Dear friend who held my hand and didn’t let go,

As we sat in the pub and I asked ‘what if it never gets any better, what if this is what it’s always going to be like, what if I’ve destroyed my life’, you reassured me that it would improve. You told me that it would, because nothing stays the same, everything is transitory and things will change. And they did.

When I arrived for a fun night of comedy (which it was!) there was never a flicker of frustration or sadness or annoyance when the first half an hour was talking about my terror. And then we moved on, and it was okay.

When I reached out and phoned someone, you, as I was having an enormous, and thankfully rare, panic attack; when I was at the point that I couldn’t feel my hands and feet and couldn’t see a way out of it, and you were walking home from work, you talked me through it, you helped me bring my feet back down to the earth and my mind from a swirling hell and you helped me to feel solid again. And, without belittling it, you made the whole process seem normal.

When we hung out in the evening at your house, and I stayed on the sofa overnight, you may have known that this was because I wanted to stay somewhere else other than my own bed, where I woke up every morning at 4am in panic, and maybe thought in some way that being somewhere else would help; but whether you did or not, you simply got the spare duvet out for me, as you knew I would have done for you in my house.

When I’ve looked after your daughter, it has been a joy to do so, and I’m pretty sure that sometimes you needed me to, and sometimes you knew that I needed to, and made it happen. When you send me videos on whatsapp of your young daughter, who I would jump in front of a bus for by the way, saying hello and chatting to me. And on the occasions when I sat on your sofa and struggled to respond to her proffering of a book or toy in the way that I normally would, or may have done even the day before or after, you explained so calmly to her that ‘she feels a bit sad at the moment’ and talked about kindness and love. And that meant so much, partly that it was okay to be sad in your home, and I was filled with love for the fact that you gave the words to your young daughter to start to understand and articulate emotions, and that all of them are okay.

For months, I felt like I touched the bottom (though I’m certain there’s a trapdoor to further down) and somehow kicked and found my way back up to the surface. You manage to allow it all to have depth and have gravity and you take me seriously, but without catastophising it or making me more worried through your concern.

Thank you for making this loving friendship feel so unconditional: it isn’t conditional on us having fun, though often we do; it isn’t conditional on my being ‘okay’, though often I am; it isn’t conditional on my being able to fully explain myself and where my head is, though sometimes I can, because you understand, or if you don’t, that’s okay. Thank you for it being unconditional.

Thank you for simply hearing me, and making me feel heard. Thank you for sharing some of your experiences with me as we talk.

Thank you for making me feel accepted, whatever element of myself you saw and experienced, however dark or light it felt. I felt less afraid of the different parts of myself when I showed them to you and you didn’t walk away. It helped me be more okay with walking towards those parts of myself instead of running away.

During this episode, as I have struggled, I have been overwhelmed by the way that so many people, family, friends and colleagues, have responded with love and acceptance. Some people in my life have found it hard, and that’s been challenging at times for me, but I understand why it is. So many people have heard me and accepted, and been positive. When I have reached out to people and shown my vulnerability, it has been truly incredible the responses I have received from so many people.

And maybe the pressure to get ‘better’ has come partly from myself, and perhaps I have heard it from some people. It’s natural that people want you to feel ‘better’. That’s natural, and I understand. But this isn’t a linear progression to ‘better’, I don’t think. There are good days, and good months, and, I think, great years, but not ‘better’. And one thing I’ve learned is being okay with there being times, days, whatever, when it’s not okay, and being okay with that, instead of pushing and pushing for it to be so, which is both exhausting and counterproductive. And within that, you’ve been someone who has taken each day or each conversation as it is, without question, or comment, or comparison, just as it is. Thank you. And thank you for being one of the people who came to me repeatedly: it’s one thing when people pick up your call and it’s another to dial the number, especially when you don’t know what emotions you might be met with at the other end.

It may seem like no epiphany that sharing each part of ourselves in this way with friends is so powerful, that we find part of ourselves hidden in the words and hugs of others. For some, this is easy and natural. For others, it takes time.

You’ve told me repeatedly that I don’t need to say ‘thank you’, because friendship isn’t about having to be grateful: it’s what we do, and it’s reciprocal. I’m going to own the fact that I am proud of myself for kicking against the bottom and finding my way closer to the surface again. But I am grateful. I am grateful for you being alongside me the whole time, and for making it the most natural thing in the world.

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