'Val-er-ie call me'

Sunday, 10 August 2014

One of my funniest friends is Val Entine. We share a warped and what some may consider a sick sense of humour, amongst lots of other things. Those who know us consider us to be equally and individually bonkers in our own rite but we accept each other's quirks and get each other in a way some people never will.

She's one of those people you meet and feel you've known all your life. Within weeks of friendship we knew each other's life stories and found we had so much in common that our relationship developed into a naturally empathic one. Over the years we've shared many things, mainly the trials and tribulations of married life, children and advancing middle age, with candor and humour that some find shocking.

Above all she makes me snort with laughter even when things seem grim. We both lost our fathers suddenly and much sooner than we should have. Our reactions to and the way we came to terms with this are diverse, but as with most life experience they are formative.

Many years down the line we have learnt to cope with our Dad's being gone but on the days it feels as raw as the day it happened we know we can talk openly to each other about how we feel. On those days she understands my pain just as I understand hers. To a degree our sharing has helped us rationalise and indeed succeeded in convincing ourselves and each other we are 'normal' regardless of what others may think.

Having suffered with mild to moderate depression you learn that unless other's have experienced it, been there, they find it virtually impossible to understand. In fairness, it's a complex condition that does not manifest uniformly which inhibits it's diagnosis and treatment. There is a common perception from the masses that you 'should pull yourself together' and a palpable frustration in your inability to do so, which just makes you feel even worse about yourself and encourages social withdrawal. There were occasions I wanted to scream 'HELP ME', 'please make all of this go away', although I would have been unable to articulate what anybody could have done to facilitate this. ' Depression begets loneliness and loneliness begets depression' and it's a very difficult cycle to break. I reached a point where I felt I could no longer cope or hide and with the support of family found the courage to seek help from my GP. It was the best thing I ever did. Having to open up to a stranger about how mad and thought disordered you actually are is enlightening and I felt a huge sense of unburdenment.

The strongest component of my depression was apathy. I remember the doctor asking me if I had thought about killing or harming myself. I replied 'I actually couldn't be arsed to kill myself but I do go to bed at night and hope I don't wake up in the morning.' Reading the previous statement I now wince and feel shocked by my response, but at the time I thought it was perfectly reasonable to feel that way. I was reluctant to take anti-depressants for fear of ending up on an a hospital trolly, Prozac in one hand, a bottle of vodka in the other and my mascara down to my knees. However, I can honestly say that a prescription selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor gave me my life back. Don't get me wrong I've still had my ups and downs but I go to bed now after a rubbish day and think, tomorrow will be better.

Following her Dad's death, Val experienced debilitating anxiety which manifested very physically. I know she too experienced the 'get a grip' mentality which is far from helpful. I'm amused by her idea that 'living with a doctor must be ace'. I fear she would actually be in a straight jacket within a week if she lived with my husband. When I'm unwell he either ignores me till I'm half dead-Fred or attempts to convince me I have something rare and fatal in the hope it will stop me mithering him.

Val is not a hypochondriac but she is neurotic about her health and would be the first to admit it. I think this is the one thing she would change about herself if she could, and whatever people think, she battles hard with that particular demon. We both exhibit a healthy disrespect for our husbands which I would reason is why we're not yet divorced. Some folk are uncomfortable  with our comedic exploitation of their failings but I can genuinely assure you that anything we say about them in conversation or post on social media is much tamer than we subject them to their faces. In our defense, they are more than capable of giving as good as they get.

 After our husbands, our children and other family members are our greatest source of joy, stress, and laughter - not often in equal parts.The school playground is a surreal experience, it's like a real life version of Stepford Wives. There's an abundance of yummy mummies and earth mothers who prescribe to the white picket fence philosophy, with the exception of a few 'normal' people. Val and I have had loads of mileage during our daily telephone conversations out of this one, celebrating our inability to conform and discussing various strategies of how not to appear too inappropriate.

I would trust Val with my life and know that she will always be there for me. Best of all she accepts me for me, the good, the bad, and the ugly and values my friendship as much as I value hers. When I'm sad, she cheers me up. Angry - she calms me down. Happy - she's happy for me too. Even if she achieves most of this by 'taking the piss' out of me.