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Sunday, 7 August 2011

The Value of Friendship

They say that when a significant event happens in your life, you find out who you can trust and who are and always will be true friends to you in life- and from my experiences over the last five years, I can emphatically state that I wholeheartedly agree.
 I hope that I am not being too vain as to say that, prior to my accident I was the epicentre of my friendship group and was always the one to arrange a catch up dinner, or a Magners fuelled bank holiday weekend get-together when our lives had become so manic that Facebook had become our only medium of communication and therefore needed to be flung out of the window for a day or two in favour of seeing each other in the flesh!
It’s fair to say that many aspects of the ‘old me’ were significantly affected by my crash and subsequent injuries in 2006, but none more so than my relationships with those around me and in particular those people in life that I called my friends.
Initially optimistic that I was simply going to be off work for a month or six maximum- as all good stories go, things didn’t quite to plan!
At first, even the indeterminate amount of time off work which grew from 1 – 3, then from 3 – 6 and then 6-18months didn’t phase me and I remember clearly saying to myself- ‘OK, let’s just look on the positive & productive side- I’ll read, do a distance learning course, enrich myself. Isn’t that what everyone always dreams of having; some time to just read & learn & grow?’
Well unlike those whimsical dreams of sitting in the garden immersing oneself in a Thomas Hardy novel or ‘Japanese for Dummies’, my work-free time was unfairly inflicted upon me, (and was also quite crucially hampered by not being able to read for two years due to my medication!)- but hey, life in all its shades is inflicted upon you isn't it so again- let’s just get on with it!
One month into this path of enlightenment, with the nerve damage pain increasing daily & more & more pain killers being introduced into my life, (and with them their associated side effects- & boy did I underestimate the extent that they can have on you!), things were steadily appearing a little less rose tinted and It’s with hindsight that I attribute these drugs as being the cause of my retreat from my friends & my social life in general.
At first I continued to make & pick up calls, but a mere few months into my ‘time off’, the drugs began to take their toll and begin their mission to systematically strip me of all sense of me!
I became anxious & paranoid & the drugs were having a profound affect on my concentration and my speech and I would find myself umming & ahhing and stumbling over words whilst missing others entirely.
With a dose more hindsight I can appreciate that my friends were probably none-the-wiser, nor frankly do I imagine that they even cared about these communicative fumbles; but at the time, I became extremely conscious of the fact and soon began avoiding the phone altogether & even developed panic attacks when the telephone would ring.
Despite this issue, this all became second to the fact that the medication side effects were beginning to affect my friendships.
Due to my husband’s, (then boyfriend), attachment to the RAF base where he worked- a month after my accident, I faced having to up-sticks and leave my lifelong friends and face having to make a whole new set as a military WAG in Wiltshire.
Having always enjoyed meeting new people and making friends, ordinarily I would have found this an exciting challenge; however with my medication preventing me from being the full and true ‘Karen’, I worried that unlike my old friends who knew the real me and would appreciate that this was just a difficult phase in my life where I would perhaps be 70-80% or so of me- these people would have to get to know somebody who I personally felt was a poor substitute for my usual self!
I was acutely aware that first impressions count for so much and that the first impression these friends of my boyfriend of only six months were getting, were of someone slightly distracted, distant and frankly a little depressed- not the ideal when you are trying to come across well to new people.
On the flip side to this, I was conscious of the thoughts of my oldest friends who I had left behind on the Isle of Wight. I had always considered myself a loyal friend, yet suddenly I was unable to see friends in person due to distance and unable speak to them on the phone due to my medication. I was feeling cut off from those whom I loved & most importantly I felt I wasn’t being a friend to those who were trying to be there for me. It’s fair to say I was getting pretty low- enter anti-depressants, along side even stronger opiate pain killers now making being awake & human increasingly difficult!
With depression making an anticipated entrance into my life, there were times that I just simply didn’t feel strong enough to pick up the phone on those rare occasions that I was physically able to do so.
 I was getting more and more depressed and found myself feeling that I simply couldn’t bare talking trivial drivel to my mate in Australia, (an event which had always been the highlight of my week); or that I could not give a toss about another friend’s on-going relationship saga, & most controversially I simply could not bare to hear the birth story & weight of my friend’s much awaited bundle of joy. There were acute and rare times that I found that I could not give a monkeys about my friends’ lives, as mine had fallen apart & at the time I just did not know how to get through it, so I was just going to do the only thing that came naturally at the time- cry!
