You Are Who You Meet

My friends are my family

“My friends are my family”. This is what I remember anxiously imploring my dad, tears in my eyes, at about 16 years of  age. This was in response to his announcement that he intended to move us from our abode in Liverpool to Manchester to meet the requirements of his girlfriend at the time. I was shocked at his callousness; not least because it was in the middle of my GCSE years and I was already functioning poorly due to past upheavals but mainly because I did not know how he could expect me to be happy without my friends!

To many parents, I’m sure this matter would sound little more than trivial; children and teenagers are particularly resilient and built to adapt, rendering a relocation unremarkable. However, the proposition was that I would remain in my school in Liverpool and commute from Manchester which meant that there would be no adapting, just clumsy readjusting which I could see was likely to fail.

I remember at the time considering just how much support my friends actually gave me and I was convinced that this was much more than I was or would ever get at home. I would always be content in their company and meetings with them would always provide so much more than could ever overtly be observed. There was that underlying trust that they would always be there for me, when things got difficult and this meant more than anything. Perhaps this is what is taken for granted in most friendships at that age, but I always valued it so much.

I was an only child, living quite a way away from the rest of my friends who lived locally to our school. This had occurred because after insisting on enrolling me in a high school nearer to the area my mother was living, she left her partner and went to live in another city leaving me with my dad a good hour commute away from my school. I suppose to an extent, this made me a little isolated. I had the top floor of our old lovely Victorian house essentially to myself and would spend a lot of weekday evenings alone up there. It may be this that instilled my tenacity for independence. Alone with my thoughts, writing, music and faithful cat I can now look back fondly on what I no doubt then found to be a lonely experience.

It is true to say that it was an absence of family that lead me to place such value on friends. They were my resolute support network and I always put a lot into nurturing such friendships. Although I was outspoken, I was rarely the one that people would have a big fall out with. I cared too much to be at fault and they would never find a friend as committed or available as I.

Unfortunately the absence of family also meant that I relied on an array of friendships, some of which weren’t necessarily as good or healthy as others. It was a few years previous to my dad’s proposed move that my mum upped sticks and left. Very soon after that my friendship choices became questionable and I made the cliché of falling into the wrong crowd.

Where I lived meant that I was on the border of the notorious Toxteth; once famous for its riots, now left pretty defeated and boarded up. Having discovered the joys of drinking in the park (I repress the mental image of the memory) I soon met many of the local inhabitants. I can’t bemoan their influence on me, as they were just like me at the time: clueless and unhappy, searching for a way to feel something other than resentment and animosity. It is hard to describe the intensity of the draw towards “the wrong crowd” or to convey the reasons which entice you to do so. I knew that my father would not approve, but I also knew that he was not around. Nevertheless, the connection with those friends ran much deeper than a desire to rebel.

After a year I was heavily involved in a lifestyle that I should have been a million miles away from. Still now I am amazed at the extent of the group’s misbehaviours at the time. But it had taken a toll on me and slowly I was losing myself to the mental impact of such an existence. The psychological strain started to manifest itself physiologically to the extent that I was taken to hospital to have an MRI scan as the doctors suspected that I had a brain tumour.

Inwardly I knew what the cause was and equally I knew that it couldn’t continue. The only way I could get myself better was to cut off that group completely. It wasn’t easy but I managed it and slowly I regained myself.

It was years later when I left for university with everyone’s words still resounding in my ears: “You make the friends that you keep for life in uni!“. “Good” I thought, I was ready to see more of the world and hear more from like-minded people. It was a bit of a shock when I arrived at university – nothing like the abstracted experience that I had anticipated. Everyone was so different and the majority of my flat were male, apart from one girl who had not yet arrived. Nonetheless over the course of the first year there were particular people who I found myself clicking with, despite the fact that they were not necessarily people who I would have previously pictured myself clicking with.

I will always remember my first year of university with a great deal of nostalgia; delicately retracing how my close friendships now were cemented back then. All in all the transition from college to university for me, was fairly smooth sailing. I had many great times that long surpassed the typical university experience of getting drunk. My friends and I would go on random early morning drives into the country, climb hills and build fires; we’d frequent country pubs, break into horse sanctuaries with the pure intention of simply stroking horses and have rounds upon rounds of Articulate.

Sadly I slowly slipped away from these past times as I entered my second serious relationship. This lasted into my third year of university before I decided to give up the uneven struggle of trying to make it work in a situation where it was near impossible for it to do so. By the end of the relationship I felt defeated and in having neglected my friendships I had surreptitiously lost myself. Slowly I had stopped seeing my own value for lack of people I was sharing it with. I suppose the realisation that I needed my friends rather than a relationship hit me rather hard and suddenly but I can’t stress what a difference it made.

I’d become uptight, irritable and sullen. No longer was I seeing the funny side of things. Once relaxed and content, I had become pushy and difficult. Exiting the relationship as I did, positively transformed me back to the me I had been sure that I once was. As my friendships flourished so did I and not once did I regret my decision.

The lurking suspicion that I guess has been with me since my early teenage years, is that I may be able to be happy on my own and with myself but what I can’t help but think is that my friends are part of who I am and without them I simply do not function as well.

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Clinging on the career ladder after uni… and considering jumping

"The good old days"

University is something that so many people know that they are going to do after sixth form or college. It is regarded by many as the natural next step (at least before tuition fees went up by a million pounds!). 3-4 years at that point seems endless and usually people expect that during those years you will formulate a clear idea of what career you want to go into, if it has not already been decided. What I feel there isn’t enough warning of, is the fact that you may very well be left in your final year left floundering and uncertain as to where you want to go next and what you actually are able to do next. When degrees are not vocational ones like medicine, it’s a pretty difficult dilemma to find yourself in.

