A friend of mine from uni was in town over the weekend and we got to spend some time together. He is the kindest person you would ever meet and one of my first true friends. Since then I’ve been thinking about how grateful I was to have found him and his group.
One result of my mental illness was that it contributed greatly to my inability to find friends in my childhood through my teens. I simply did not fit in with my mainstream peers that all lived in a bubble (v. safe suburb). I was different, I was off, and I had no clue what to do to improve my situation.
This started to change when I went to school in Australia for a year and a quarter. Not because I made a bunch of friends in the school itself, I didn’t, but my volunteer work stretched my bounds a bit and made me realize that I bonded much better with those who weren’t the gold standard. I volunteered at a homeless cafe where we would sell food like sandwiches for 25 cents. Every weekend I made my way from the station to the cafe where I would talk with the patrons. We would have wonderful conversations and I was taken under their wing.
I truly felt like I belonged for one of the first times in my life. I didn’t care where they slept and they didn’t care what I had.
I didn’t find this again until Uni. I went to school in a college town, where a large portion of the population were the students. At first, I made friends with random people on my floor and kept those friendships until we moved out. Friends of local convenience. Months passed, boyfriends changed, and I was introduced to a new set of friends. The misfits. A collection of townies and students, all interested in a variety of things, all with the idea that friendship doesn’t mean you have to be the same. The ones that didn’t care if I was dancing in mania or stuck on their sofa, they accepted me, full stop.
I experienced a lot during those years. I learned about anti-racist skinheads, attended parties at tiny apartments, and attended those at fraternities (tiny apartments won). I LARPed, helped teach swing dancing, and found so many people with different ideals, thoughts, hopes, and pain.
However, all this good came with a look at how hard it can be. Five people living in a small 1 bedroom, others camping out on porches, all of them finding ways to have a good time with each other. I had never even been to a laundromat before, but there were 500 socks (I wish I remembered why) and we were having a full social occasion, including hair cutting, as they washed & dried.
These are things I would never have experienced, or even known was truly real. These are people I would have never met if I had kept to what I grew up in. This is one reason why I know there’s good in the bad with mental illness. I feel it can expand your horizons and make you less judgmental: you’ve been there, you’ve felt it, you know that everyone has their own hard and it isn’t tattooed on their forehead.
I changed a lot in my years with my experiences. I have people I know from childhood that did not diverge from their expected life path or lifestyle and they’re basically the same as they were, a part of me feels sorry for their lost experience.
My mental health issues and medication side effects are making it quite difficult to find friends in my late 30s. Ones I can relax with. Ones I can tell my status & history to without losing them or having them treat me very differently. Fingers crossed.
Story Time! Kings Cross was not the best part of Sydney. One day a man on the street followed me saying he would pay me in coke if I wanted to, hmm.. service him. After that one of my cafe friends, a 6’5″ biker with a skull tattoo on his skull, learned my schedule and walked me from the train to the cafe every day. I loved it.