The other evening I happened to catch an episode of the show ‘The Davina Hour’ on television, it was such an honest and thought provoking episode all centred on friendship. It really got me thinking about friends, especially navigating the world of friendships in your 30s, after having children and whilst struggling with mental health issues.
I’ve thought a lot about this post and agonised over whether to share my thoughts and feelings on the topic. It’s such a personal subject but I know that a lot of people I speak to also struggle with maintaining, creating and outgrowing relationships after having children. I can only speak for myself, but after having Lil I sometimes barely felt like I knew myself anymore, so it’s no wonder my friends felt distant. It’s taken until she is 2 to feel like I am returning to my ‘old self’. Post natal depression and anxiety have an overwhelming affect on every area of your life, and in my experience, often make it hard to be a very good friend or feel like you are worthwhile being around.
I can’t even recall how many times in the past couple of years I have ducked out of seeing friends by using ‘I’m not much fun to be around at the moment’. Now I’m able to look back more rationally, I can see that my friends didn’t care if I was going to be fun or the life and soul of every get together – they just wanted to see me and reconnect.
Back in July, I embarked upon a 6 week mission with the amazing Mary Meadows and Emma Fullwood from Supercharged Club. (I am going to write a full blog post about this, it definitely deserves it – it’s AMAZING). A large part of the mission is to look at your goals, values and serious life-editing. It really forced me to look at my life, the people in it and how I communicate. This kind of self discovery is so liberating and really freed me of some of the anxiety surrounding my friendships and the people in my life. It made me realise that rather than feeling guilty about being a ‘bad friend’ whilst going through tough times, I should actually bring the people who did stick around closer to me and let the people who didn’t (or couldn’t) go on their own path without me.
I had a really interesting conversation with a pal recently about learning how to be a better friend to each other in our 30s. In your teens and 20s a lot of friendships, most of mine included, revolved predominantly around going out, being sociable and having loads of shared interests. Now at 35, our lives have all gone off in different directions and our only form of communication is a snatched WhatsApp message or quick cuppa around children’s nap times and the demands of trying to be Mum, hold down a job and keeping a marriage on track. Something that we spoke about was a general agreement that we should just cut each other a bit of slack. Giving our friends the benefit of the doubt once in a while. If a friend cancels plans, take a step back and don’t let the immediate response be that of annoyance or anger. Take a moment to wonder if that person is OK, is there a reason they aren’t able to make it? Are they going through something you could help with in other ways? Assume the best of people rather than the worst.
The reason I titled this post ‘Dear Friend’ is because I have been thinking a lot about how I wish I had been able to tell people how I felt every time I cancelled a plan, or avoided their call or told them I was fine. I wasn’t fine and I wish I’d had more courage to speak up.
I am sorry I am not there today. I am sorry that I didn’t return your 5 phone calls, talking on the phone makes me anxious and the thought of coming today is too overwhelming. I’m sorry I can’t explain why. I know it seems crazy, maybe I’m crazy.
I am sorry I haven’t been there for you enough recently, believe me when I say the guilt is eating me up. I wish I was able to be a better friend to you, but at the moment just getting through the day is taking all my energy. Putting on a show for everyone is draining me of everything I have. I’m sorry that of all the balls I am juggling, the ball I keep dropping is you.
I am sorry that you feel rejected and ignored, I promise that one day I will be back and I will do everything I can to make you feel special and loved.
I am sorry that you might not be able to stick this out. I am sorry that you don’t feel able to think the best of me and realise that the person you feel so distant from right now isn’t really me.
I am sorry that you stopped trying. I am sorry that when I am better I will never be able to forget that you gave up so quickly.
I am sorry.
Feeling free of guilt around friendships is liberating, but the critical voice in my head will always try and tell me that the sometimes inevitable fizzle of friendships is my solely fault. I aim to keep showing kindness to myself and cutting myself some slack. Friendship as a 35 year old is different, it needs a whole new approach and it’s one I’m still working on. I’m going to keep trying to be the friend I would want to have, forget the judgement when someone falls a bit short and try to give my friends the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes people are fighting a battle they’ve not felt able to tell you about yet. If you punish them now, they likely never will.