Saturday 14th May, 2016
It is 11:30 a.m. here at Caffé Nero. 6:30 a.m. with you. My favourite corner table. My favourite time of the week. I’ve had something to eat and one coffee already. My second coffee—large black Americano, one extra shot—is close to hand. Normally I’d be looking forward to a call with you about now but that will be late today because you have Laurel staying. We’ve chatted, though. In fact, I am chatting on and off with you on my phone as I write this letter!
I used to sit in coffee shops wishing I had someone to meet up with. Now, this place is my social hub. With friends online and friends face to face I meet and chat and share and talk and laugh here, regardless of geographic distance. What changed? You entered my life! In the five years since we became friends I have opened up enormously. Opened to you, opened into our friendship, but also opened to let others in, opened to let myself out. Our friendship has been and is transformative for both of us. This relationship between a well one (me) and an ill one (you) has turned both our lives inside out, and its impact ripples out into the world.
Yesterday I was severely frustrated because I couldn’t find a way into writing the guest post I’d been invited to write for Men Tell Health. I had a few ideas, but nothing wanted to flow. You said I was jealous of the daily pieces you have been writing and posting for Mental Health Month. Not jealous—that would be to take away from your achievement—but envious, yes. You have such a gift for expressing what it means to live with illness, and I am proud to help edit and present your words to the world. My own writing comes much more slowly. I am a better editor than I am a writer, I think. I find it hard to “just write.” I am my own worst critic!
You messaged me overnight, “Wish you were feeling less flat.. You wrote a book.. A whole fucking book.. Don’t you give yourself credit for that?” That jolted me out of my self-pity (thank you!) And you’re right! I (we) have indeed written a whole fucking book! Our book, our story. A guide to inspire and inform others who—like me—support and care for a friend with mental illness. That’s part of what I meant about our friendship rippling out into the world.
I got talking here at the cafe earlier with a guy who told me about a local writers’ group—Newcastle Literary Salon—which meets once a month. I looked them up and the next two meetings are on mental and physical illness. I will go along, and see if I can get a slot to read from our book. It’s scary to put myself out there in person, but that is part of what I’ve learned: to dare, to challenge myself—whether it’s doing a zip-wire slide from the Tyne Bridge to raise funds for Crisis, addressing the Mental Health First Aid team at Virgin Money, volunteering at the Time to Change Mental Health Day event, or appearing live on radio! I would never have done any of this if it were not for our friendship. Connection and challenge have become my watchwords.
When I was discussing my blogging “stuckness” earlier with Mike, he suggested I could interview someone for Mental Health Month. “I’ll make it easy for you,” he said. “You can interview me!” That says a great deal, I think, about the health of our father/son relationship. I am looking forward to seeing what comes of it!
The courses I’ve taken and the events I’ve attended have also brought me new people—my dear friend Claire who I met on the ASIST course. Darren who I first met at a Time to Change event, and who models for me a deep awareness of the human condition, respect and empathy for those struggling. Carol (via the radio show). Gemma (Mental Health Day). Angela (Time to Change). The list goes on and on! Online too, of course. We have made some amazing connections, both individually and jointly. Our friendship resonates with so many. Just by being ourselves, by being open and honest about what it’s like to be friends when one friend lives with illness, by sharing our story, we offer something that—sadly—is not commonplace.
I am proud of us, Fran. Proud of what we do and are. Most of all, I am proud to stand at your side. I am proud to be your friend.