Random Musings: Family and other pressures

My most recent read, Diary of a Diva, was deliberately chosen because it sounded very different to the types of book that I would normally pick. I wanted to stretch myself beyond the zone that I knew I would feel comfortable with. It has certainly given me plenty of food for thought, and in directions that I did not expect.

The protagonist in this non fiction book is very close to her family. She talks of daily phone calls and regular, large gatherings. Although she does not have any children of her own, indeed there was a suggestion that she has banned children from her home, she regularly shares the minutiae of her life with those she grew up with, her parents and siblings. To choose to do this is beyond my comprehension.

Within my circle of family and friends there are those who will talk regularly about anything and everything with their wider families. I know that this happens, I just do not know why. To me, my family is my husband and my three children. I feel blessed to still have living parents and siblings, in laws and other family relations, but they are each fed only occasional, edited highlights of my life. I was raised to fear ‘letting the family down’ with my behaviour. I learned young to hide what may be frowned upon, sharing detail equated to bringing shame on those I cared for.

It has been said that the most important thing that parents can teach their children is how to get along without them. I have always known beyond a measure of a doubt that I am loved by both of my parents. They have been there for me throughout my life, whatever I have chosen to do, actively supporting me in thought and deed. Since I moved out of their home though, I have never felt the need to involve them in the detail. I have no wish to answer to their whims, to be the person that they have tried to mould me to become. I will always keep in touch but I will live my life as I choose.

I may not understand why others regularly involve their parents in their lives, but that is their choice. What irritates is when they suggest that I should do as they do. I have chosen independence over codependence. I do not attempt to influence their desire to share, and resent any suggestion that I should follow suit.

None of this is an indication of past treatment or love, I do not measure love in such terms, neither do I buy into the idea that children owe their parents anything. I would like to think that my children will choose to spend some time with me when they are adults, but I accept that, should they marry and have children of their own, then their priorities will change. It is my view that their new family’s needs should always take precedence over mine.

I wonder if the old in law jokes emerged because adult children did not feel able to cut the cord. Then I wonder if needs are simply different. I am comfortable with a certain distance, but that is no reason why such a state of affairs may suit others. Just as I do not wish to be berated for my choices, so I must take care not to judge others based on my personal, core beliefs. Let us celebrate difference, live and let live.

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Book Review: The Girl From Station X

This review was written for Lovereading UK. The book will be available to order from them once published in March 2014.

Written largely from her mother’s personal diaries, Elisa Segrave’s book, ‘The Girl From Station X’, provides an interesting account of a privileged young woman’s life before, during and after the Second World War. It is, however, much more than just a memoir. It is obvious from the beginning that the author has issues with the way her mother treated her throughout her life. The book provides a sometimes brutally raw account of complex family relationships over several generations, and the fallout that these generate.

The book quotes extensively and directly from the diaries, interspersing these passages with the author’s opinions. Although adding authenticity to the unfolding tale, I found this approach quite difficult to engage with at times. The chapters covering the war years in particular contain a great deal of detail about intelligence processing, battles and strategies as well as the day to day lives of those involved.

We are introduced to many people, making it hard at times to remember their relevance. The author jumps back and forth between the time being covered by the diaries and later times that she can recall. My impression was that she is justifying her personal resentments as much as telling her mother’s life story.

A protagonist finding strength in adversity is a common enough theme, and the story does cover how the author’s mother rose to the challenge of the war. It is rare, however, to read a memoir that does not attempt to tug at the heartstrings, but provides such an honest study of human weaknesses.

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Waiting out a mind disturbance

I have been thinking about friendship, about the ebb and flow of friends. I do not consider myself to be a particularly good friend. I do not invest enough of my time in maintaining the bond that close friendships require.

Relationships are rarely evenly balanced. There may be give and take on both sides but these do not always match expectations. Resentments can grow when effort appears to go unappreciated, or when demands are perceived to be too great. I have walked away from people in the past because time and again they asked for more than I felt comfortable giving. I find it easier to give than to take, but can only offer so much for so long.

