After too long in a job that wore me out and too many one-sided friendships I had a nervous breakdown and when I came out the other side I made some decisions about my happiness that I think are worth sharing.
Friends are vital. Romantic love is delicious and amazing when you find the other half of your heart and know they’ll always be there for you. But when you’re single and perhaps you don’t have your parents anymore or they’re getting on a bit, you need good friends. Good friends won’t buy you roses or look in your eyes and murmur sweet nothings (unless they’re drunk) but they will show up at the hospital with clean knickers or convince the nice policewoman you don’t need taken to the Psychiatric Emergency Team. They’ll sit in the waiting room when you have the pre-op MRI and they’ll drive you home after surgery apologising all the way for the speed bumps. Good friends listen when you’re burbling self-pitying nonsense, good friends remember your birthday when you’ve forgotten it, and good friends often have husbands who will stand in for the big brother you always wanted and never had. Never under value good friends and never, ever put them on the back burner for a romantic relationship. Lovers can be fickle. Good friends are faithful. Of course you have be prepared to give as well as get but that’s what love is about and friendship is love, even if society only recognises the erotic and the parental. Society, as they say, is an ass.
C S Lewis says in ‘Present Concerns: Essays’ that the greatest of worldly goods is philia, or friendship love, and he might have a point. Every beloved spouse is also a friend but not every boyfriend or girlfriend turns out to be. A few people are suited to being hermits (and even hermits have contacts) but most of us aren’t. I wanted to be a good friend and realised that the years I’d spent allowing myself to be switched on and off by people and have my settings altered like a washing machine had done a lot of damage to my ability to relate. I had two settings – nanny (superior) or dogsbody (inferior) – and overcoming them plus the daily struggle to believe that anyone actually likes me has been exhausting but oh so worth it.
I maintained the friendships with people who had stood by me through my illness and unloaded the free-loaders. I did keep one or two very self-absorbed people but their problems are worse than mine have ever been.
Travel is important to me and from the number of bucket lists on Pinterest and in blogs full of the places people want to go it is to vast numbers of others. I really do think that if there’s a place you’ve always wanted to see and you can afford it you should go. Don’t leave this life too full of longing for it. On the other hand, it is okay not to want what other people want and if you want to spend your vacations in your garden then go for it with gusto. It means we’re celebrating our differentness not being boring. Just think of the person who called the Taj Mahal a biscuit tin or my friend who wouldn’t thank you for a weekend in Florence but can’t be dragged away from a mossy wall because, “Liiiiiiiiiichen, Izzi, liiiiiichen. Ohmygosh… liiiiiiichen.” She’s happy and it never occurs to her to compare her sources of happiness to anyone else’s.
I enjoy looking at and reading about people’s bucket lists on Instagram and in blogs. I thoroughly understand the desire to see new and beautiful places and if I had one of my own it would include St Petersburg and Kyoto but not Paris or Iceland. I used to be absolutely fascinated by Japanese geiko (geisha) culture and I’ve read so much that it would be a real treat to explore the old part of Kyoto and likewise I’m writing a novel set in St Petersburg so I’d love to see the sights with my own eyes but the reality is that as much as I think I would love it all I know I don’t want to do it. Does that sound weird? I don’t know if this is residual anxiety but all I want to do is visit and revisit the north of Italy. I agonised over this for a long time. What’s wrong with me? Why don’t I want to go to Provence or roam fairytale castles in Austria, why don’t I want to go to New Zealand, why don’t I want to dip my toe in the fascinating cultures of Latin America or Africa, or even visit India the source of so much textile inspiration for me? The easy answer is I don’t know. The harder answer is saying to myself that it’s okay. But it is.