Thursday, 1 July 2010

TWO IS COMPANY...


 Two years ago, my life was a mess. Not just the kind of mess that you or your best friend notice, but the kind of multi-car pile up that even total strangers can sense is a disaster zone...



I was unemployed, no less unemployable, racked with paralysing depression, consumed with anxiety and overwhelmed with agoraphobia and had just had a spectacular 'break up' with my best friend who had turned out to be the devil in disguise. All while fighting a case with the Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority (CICA) who had decided that in having drunk alcohol the night I was raped, I was to blame for my 'injury' and thus should be docked 25% of the amount awarded.

My self esteem and confidence was non-existent. Being told by the same government who had failed to bring my attacker to justice that I was in fact responsible for my own rape pushed me into the darkest deepest pit of despair and disgust at myself at any point in the past few years. There were two options: I could pick myself up in the face of adversity and essentially stick two fingers up at it all or I could sink further into the vortex of sheer misery and bleakness and never recover.

If you'd asked me, I could only have thought that the second option was possible. I felt utterly defeated. I had nothing else to give after years of fighting. I felt completely worthless and useless. The men who had raped me and the people who had condoned them had won. They had hung me out to dry and beaten me more efficiently than a dirty rug. I had nothing left to give.

In the middle of all this I had been introduced to a feminist leaning website called Jezebel. Alone all day every day apart from contact with my best friend who it turned out only tolerated me for the money and bed for the night that I offered her, this site became a highpoint of my day. I discovered a whole new side to feminism, started to exercise my poor unused brain and began to form online relationships with fellow London dwellers.

A Facebook group was formed, a meet up was suggested and flushed with the courage of anonymity, I exalted that I would be there on opening night for Pimms with these lovely ladies. Privately however I was undecided. Part of me craved the company of interesting, curious, articulate women. Part of me didn't think my mushy brain, so deeply affected as it was by depression and anxiety, could cut the intellectual mustard and that I would be politely shunned by them.

Ultimately, stung in action by a hangover and a night of discussion that served to confirm all that I had been feeling, I decided to make my way to Islington to meet my fellow Jezebelles. This decision could easily have been seen as exploration, but ultimately it was borne of self sabotage. If I took my unfortunate self to meet everyone, they would all see the shame and awkwardness I resonated and I could retreat to my defeated agoraphobic cave and quietly fade into the background of life, only to irritate those who happened to be stuck with me out of duty. So resigned to a drab fate in life was I that it never occurred to me that what I was doing could be life changing.

Unhappy with what I was wearing, uncomfortable in my own skin and unaware that my night had potential, I turned up to the pub in Islington we had decided on in order prove my own self defeating point....

Right from the very moment I went in, nothing went to plan. The organizer of the event was stunningly stylish, utterly organised and very pleased to see me. I was slightly shaken, but persevered with my mission. The arrival of others distracted me though. Friendly, yet nervous women of all descriptions appeared bringing jugs of Pimms with them. Awkward and unappealing as I felt, I refused to be rude and not converse with these people. Anxiety, depression and self loathing are no excuse for bad manners in my book!


I sipped their Pimms, I learned their names, I queued at the bar with them, I established who had a spare hairbrush and almost without noticing, I enjoyed their company and revelled in their conversation. I found myself unfurling from anxiousness to an approximation of the fun loving party girl I used to be. Despite myself, I had fun...


The recognition of this alien concept hit me and I had to leave earlier than I would like, albeit with two other members of the party who were also headed for the Tube station. My determination that I would be leaving alone to face a lifetime of loneliness had been spectacularly shaken. These interested interesting, intelligent funny women who drank Pimms had not been repelled by me. Instead they seem interested in meeting up again.


I went home, genuinely confused yet awakened by the experience. These women were even better than they were online. There was genuine conversation and interest and humour. There had been a minimum of alcohol fuelling it. Despite every angry isolationist intention I had, my interest was piqued. I couldn't help but accept a Facebook invite or a subsequent invitation to a vintage shopping fair...


And two years later? Well, the compensation conundrum was solved with the intervention of my amazing solicitor, the anxiety and depression have been tamed if not defeated and some of the wonderful women I met that night are some of my dearest friends today. As if that wasn't good enough, those Jezebel meet ups continued and from them other new friendships, intellectual challenges and a superb support network have grown to the point where I feel like a whole new woman.


These people have challenged me, encouraged me, frustrated me, amused me and shared a lot with me. In doing so I hope I have become as important in their lives as they have become in mine. They've brought me back into a life that I'm beginning to genuinely enjoy again. Just knowing they are there in person or via the wonderful world of the internet at any time of the day or night is a tremendous pleasure and comfort.

These are friendships that will last a lot longer than two years...these are the kind of friendships that will grow and develop and change with all of us and remain just as good in different ways. These are the friendships of grown ups...






3 comments:

  1. Kudos on this stunningly well-written and honest post. Before plucking up the courage to go to my first meet-up in December, I'd also feared that I would leave the night not feeling cool or smart or feminist enough. I was also worried that everyone else would already know each other. That part was actually (almost) true, but no one made me feel that way.
    -writerspet

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  2. Thank you for this. It still astonishes me to this very day how much one night could change my life. I remember being so nervous about it, I was literally vibrating with anxiety. It was the first time I'd ever met weirdos off the internet--and I found that they were entirely wonderful, funny, beautiful, friendly weirdos. They had charm! Comic timing! Social skills! Bizarrely, they seemed to think that I was worth befriending too! (I still haven't quite got my head around that one...)

    Loneliness is a funny thing, isn't it? It can eat away at your soul, gnawing at the corners of your self-confidence and swallowing your courage whole. It can cause actual, physical pain, and it can happen to absolutely anyone. To find friends that love you and support you and think you're nifty (and to feel that way in return) is, in a real sense, a life-saver. It has certainly saved mine, several times over.

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  3. "Loneliness is like starvation: you don't realize how hungry you are until you begin to eat."
    — Joyce Carol Oates

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