I do not blame the people that I have walked away from but rather my own requirements from the relationship. I suspect that I am not an easy person to befriend with my regular need for solitude and my social awkwardness. What I am capable of giving may well not be what the recipient requires.

Over the past few days it has felt as though the internet has not been my friend. My main source of information and communication has not been providing me with the satisfaction that I have come to expect. I suspect that I am asking too much. Walking away is a possibility, taking a break from going on line. This is not a solution though if the problem lies closer to home.

I have a favourite t-shirt which has this image on it.

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I try to live my life like that, enjoying the journey rather than focusing too much on an end point, a result. In so many areas throughout life we are encouraged to strive for something rather than taking time to notice the good things to be enjoyed along the way.

Last month I decided to sign up for the 100 Happy Days challenge (detailed here http://100happydays.com/ ). I am struggling to continue with this, to pick out a different aspect of each day to focus on. I am undecided if the challenge is proving to be counter productive given that my inability to post each day is making me feel that I am failing.

It is not that I am feeling particularly negative, rather I am suffering a disturbance of my inner peace or balance. Non specifics are bothering me and my usual sources of calm are not helping.

I can walk away from others, from the internet, but I cannot walk away from myself. Zen Dog’s little boat has reached choppy waters.

I must find ways to hold on whilst minimising the damage. I know that this too shall pass.

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My world

It can be a challenge at times to take my own advice. I went for a lovely walk this week with a friend. I really enjoy this lady’s company, especially as I feel I can talk to her without having to watch what I say. We have known each other for a number of years and have many mutual friends. It is not that we are particularly close, more that she is accepting of other’s idiosyncrasies and, even when she does not agree with or understand behaviours, will listen and offer support. I value that she has stuck by me, even when I have been backing away from others and the prospect of company.

It is how I am dealing with those others that has made me realise how difficult I am finding it to act as I know I should. I have a suspicion that I have offended a few people with my behaviour over the past year. As I have been avoiding social gatherings there have not been occasions to observe how I am now treated; my suspicions are based on nuance and whispers picked up through unrelated discussion. When I raised the topic with my friend I felt that she did not wish to become involved and I backed down. This is not her problem.

I would always say that it is foolish to become concerned with how others see me. Those who care about me will accept me as I am; those who do not are best avoided anyway. How hard that advice is to follow in practice. I do not like to think that some of those I once socialised with regularly would now choose to avoid me, even though I am choosing not to socialise. There is little sense to the way my mind is scratching away at this conundrum.

It seems that I am allowing myself to fall into the trap that I have seen in others; that I am acting as though I am the fulcrum of events that affect me. In reality I am a slight breeze passing by other’s lives, whose effect decreases as my absence extends. Whatever others may think of me, I very much doubt that they think of me often.

It does distress me though that others have taken my backing away personally. I want to let them know that my choice not to join in was all about me, not them. I couldn’t cope with company and, for my own wellbeing, had to take time out. Yet how can I barge in and try to make things right when there may not even be a wrong to be considered? This entire concern could be in my head, a figment of over analysis.

Does any of this make sense? Sometimes I think that I am nursing a kind of madness; other times I feel so selfish. The one thing that I do know is that I can no longer cope with large, social gatherings and I have no idea why. If my actions have offended my friends then I do not know how to put that right.

Human relationships can be so complex and difficult to navigate. I am immensely grateful that, through all of the things that have changed in the past year or so, my little family have remained constant and there for me. I have not had to suffer rejection or unhappiness because I can still have a lot of fun with the people who matter most to me. I love and I am loved. With that base I have the strength to face the rest.

We each live our lives looking out from inside the vessel that is all others can perceive. The world may not revolve around us, but our world does. For now I am sailing on choppy waters, buffeted by my waves of concern over how my behaviour is being seen by others. I need to listen to my own counsel and accept that this should not be a major issue. I need to find the calm waters of self acceptance and relax.

