The Beatles knew it was important. They sang a song all about it. And at least fifty other people (including Joe Cocker and Wet, Wet, Wet) covered that song too. The Beatles asked for Help and they would often Come Together, but mostly, they Get by with a Little Help from (their) Friends.
For a long time I would have described myself as misanthropic and unsociable, and I’d be strangely proud of that. I didn’t struggle to make friends, but I did seem to have difficulty keeping them. People often confused me. Relationships had rules which I never seemed able to learn. It was easier, safer even, to keep people at arms length and not really get involved. And I thought I was completely happy with that. As it turns out, I was wrong. The real issue was I was an undiagnosed autistic person, and I needed better support and perhaps a more understanding social circle. I also needed to learn a lot more about myself to become fully comfortable in my own skin.
When I moved to New Zealand in 2017 I didn’t know anyone in the country, not properly. I had to put the effort in to meet new people and make new friends. And, to my surprise, it wasn’t that hard. I threw myself into the home education community and same with the writing community, and between the two of them I found myself a lot of good friends. Yeah, I found some not so great too, but that’s just how it goes sometimes. But as always, while it wasn’t difficult to make those connections, it felt like I had to work really hard to keep them. The demons of self-doubt, anxiety and insecurity were always happy to whisper in my ear. And against my better judgement, I would listen to them.
It took me a while to recognise that a lot of the things I did were reactionary. I was very adamant about not needing permission to do anything or if I was told in any way that I couldn’t do something, I’d do exactly that to prove people wrong. When I began writing my first collection, ‘Dark Winds Over Wellington,’ it was for me, and me only, and screw you if you hate it because I didn’t write it for you! Ahem… I realise now that I was still holding on to a lot of anger and grief, and dealing with emotional and physical displacement. I was cookie dough. Not fully cooked. But if you’d asked me then how I saw myself I’m sure I would have replied that I was a strong and confident woman. Secure in herself. Proud of her achievements. I’d moved 12,000 miles to start a new life, damn it. I was unstoppable! And I was a master at papering over the cracks. I don’t regret a single word I wrote in that collection, nor would I pull one story from the book, but I don’t always recognise myself in those pages. I’m just a little more solid now.
When I began providing Well-Written workshops, I thought I was a “wild woman.” And I was, and still am, but once again, I can see in retrospect that I wasn’t as wild as I thought I was. I hadn’t realised just how much energy I was going to need to find to stop myself from crumbling, and the energy I’d need to give to people to keep them whole too. It was an invaluable, amazing experience, but it was also a trial by fire. Sometimes I would worry that I was taking people down a path I wasn’t fully capable of leading them along, if I was opening wounds that shouldn’t be touched. I don’t honestly know the answer to that, but I do know that we all went together. Our journey wasn’t ever about the destination, but the companionship and support we gave one another.
I can’t keep rehashing old hurts, and I won’t, but grief taught me a lot about who I am and how much I can withstand. Perhaps you’re familiar with the metaphor that grief is like a ball bouncing around in a box — every time it hits the sides it hurts. At first the ball is big and fills the space, you can’t move at all without the ball making contact. After a while the ball shrinks. It hits the sides far less often, but when it does, it still hurts like hell. And although it shrinks smaller and smaller over time, it never truly disappears, and sometimes, when it’s not bounced off the box for quite a long time, it actually hurts a lot more than expected when it does. You’re not ready for it. You’re not prepared. And maybe the ball will swell a little for a while before reducing once more. And the cycle repeats.
I’m guilty, if guilty is indeed the right word, of shaking that damn box sometimes. To make it hurt. It makes no sense, except perhaps knowing that some grief can be weirdly predictable and because of that sometimes I find it comforting. I can still feel this, I might say. I still remember how this felt. How this feels.
I wrote ‘Choices’ when that ball was still too large for me to properly manage it, but I wanted to try to explain my feelings in some way. To make some sense of them. I’m still uncertain if I succeeded.
“Grief will keep you in all kinds of prisons, if you let it. And yet it is, at its most simple, love. Two seemingly opposite emotions, yet both arrive in your life unexpectedly, and flip your world completely upside down. You grieve now because you loved him.”
‘Black Dogs, Black Tales.’ was created to honour a friend, and in doing so I was given the opportunity to work with a group of people who taught me many things. That as corny as it sounds, a rising tide really does lift all boats. That I do better with people around me. Working with others means I learn from others. That I can find real joy in being an active part of a community that is packed to the brim with good, genuine, passionate people who support their peers not for any personal gain but because, as Manny the Mammoth says in Ice Age, “that’s what you do in a herd.” Funny-looking herd for sure, but a bloody good one. I’m pretty proud to be a part of it.
Am I still misanthropic and unsociable? Yes, sometimes I probably am. I know I often see things in very clear divisions, and I get easily enraged at injustice or wrongness, or if people fail to speak up about those things. I can’t always ‘mask’ successfully in social situations, so I don’t bother trying now. It was always counterproductive anyway and contributed to much of my anxieties. I guard my ‘spoons’ and my ‘give-a-fuck’ budget. I say “no” just as often as I say “yes.” I don’t get so fatigued by being around people any more, because the people I choose to spend time with understand me. I can’t tell you how wonderful that feels. My skin fits properly now. I don’t have to drape it around my shoulders like someone else’s (my parents, ex-boyfriends, past friends, old work mates…) castoff. There are, admittedly, some parts that still need tightening up occasionally, dropped stitches in the great tapestry of who I am, but we are all of us works in progress.
Some days I look around at where I am and what I’ve achieved and it seems like I lost one friend but gained a family. And yes, I know, there’s an awful lot to unpack in that statement…
Either way, I guess the Beatles were right after all.