A couple of weeks ago, I was at a really low ebb emotionally. Depression and anxiety were hitting hard and I felt like a failure as a parent. I needed to make dinner, and instead I was sobbing uncontrollably.
On impulse, I reached out to a friend who was a single mother, who had gone through much bigger challenges than I was facing, and—most importantly—who had shared some of her struggles with depression on Facebook. I messaged her asking if she had any advice or things she’d like to have known…
She immediately wrote back: “First of all, I love you. You are wonderful, and strong, and amazing.” Followed by a long, reassuring chat with sympathy, sharing and advice. My tears dried up, and afterwards, I made dinner and things were fine.
Oddly, this woman and I have never met, and we hadn’t really talked in years. We met about fifteen years ago on a text-based online roleplaying game and for ten years we’ve been Facebook friends, idly keeping track of each other’s lives without necessarily communicating.
But that was enough for me to get hold of her when I needed her. That was enough for me to know she was the person I needed. I know a lot of single mothers, and I’m sure many of them have found themselves crying at a time they need to make dinner… but they hadn’t shared that. This friend had… and because she had been that candid about her journey, I knew she would be the voice of experience I needed in that moment.
Don’t knock internet friendships and don’t knock over-sharing. Sometimes these things are a lifesaver.
Don’t knock the more traditional form of friendships either. My closest friend geographically lives on my street. Twice this year, I’ve called on her because I was having a panic attack while the kids were at home. Both times, she’s dropped everything and come to get me through it, calming me down and doing some on the spot parenting. I can never repay her for that.
These are just two friends of the many who have helped me get through this year. I don’t know if they all appreciate just how grateful I am to them, so in the spirit of counting my blessings, I sent as many as I could remember a note of thanks, and I’d like to put the full list here. It’s been a year of gestures, big and small, that have meant the world to me. (In the interests of keeping this vaguely concise, I’ve mentioned only the gesture that made the biggest difference to me… A lot of the people on this list have helped in multiple ways.)
… to my brother and his wife for getting me out of the house and doing stuff when it first happened. The advice was to say ‘yes’ to everything, and they gave me no shortage of things to say ‘yes’ to.
… to my parents who have, at times, driven me crazy with their helicopter worrying, but who have given me very real practical help. I feel like I should be too old to be using them as a safety net, but apparently not yet!
… to the old family friend whose husband had left her in their retirement years, who shared with me her conflicted feelings and sympathized with mine.
… to the friends who came and watched Survivor with us every week for three months, keeping a tradition alive for my kids, despite the problems with their own marriage.
… to the mutual friend who understood that I needed to talk with sympathy for my husband, and who helped me deal with those complex emotions.
… to said mutual friend’s boyfriend who stepped up to the grill when I organized a barbeque with no real plan or preparation for how to cook everything.
… to my photographer / reprobate-Mom friend, for helping me celebrate the last wedding anniversary and the first Christmas alone.
… to the school friend who isn’t on social media but remembered to email me on my birthday to check how I was doing.
… to the University friends who drove me around and helped watch the kids on our annual UK trip.
… to every old UK friend who reached out with messages both of moral support and practical information on living in the UK.
… to my mother-in-law and sister-in-law for coming together for my cousin’s wedding, demonstrating to me and the children that whatever happens, we’re still family.
… to my cousin for inviting my sister-in-law to her wedding, despite having met her only once before, at my wedding thirteen years ago.
… to the wonderful people in attendance at my Montessori workshops who made that such an uplifting experience which gave me so much hope for my future.
… to the guy who invited me to a Christmas party among a social circle I thought I had lost.
… to the guy I met on a dating app, for taking me on when I was so screwed up, for sharing a month of caring for and understanding each other, and for allowing me the most graceful break up in history when I realized I wasn’t ready.
… to the parents of my children’s friends, who invited us to parties, gave my children so many fun experiences and offered their sympathy and support at every turn.
… to my daughter’s teacher who shared her own experiences and showed so much patience with my unreliability.
… to the couple who played Santa Claus and dropped a Christmas gift on my doorstep just when I needed it.
… to the friends who confessed to me in private that they were also going through the end of their marriages, even if they didn’t want to talk about it publicly. It was good to know I wasn’t alone.
… to the crazy nerds at the parkour group for teaching this introvert that she’s more capable than she thinks she is, and for being obnoxious to my children in all the right ways.
… to the internet friends who let me hang out like a wet blanket in their AirBnB during a Boston meet up, when I wanted to do nothing in good company.
... to so many people who I'm probably and regrettably forgetting.
… to my children who have been loving and amazing, who reminded me to have fun when I forgot, who have put up with one hell of a lot this year, and who have given me the motivation to reach out to people when I needed to.
If it wasn’t for the children, I would have been too afraid to bother my friends on my account… yet bothering friends helped me regain perspective on how lucky I still am. There’s a line in one of my favourite books, the Millstone by Margaret Drabble: “If I asked more favours of people, I would find people more kind.”
This is the lesson I am taking away from 2018. Thank you, all.
This is the lesson I am taking away from 2018. Thank you, all.