Just in case my post has been a bit too serious, allow this dalek to help you relax. We like Doctor Who in this house. 

My happiness is not just about me

Television shows and films are full of friendship groups. Whatever misadventures the protagonists must deal with, they will turn to their good friends for emotional support. Teenage girls will indulge in open and meaningful discussions as they lie around in each other’s bedrooms; women will sit down with close friends and a few bottles of wine to spill out their concerns for all to debate and put right; men will open up their hearts at a ball game or barbeque, sit down on a park bench with a long known mate at a key moment, or seek out a female friend and show an emotional side previously unknown. All can talk freely without fear of judgement. Does this ever happen in real life?

Perhaps there are plenty of people out there who can totally rely on a few individuals to always be there for them, however messed up they may be. These wonderful people will drop everything they may be involved with at any time, open their doors and their hearts to accept and forgive whatever behaviour has caused the grief. They will support without judgement, regularly and reliably wiping away the tears and helping the sufferer to move on. Whatever is happening in their personal space, they will put their own lives aside when needed.

I have and have had many, lovely friends over the years but the only person I have felt comfortable opening up entirely to is my sister. I would never expect her to drop everything in her life to support me though. I recognise that she has her own experiences to enjoy, issues to deal with and family to support. I really don’t know if I am unusual in being unable to expose my innermost feelings to friends or if this is typical. Perhaps the fictional portrayal is just another simplification for the sake of brevity and entertainment. Perhaps it is real and just beyond my ability to experience.

This past year has been challenging for me in terms of dealing with the way I am and the way I am thinking and feeling. I needed to put my thoughts in order but found when I tried to talk about what I was going through the listeners did not react as I needed. I turned to this blog instead; in writing it down I was able to understand myself a little better and the feedback I received was also helpful. In my experience, oversharing face to face causes embarrassment and the issues are too often misunderstood. I found it hard to be as open in conversation as I could be when I wrote.

During the worst days of my mini meltdown, other’s views did not penetrate. There were a few comments left that helped; these did not offer solutions but rather simple validation and support. I needed to know that I was not going mad, that I was not being unreasonable in wishing to be heard and my needs considered if not agreed with. I needed time to move on and experience the gradual improvement that, deep down, I knew would come. I was never anything like as bad as other friends are and have been. I came across this blog post on how a true depressive can feel:  http://hyperboleandahalf.blogspot.co.uk/, but it would be unhelpful to those who suffer to claim that I understand.

I value my friends highly; old, new, face to face and on line. I am grateful for their presence in my life; I hope that they will continue to be there. I also think that many of us live our lives hiding much of what we think or do from the world, even those we may feel close to. We wish to be well thought of and court good opinion. We choose to act the part we want to be, maintaining the illusion by never speaking of what goes on backstage.

Although I recognise that I am responsible for my own happiness, I would not be happy without others around. Man is a sociable creature and will thrive in a welcoming crowd. Whilst I have no wish to return to the large gatherings of cheerful, partying people that I once enjoyed; I still gain so much from meeting up with those I care about to chat and share. I may temper what I say and select topics carefully, but I still gain emotional nourishment from these encounters.

Are there people out there who can be totally open with a group of friends? Perhaps my problem is more one of feeling the need to be myself. Perhaps others get by just fine being the person that they allow the world to see.

It is unhelpful to suggest that we have failed at friendship if we have failed to find a group who live as closely together as those portrayed in fictional shows. Any friendship depends on the character of the individuals involved. In the ebb and flow of life, all are affected by their differing experiences and will react and change over time in ways unknown. True friends will weather the storms and accept the changes. How can they be there every step of the way though, when they have their own lives to live?

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On attraction and friendship

When I was in my late teens and early twenties I could relax more in the company of boys than girls. Throughout my years at school I struggled to fit in, never feeling that I truly belonged in any of the cliques. I had my small group of girl friends from school and church but conversation with them never seemed to flow as naturally as it did with the boy friends. The boys seemed to talk about and do so much more fun stuff than the girls. I couldn’t relate to it all but I enjoyed sitting in on the banter.

