Friendship Tells Our Story

Photograph: courtesy of my talented friend Liz www.elizabethwaight.com

My mum has finally kicked me out of home, having put off the inevitable for (many, many) years, she’s offloaded the last few boxes onto my kitchen floor. These remnant items detail the narrative of my life, from a cosy 4-person family and infant school in Surrey to divorced parents and primary school 50 miles away. Three senior schools and three major transitions (and a big brother who I adored throughout) made up my story until I was 18.

Each of these stages, all of the friends I gathered along the way are catalogued in letters, photos, post cards, drawings and classroom notes. The view point different which ever you read.  Sometimes happy, other times sad, sometimes cringe worthy, others deeply touching, every single interaction has laid down the ground work to who I have become today. Every image and word has brought back memories, emotions and feelings which have littered the vivid dreams that I always have, with a different flavour and content every night.

There is only one person I do not wish to remain in contact with. The girl who victimised me for my first year at senior school, until she left my life was a misery. But that too influenced my story: to never do the same to anyone else and to have empathy for anyone who has ever suffered similar abuse. The rest, all of the other people, I am happy to have known.

I felt desperately sad to lose contact with one particular friend, my best friend from infant school. There was something between us that I cannot easily describe – beyond a typical connection and one that stretched far beyond simply knowing each other through so many vital years of childhood. Arguably we had become part of each other’s story – she knew me before my parents split up and I knew her before she lost her father, way too young. Amusing and awkward encounters scatter the letters that span the age of 8 to 16. While we both changed dramatically over that time, we always seemed to change in the same direction. By 16 I had then moved three times, one too many to remain in touch. I had tried before to find her but always in vain. Maybe it was just time for this story book to end.

But if you are my friend you know how stubbornly determined I am (which I hope translates to loyalty in relationships).  Reflection and dreams over the past couple of weeks only strengthened my resolve to find her. After I had scoured what seemed like hundreds of different avenues (but in reality was probably only about a dozen) I finally came upon a face that I recognised. A smile that strangely reached out and greeted the 7-year-old me. A magic that touched me through my screen. Tentatively I e-mailed prepared for no response or interest in return. Maybe this was only my story and not hers. Moments later a reply popped up. I was utterly ecstatic, she said she’d been thinking of me recently and had even told her own 7 year old daughter about our friendship – it seems I am still part of her story too.

Through the course of life, I have formed some incredible friendships which have lasted for years. Some people don’t need to be in your life long to feel that connection, a kindred spirit, those rare connections who you feel you know before they’ve even uttered a word. Others form the tapestry of life even when you grow apart. Those relationships may take work but they are still worth it, they make up a vital part of who we all are. Had Hazel and I met today we probably would have become friends, but as it stands we have so much more than just a connection, we share a story.

Human connection is a vital part of who we are not only because of what it does to our brains…..

Research shows that, “people who have more meaningful social connections have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative…. Added to this, connections have been shown time and again to have helpful psychological and health related benefits[i]: strengthening our immune system, lowering blood pressure, reducing our risk of getting sick[ii], decreasing levels of anxiety and depression[iii] and even lengthening our lives[iv].” [this short extract is from my book]

……but also, because friends and family hold a magic that cannot be explained by science. They know and love the essence of who we are and they understand the narrative of our lives. They live the highs and lows and remember the moments that we may otherwise forget. Our friends and our family, our connections are what pick our lives up from off the page, they hold the memories of photos and letters, the classroom giggles, teenage angst and heartbreak. They live the images and sounds of our narrative through the internal video camera of their life and ours. They tell the story of who we are.

And Big Bruv – I still adore you!

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References & Links:

Murden, F. (2018) Defining You. Hodder & Stoughton.

https://www.waterstones.com/book/understanding-you/fiona-murden/9781473668386

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Defining-You-Discover-behaviour-potential/dp/1473668387/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1508937607&sr=1-1&keywords=Defining+You

[i] Umberson, D., & Karas Montez, J. (2010). Social relationships and health: A flashpoint for health policy. Journal of health and social behavior51(1_suppl), S54-S66.

[ii] Uchino, B. N. (2006). Social support and health: a review of physiological processes potentially underlying links to disease outcomes. Journal of behavioral medicine29(4), 377-387.

[iii] Dour, H. J., Wiley, J. F., Roy‐Byrne, P., Stein, M. B., Sullivan, G., Sherbourne, C. D., … & Craske, M. G. (2014). Perceived social support mediates anxiety and depressive symptom changes following primary care intervention. Depression and anxiety31(5), 436-442.

Roohafza, H. R., Afshar, H., Keshteli, A. H., Mohammadi, N., Feizi, A., Taslimi, M., & Adibi, P. (2014). What’s the role of perceived social support and coping styles in depression and anxiety?. Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences19(10), 944.

Zimet, G. D., Dahlem, N. W., Zimet, S. G., & Farley, G. K. (1988). The multidimensional scale of perceived social support. Journal of personality assessment52(1), 30-41.

[iv] de Brito, T. R. P., Nunes, D. P., Corona, L. P., da Silva Alexandre, T., & de Oliveira Duarte, Y. A. (2017). Low supply of social support as risk factor for mortality in the older adults. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics.

Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., Baker, M., Harris, T., & Stephenson, D. (2015). Loneliness and social isolation as risk factors for mortality: a meta-analytic review. Perspectives on Psychological Science10(2), 227-237.