By Lizzie Evans
I’ve just read an article about how relationships are beneficial to mental health. This resonated with me so deeply, you see I’ve got a friend called Barbara.
Barbara has a brown dog, a big, daft brown labrador called Crumble. When I wrote a piece about living with a black dog, Barbara read it and said “You want to get yourself a brown dog! Not a black one!”. She wasn’t being glib, Barbara has been there for me since this last severe bout of depression took root.
My friend Barbara is one of the best people to spend time with because she’s a doer and we do things together. Equally if all I can manage is a cup of tea on the sofa, she’ll pop in and make it, chatter away about the world outside of my door then pop away again. The next day there might be a sticky toffee pudding on my doorstep.
She’s a gardener by trade, the most grounded type of person you can get in my experience and the phrase “calls a spade a spade” is totally apt. If I’m ruminating on something that’s really nothing, Barbara will be the one to tell me. “What are you worrying about that for?” I hear her and it makes me smile, she’s right, I will mindfully float that thought away, it does not serve!
At times, to just sit and chat is sometimes too intense and the concentration it takes can be exhausting. Occasionally I can do it, if I’m on top form and happy to be socialising, feeling the buzz of shared ideas and interests. This is when friends who can do things with me are the best kind. For me, sitting glumly and uncomfortably in a busy cafe can be torturous, I’ll worry about who I might bump into, feel uncomfortable in the middle of the room, not want to eat or drink or worry the conversation will run dry, worry I’ll say too much, the wrong thing… With Barbara I can garden, obviously this is her area of expertise so I learn something as we go along and soak up the medicine of fresh air, texture, colour and garden scents. A couple of years ago she helped me to select bulbs to plant in my front garden. Now, in the early spring, as we leave our front door our eyes behold a blaze of beautiful colours that change almost daily from February through to May. It makes leaving the house that bit easier.
She came with me on my first ever proper cycle out into the country; I hopped onto my bike and set off down the road, Barbara had a map, a mend it kit, snacks, tissues, a rucksack even..….thank goodness I had Barbara when I had my first mechanical 5 minutes from home.
We went to an Eighties quiz night and disco . It was in a Catholic Church Hall and blissfully not very Harrogate at all. It was meant to be wine and cheese tasting too, there was no cheese but lots of retro sweets and we got to dance and sing with inflatable guitars and microphones, it was brilliant.
Barbara’s friend has just opened the most fabulous wool shop and we can go there together, sit and knit or crochet, marvel at the beautiful colours and textures and dream of the things we will create. We are also in the same book club, I love my reading and always try to squeeze an extra one in between the book club choice. We chat about the book, usually sharing some opinions and often having picked up on different nuances. We can go to the meetings together and if it’s a dinner out Barbara and our friend Ruth will always come and collect me and be my buffers if I’m feeling the slightest anxiety about a night out.
We all need friends. They are the best counsel. What to expect when you’re just pottering your way through life is best explained by your friends. My friends have been the most amazing lifeline to me through the latest depression. They just got it. They have been patient with my silences, kept me on their radar and taken advantage of my good phases. The most important part of their support for me has been the doing, we are always doing things together. However, if the NHS are looking for a good way to support people with depression then everyone needs a Barbara and a brown dog called Crumble.