Of course, there was always the problem of the sexual undercurrents. I hung out with quite a mixed group and dated a number of them. The difficulties of break ups and of suspecting that one or other of the boys wanted to ask me out could make knowing how freely I could call them up or suggest we do something a bit of a minefield. I wanted to be liked for being me, not as some sort of potential sex toy.

When I started going to nightclubs this became an irritation. In those days I liked to dance and I couldn’t afford to drink too much. I was happy to go with groups of people I knew but had no interest in being chatted up by a stranger. One of my girlfriends felt the same (she was in a long term relationship from a young age) so we would make a pact to be there for each other; to put off the drunken, amorous pursuits of the beer stoked guys looking for a pick up.

Preparing for a night out, this friend and I would decide what to wear. We had neither the money nor the ability to appear fashionable so often opted for outrageous. On several occasions we put on our stitched together ‘ball gowns’ for a disco. We wanted to dance and would do so together, always turning away any boys who tried to step in. We would never accept a drink from a stranger. As the night wore on and approaches became more frequent and pushy we would play the situation up, slow dancing together or acting like eejits, waving our arms in the air and prancing wildly. When we had had enough we would go home, always together and with nobody else. Those nights out were fun.

Some of the boys we encountered at the discos would act as if we were being teases. Turning up at a nightclub as two single girls and then refusing to accept the attention of any boys was seen by them as not playing by the rules. The places did resemble cattle markets with the girls parading themselves on the dance floor while the boys stood around the edge drinking their beer and eyeing up the totty before deciding who they would honour with their attention. I was never going to be interested in the sort of stud who felt this was reasonable behaviour.

Just as I hated the thought of being picked up by some stranger just because of the way I looked, so I was never attracted to a boy just because he was considered handsome. In many ways this was more likely to put me off as I suspected he would be too concerned about his image for my liking. I had no wish to be arm candy.

I liked the boys who invited a crowd round to their house to listen to music and talk. As we got older the meet ups would often be in pubs, but we would still crowd back to somebody’s house afterwards. Sometimes we would go on walks or to a beach, there were camping trips and drives out to remote places for no discernible reason, but it was the talk that I remembered. I wanted to be able to think the way some of those boys thought; to communicate with that witty rapport full of clever comebacks.

It all started to become more complicated as I got older. As acquaintances started to pair off, to get engaged and then married, I had to be careful how I treated the boys in the groups I hung out with. I could no longer flirt and banter as I had without falling foul of wives and potential wives. I could no longer sit up into the wee small hours discussing everything and nothing without facing accusations of impropriety.

These days I only have a few close male friends. I have learnt to be wary of relationships with men, especially when they are married to my women friends. I have seen too many serious fallouts over perceived mental infidelities and want nothing to do with any of that. I find this state of affairs so sad; I still find the conversations men have so much more interesting than the small talk in which women indulge but which I find so troublesome.

I no longer consider myself to be in any danger of being perceived as a sex toy, but am much more wary than I once was of being seen to be suggesting any improper behaviour. The men I know largely regard me as someone else’s wife and treat me warily. We are all being so careful not to cause offence that we do not get to know each other as individuals.

Perhaps this is why I enjoy getting together with old friends so much. With them I can revert to my natural behaviour rather than the uptight carefulness required to avoid social faux pas. Old friends have known me as I was and have seen me move on to what I have become. They have chosen to stay in touch and to still get together from time to time. With them I can just relax and talk.

I never did learn how to communicate with witty rapport full of clever comebacks, but I still enjoy sitting in on such banter. I enjoy talking music and politics and life with friends who can disagree with me whilst respecting my right to hold the views I do. I love being a wife and a mother but I also like to be regarded as an individual with my own thoughts and interests. Just as when I was younger, these seem to conflate more with the thoughts and interests of the men I know. What a shame that so many of us can’t just be friends.

Conversation by Patrick Bohnen