 3”. I’d be lost.

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Are you OK? – I mean, ARE YOU? REALLY?

How to Ask.....

It’s RUOK day in Australia, (11 Sept) a brilliant initiative around suicide prevention. I say in Australia, because it doesn’t seem to reach here in the UK, except via the Facebook posts of the Aussie friends and relatives I have.

I absolutely applaud the initiative and I am sure it has made inroads into the public recognition of things like depression and bullying that lead to suicide.

If we only ask this one day per year then it is a start.

How to Ask.....
Are you really?

It takes a brave person to say that they aren’t OK actually. People who are depressed or leading a terrible life fighting their own demons, or other people’s demons, sometimes won’t say what is really going on for them. Are you OK is a great start. But what if they say yes and they aren’t?

How many times do we get asked Are you OK and we answer, “yes, fine thanks”? In fact there is a plethora of “funny” jokes all over the interwebs about how women are asked this often and they send a chilly “I’m fine” response back! Oh yes, I laugh until I stop when I see these and that’s a short journey…..anyhow I digress.

The thing is – we aren’t usually OK all the time. And that’s OK. The more we get used to hearing that people are not OK – that they might be struggling a bit, that they are tired, or run down, or they have had an emotional day crying on the couch, the more we will realise that life is actually like that.

I think what we could all do with some more of is learning what to do when people do actually say, No – I’m not OK. We can’t always know what people are going through. Sometimes, we don’t even know how much people mean to us until we lose them. That’s what happens in a world where we feel like we can’t get too close to other people, where making friends is hard, where just wanting some “me” time comes before being with friends and family.

A friend of mine recently lost a friend to suicide. She feels eternally guilty that she didn’t see what was coming. Of course she asked if she was OK – and the response she got back was, yes. It’s tough, but I am OK.

We don’t always know when we aren’t OK, as weird as that sounds. Sometimes it takes someone to nudge us a bit and not only ask if we are OK, but to ask some more questions. Perhaps remind them on some behaviour we may have noticed.

This world sees most of other people’s lives through social media eyes, via our computers and mostly through our phones (wankers flashlights as I heard them recently referred to). Am I going to post on Facebook that I am not OK? No way. I don’t want sympathy, or I don’t want platitudes from people who say they are “here for you” and who aren’t. I probably want to be alone with my demons. As awful as they are, they are mine and parting ways with them takes time and guts and courage. I am fortunate enough to have people close to me who do recognise when I am not OK, but not all of us do.

Perhaps what we can say to friends is to not just ask the question Are you OK, but to tell them it’s OK to not be OK just for now. That things will change and life can get better, or we can work on changing our thoughts to make the most of a shitty situation. And then as the website suggests, start a conversation. Ask, Listen, Encourage, Follow Up. Simple steps that could make a difference.

It takes a brave person to say they are not OK, and it takes a true friend and an even braver person to keep that conversation going.

Disclaimer: I’m not a pyschotherapist, nor a mental health professional. I’m just a normal person who is sometimes not OK. (And thank the gods, this isn’t one of those times if you are wondering – I am perfectly OK and I mean it! 🙂