Before uni I had planned to become a criminal lawyer fighting for justice. After my first three months of studying law I drew the conclusion (please forgive me my cynicism) that law was really just about making money; criminal law being possibly the worst paying area of law, I was quickly deterred. Psychology had always fascinated me at A level and that had been the competing option before I had opted for a law degree.  It was this that I decided to change to after completing a rather wasted first year of law.

As psychology is such a broad subject I thought that my degree would slowly but surely guide me into my preferred area and that I would be suitably educated to progress to the next level of my chosen psychology career. Wrong! I won’t get into a rant over how poor I found the standards of my degree education (at least not in this entry) but to cut a long and irate story short, it was pretty crap. Fortunately for me, the year already spent at uni barely applying myself to law and living the uni dream, meant that I was more motivated by my third year at uni -and second year of psychology- to do some extra curricular things that were likely to look good on a CV and more importantly teach me a few important life lessons.

My best friend laughed at me and still laughs at me in retrospect, calling me “Suzy-High-School”: I was social and publicity secretary of the departmental society, putting on man auctions and Amsterdam trips, I was a peer mentor, mentor to a kid in social care and got involved in promoting the “Mental Wealth” organisation. I had a great old time and did indeed learn a lot. It was these activities that put me in good stead for employment. By my final year I was president of the society, student representative  and working as a marketing assistant (soon to be promoted to manager). Great CV. Great experience. However I’m sad to say that in the absence of clear educational guidance and perhaps some other factors, I still didn’t really know what I wanted to do after my degree.

So here I am now. Some would say in a much better boat than other recent graduates. I was offered full time employment as a marketing manager which allowed me to get a nice city pad and live the young professional dream. So what’s up? I have voiced my worries to my dad who, at the tender age of 62, tells me he is still searching for what he wants to do “when I’, growed up”. This, I must admit isn’t inspiring. I do not want to be a 62 year old, still discontent with my career.

Don’t get me wrong, I love marketing but I always thought I was destined for something a bit more “academic”. Not in a snobby way- I just did! And although I do enjoy my job, in that I love creating strategies to market the company and put them into action and get results, etc, etc I am not passionate about technology. Yet I struggle to identify what I am really passionate about, at least enough to commit myself to it for a career path. It is the commitment issue that is key here. I worry that once you go along one route, it is incredibly hard to extricate yourself from it for fear of having to start again. Now while the iron is hot and I’m not too tram lined in my work, I want to identify what my real passion is for so I can slightly adjust the tracks to head for a specific career.

It’s not just the anxiety that I put on myself when considering where I’m headed that throws me in this post-uni-life: It’s the lack of time. Oh how I miss the days when if you really didn’t want to, you didn’t have to get out of bed. Sunny day? Why not hit a beer garden?! There’s always the evening to catch up on your dissertation, unless of course you end up getting pissed and going out- there will be time to catch up. Now there is no time, which is particularly ironic as I remember saying to my friends “It will be so good when we don’t have uni work to worry about any more. The evenings and weekends will just be completely your own to relax and do what you like!” Pah. Poor old naive me. True there are weekends and evenings completely to yourself, but guess what? All you will want to do is catch up on sleep! And how many things are you required to do between the hours of 9-5 that you never realised before? Doctors, garage, bank, contacting the council, getting your hair cut, that much needed wax- the list goes on!

Perhaps the worst thing of life after uni, is the sudden lack of socialising. Personally, I am a very sociable person. I love people and company- perhaps slightly a product of early only-child neurosis- but nonetheless people make me happy. Now I remember worrying about this at a certain point whilst still at university. I started reading a book called Happiness by Matthieu Ricard and the message that I gathered is that happiness cannot rely on external factors. I understood and agreed and then I thought how?? 

I know what I love about myself and I do appreciate myself more than most people probably appreciate themselves. I am comfortable with me and I do love my own company, but what if there is no choice but your own company? Thinking you’re funny in the absence of other people laughing with you is not so enjoyable. Acknowledging you are a considerate, kind friend means little when its hard to apply that because no one is around. I was worried.  Maybe it just boils down to social confirmation, I don’t know, but what I do know is that having no friends around sucks!

In university you are in this little bubble where all your friends are in the same place, may even live with you, have the same social circles and schedules. After uni everyone leaves; either on to the next city, or even better travelling, or they go back home- which invariably is not near university. I have struggled with this adjustment the most. Safe to say, I still have not quite adjusted. My job means that the people I meet are generally not in my age bracket and have husbands or wives and kids- maybe even grandkids. As luck would have it, my friends that are still about are on completely different schedules due to their work (bar work, musicians, still at uni). To spell it out, it all feels rather lonely at times.

So how to I conclude, without leaving myself and readers completely depressed? All I can say is that I constantly battle to keep perspective. This is not it. I do not have to get stuck and I am not completely helpless! There are things I can do to give my life meaning- like write this blog! Or read a good book or take a walk and enjoy my own thoughts. I am not without friends and I am not without friends in the same boat. I have a steady income and I do still have lots of lovely times. I try to value what I have now and I try to realise that this doesn’t mean I am settling. I am young, I have options and as long as I remain me I will stay ambitious. Hopefully that should help me out some way.

I am certainly on the ladder, climbing steadily but I keep looking at other ladders to see if a.) I can make the jump and b.) if I really want to! I’m sure all will slowly become clear even if I end up taking a slide instead at some point.