I resented the fact that my friends' were approaching their mid-twenties and in turn their lives were beginning to take off in all respects- career, personal and social life. Wonderful things were beginning to happen for them, whereas I was more or less reverting back to the functional level of a child, even infant at times- needing help to pay bills, eat, bathe, dress and even go to the toilet!
The times that I wasn’t having these shockingly embarrassing thoughts, (which in fairness were only in my darkest of moments emotionally and were few and far between), I was feeling the immense guilt and shame that went hand in hand with having them at all- enter violent rollercoaster of emotions!
Please do not misconstrue what is merely a very frank expression of how a horrid concoction of such difficult times, chronic pain, side effects of medication to treat the chronic pain and depression, (as a result of all of the above), can hugely warp your character and sense of perspective.
These harsh feelings were obviously not ever felt or expressed in my lucid and rational moments- so please do not judge unless you have been there yourself, and if you have, I bet that some of you will have shared similar emotions to mine if some of your recent emails and comments are anything to go by.
I would of course not ordinarily want to express these awkward admissions but I am doing so to reassure those of you who are where I was in those dark times, that any emotions that you feel at these troubling times are valid and not to be dwelled upon as you are only human doing your best to get through what many people will never even be able to comprehend.
It is fair to say that despite my fears, I developed some incredible bonds as an RAF WAG and friendships that will last me a lifetime. This amazingly welcoming and supportive community took me in and made me one of their own, even though I felt that I wasn’t showing them the full me on first meeting.
My life long Isle of Wight buddies have too been simply phenomenal and have stood by me despite my having to miss Christenings, hen dos and weddings due to being so unwell- so on all levels, the majority of my friendships have survived and in some instances even strengthened through going through the more traumatic elements of my journey together: but this story is not without it’s sorrow and there were valuable losses along the way too and for that I will always be sad and will always feel an unnecessary guilt.
One of the hardest things to hear over the last five years has not been, ‘this surgery has a very high risk of paralysis Miss Spurgeon’, (my maiden name), or…’ you have an incurable degenerative neurological condition Mrs Reader’- but instead, somebody who I considered one of my best friends turning to me after watching a DVD on my bed with me, (which I was confined to twenty four seven, even for bathing and toileting at the time), and saying-
‘I feel that this friendship is a little one sided at the moment and it’s annoying me.’
WHAM, like a brick thumped against my heart, all of my fears of why anyone would want to be around me or be friends with me, (when all I can do is say four or five words in an hour as I was battling pneumonia immediately following my spinal surgery at the time)- the tears just poured out of me and I just wanted to shout from my bed, ‘ yes, my relationship with you is one sided, but as are my relationships with all of my friends, along with those with my sibling, in-laws, parents and Garry and it saddens me so much that I just want to cry.’
I’m relieved to say that this was an isolated incident and I have been blessed with some very precious and patient friends- but this does highlight a very important point that becoming disabled is not an easy thing for your friends to come to terms with, particularly when you are trying to take all the emotional burden yourself and not express to those around you how you are really feeling. You may think that you are trying to save the relationships with those around you by not letting out the torrent of upset and fear that is building up inside you, but actually you are depriving your friends and family of the truth and therefore trying to keep up an inaccurate portrayal of you at that point in time, something that in hindsight is never healthy.
I want to say a public declaration of thanks and praise and gratitude to those who have been with me through thick and think and also express to those who are no longer in my life, that I understand how difficult and unusual being friends with me throughout my long communication blackouts must have been and there has never and will never be any blame.
To those going through what I have, communicate as much as can with your friends. Have faith in the fact that they will 'get it', even though they’ve never been there themselves, the human spirit can show a huge amount of empathy you know.
Since writing my blog many people have got in touch to say that they had NO idea of the magnitude of the hellish reality that Garry and I were living and wish that they had known and been able to help.
That does make me a little sad that I hadn’t been able to do that, but I do feel that this is all very well with hindsight as at the time you just feel that everyone has heard things a hundred times before and my life of medication side effects and operation scar weeping, could hardly compete with the tales of the exploits of my friends latest night out or their latest holiday.
Yes I may have lost a few friends along the road, (but I’m sure your own friendship groups have evolved and become a little more streamlined over the years anyway), but I have also been blessed with many friends returning since I have been able to establish a morphine regime which allows me to have a little more of a life, along with being able to get over my telephone issues and speak to people again.
To all of my friends I thank you and I love you.
Trust and have faith in the empathy of the human spirit!




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