I can remember, vividly, the night I cried sore, as I spoke these words to Gavin – “I have no friends”.
It wasn’t actually true, but it was a window into how lonely and isolated I felt.
I don’t make friends easily. I’m not a socialite. Oh, yes, I can be friendly or social, although to be honest I absolutely hate prolonged ‘chit chat’ that has no purpose! But making real friends is something very different and something I find difficult.
I do have a number of wonderful friends – they know who they are. I’ve have grown up with them; travelled my teenage years and 20’s with them; shared the biggest and most prominent moments of life with them; and more recently worked and ministered alongside them. I don’t see them that often, but they are ‘those’ type of friendships. The type that you can just pick up where you left off, even if you haven’t been together in 6 months or even years! I love those friendships, they are real.
But I do struggle to make friends. I love honestly and truth and cannot be something I am not. I can’t be bothered with just ‘surface’ stuff, I want to know they ‘why’ of what you are feelings and how I can help…not just the ‘what’. I probably ask too many questions for some people, but I’d rather know you than just hang out with you – does that make sense? The consequences of this means that each stage of life, I probably make one of two friends who I cling to. I don’t need a squad or a gaggle, just a couple of girls (or, on occasions, guys) who ‘get me’ and who I ‘get’.
I have also learned a few hard lessons over the years, since Gavin and I have been married, about friendship. I’ve been really hurt through being used (to get to Gavin), dumped (when we don’t measure up because of what we believe or what some assume we believe), gutted as friends have spouted all sorts of nasty things via social media (yes I know that’s their right, but it feels like there has been no thought for how it might affect me, their friend, which makes me sad)…oh and the list could go on. I have found that really hard. I’m even more guarded now than I ever was, perhaps too much so. Therefore making friends is even harder, now, than it used to be!
I think that’s why I felt so lonely in the midst of PND. I just couldn’t ‘be me’. I couldn’t be honest with myself, let alone anyone else, as to how I was feeling. Everything seemed surface level and I hated having to pretend that I felt okay about motherhood – I just couldn’t ‘play that role’ well, nor did I want to waste my limited energy trying. I was so scared of how I would be portrayed and what judgements people would make about me, Gavin, our marriage and our faith. Turns out most people have been great – of course there have been the usual vile offenders, for whom PND in my ‘just’ reward. On your bike and peddle fast…
Add to all of that, the cold sweat that came over me when I entered mums and tots group (just twice) as the fear ripped through my body. Lots of mums, all chatting (ahhh…) about nappies, teething, milestones etc. Not that those things aren’t important, nor do I think we shouldn’t talk about them, but there was so much going on in me, that I could not manage to sit thought the conversations, smiling pleasantly, never mind contributing!
So I didn’t make any new ‘mum friends’, not one, for the first 2 years of Reuben’s life. Not that there was/is anything at all wrong with the friends I had/have. I guess I just assumed when starting this new season of life, especially one that meant I was out of routine and at home most of the day, I might meet some new faces along that way.
To be honest, I think making friends is vital to maternal mental health, I can see that now. But hindsight is 20/20 and I didn’t know then what I know now. I was afraid of every other mum I met – always crippled with how I didn’t measure up to how good they were at motherhood, or how I imagined they felt about being a mum. I also didn’t like myself – in fact I hated and loathed my very existence – so how could I ever expect ANYONE else to like or want to know me?
And yet, I was incredibly lonely and it showed. The statement “I have no friends” was also one of guilt – I knew I was being a rubbish friend, to any I already had, and I felt so ashamed. I hadn’t been in touch, as I should have been. I was afraid of who I’d become, would they notice, would they ask, what would they think of me now? I just could not pretend with them – I hate being false – so it was easier not to be in touch at all.
Finally, over these past few months I have now begun to make ‘mum friends’. By that I simply mean friends I am making because I am a mum – if it weren’t for this point in my life, our paths might not have crossed. I hope that makes sense. It feels good. I love the friends who have been with me for years, they are a vital part of my life and always will be (nothing about that has changed) but I also need the friends I am making now. I need to believe that I can still make friends and there is something semi-likeable about me, that some (of course, not all) people might like.
I also get to learn from friends about motherhood. I get to share honestly with them (and they with me) about the good days and bad days, we laugh about the ‘silly things’ and encourage each other in the head-melting ones. We head to the park and chat as we push swings; drink cups of tea and eat chocolate buns in coffee shops (in between toddler loo breaks and dirty nappies); or walk while pushing buggies, getting to talk along the way.
They have helped me to understand the illness more and have given me a perspective into the truth of motherhood, that I didn’t know existed! I am so thankful to these few wonderful, honest, courageous, supportive and inspiring mums who have come into my life.
Thankfully the statement “I have no friends” is not true. But it could have been. PND could have taken that from me too. Had I allowed it to keep me locked in world where I sealed myself from those around me for fear of being found out, rejected or shamed, it could have stolen the joy to be found in friendship.
PND is a lonely illness, very much so because of the silence that surrounds it – Breaking the silence: Beating the enemy. But I have come to understand that motherhood itself can be an isolating role, without friends to journey it with you. I am very thankful for the friends I have had for years and the new ones I am now making – we share real life together – and for me, that is what matters the most.
So to all my wonderful friends… Here’s to you! Thank you x