My final conversation for Mental Health Awareness Week is with my good friend Laura.


I have known Laura for about ten years… we think.

We met one Sunday in church when her Aunty Ju introduced us. For the first few years we knew each other I led the small midweek church group that Laura was part of.

This delayed the true friendship that flourished when I quit thinking I should know more than her.

We can do small talk, or kid-related chat, but really we are at our best over a bottle or two of wine sat in her yarden putting the world to rights (often with our friend Kirsten). I am not aware of any topic that is off-limits when we talk.

Laura is very thoughtful and has been known to give unusual and personal gifts, including a gingerbread Lady Gaga and a drawing of a bumblebee that is framed and adorns the wall of my study. She is also incredibly practically creative. We have collaborated on a few decorative projects including a gold and white (very tasteful) baby shower and tongue-in-cheek table decorations for a Kirsten’s 40th, made up of customised Barbies and balloons (a work of actual genius). I like to think that at the end of our life we will look back on our combined projects and they will have got wilder and more off-the-wall as the years go by. (There is definitely a few really good fancy dress parties to be had…)

Laura is cooler, sharper and funnier than I am. She also makes really good cocktails.


The title of my blog The Hippo Chronicles came from a story she told me. You can read it here.

I am keeping the intro to this dialogue brief as the I think our chat speaks for itself.

(Laura is the blond, pictured here with me and Jan.)

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(jumping right into the conversation… it was long, I had to edit it!)


Laura:

I can remember when we bought our house in Wendover Avenue. I was painting it before we moved in. You’d just had Ed. You came over to see the house and there was nothing in it, only one chair that the previous owner had left. And I just remember this as a really strong visual thing. You came and you sat in the middle of my living room and just looked really sad.

And having not had kids I was like, well, that’s what three kids looks like, prepare yourself for that kind of thing! But actually looking back, and now with hindsight, it was more than just tired. It was like someone had turned the colour down. I remember holding Ed, he must have been tiny.

Me:

He was only weeks old.

Laura:

I remember, because we had no curtains, I saw the car pull up, and I watched you get the car seat out and I was excited, ‘oh, there’s a tiny baby coming’ because I had not met him yet. And it was just like, I don’t know, there was a strangeness to it that I remember quite clearly. It stuck with me that you just looked… I was expecting exhaustion tinged with joy…

Me:

But it was more… vacant?

Laura:

Yes, it was totally vacant. I think of an instagram filter. I was in a different colour on the other side of the room with a roller in one hand, and your baby in the other, and you sat on this one singular kitchen chair in the middle of the room. And it felt uncomfortable because we talked about nonsense.

I think this was the first conversation where I thought, I felt like we should be saying more. I don’t have the language. I don’t know if it’s my place…

Me:

I didn’t have the language either at the time.

Laura:

But I didn’t know… is that my place? Do I ask this?

And I’m pretty forward-

Me:

You are pretty forward.

Laura:

It is that constant balance between knowing it is okay to ask a question, and knowing that it would be okay for you to go ‘I don’t want to talk about that, or, I’m not ready to talk about that, or, I’ve not worked that out in my head to be able to verbalise that.’ 

I think because you are a very articulate person as well it just feels like, Elli would say if…’ And you have always been articulate and so I think for a lot of people, this period when you suddenly went, ‘I’m going to articulate something now, that I haven’t been saying’ was a bit of a shock for people because they were used to you saying what you felt and what you thought on subjects.

Me:

…But there was this stuff that I wasn’t talking about.

Laura:

So that must have been a shock for a lot of people.

Me:

We hadn’t known each other that long then, a couple of years maybe. When did we actually meet?

Laura:

I think it must be ten years ago, because I was just married..

Me:

We had only known each other for a couple of years at this point and my perception of it, is that we only really became close after that time.

Laura:

I think we became closer after you stopped feeling like you had a responsibility to me, over a friendship.

Me:

There was this weird imbalance thing wasn’t there?

Laura:

There was a sense of responsibility.

I can remember the difference in our friendship when you stopped leading small group.

Me:

And I think it was to do with stopping leading that group. But I also think it was to do with being willing to acknowledge that I didn’t have to have it all together and actually being okay with being a mess… You shut people out when you are trying to pretend you have got it all together.

Whereas as soon as you recognise that, you don’t really know shit… it is easier to be friends with someone.

When did the bat-signal thing start?

Laura:

I don’t know.

Me:

I can’t remember the first time we talked about it.

Laura:

I think, the summer before you bought your house…

You went from talking about what you were going through in the past tense, ‘…I had a really difficult time last month and I just want to tell you about it now’,

to ‘…I’m actually going through a difficult time right now.

The text messages became shorter and shorter, because you needed to tell me less… I knew about the stressful situations, the personal situations, illnesses etc. so you didn’t have to give me the breakdown. It just became ‘…this is a tough week’, or ‘…I’m worried about Wednesday because…’ The text messages just became shorter and shorter until it was just

‘…boom’.

Me:

I just text Bat-signal when I wasn’t doing well…. in the moment.

Laura:

It felt like a progression, a bit like an alcoholics 12 steps programme. It started with ‘…I’m going to acknowledge this thing happened six weeks ago’.

And I was really privileged to be part of that process.

And then I would feel a bit bad and I’d look back to try and see what was going on six weeks ago. Could I have been more available so at the time you could have said ‘it’s terrible right now?’

Me:

I don’t think it was anything to do with your availability.

It was to do with my ability to articulate it and be honest with it at the time.

I listened to this interview with Glennon Doyle Melton from Momastery.com. She’s an alcoholic, but long-time sober now. She talks about going to her first AA meeting. She said it was amazing because here was this space where people could own all their pain, where people could talk about it and accept each others weaknesses. She said, the terrible thing was she had to leave that room and go back into the world.

I think the process of the last seven years has been me moving from occasionally going ‘to a meeting’, i.e. having a conversation with you or Matt or someone else and talking about what has, or could, or might happen…

Until gradually I feel like my whole life has become a meeting. And this is good.

Obviously I don’t talk about this 24/7, but more and more I am willing to be honest, in the moment. Not with the world and his wife, because that is just not appropriate. But I have people who are happy to exist in that space with me. Like you, like Matt, like Sri, like Jan, and numerous others… like my sisters. There are people I know I can text and say ‘bad day. Bat-signal’. It is good to know you know where I am at.

Laura:

Do you think there is a tipping point in someone’s relationship with you where it is almost like it would go backwards. Maybe like a tiny, small part of a wall would go back up if you didn’t acknowledge in the moment what was going on?

Me:

I think the wall goes back up when I feel I share something with somebody and I feel they can’t accept it… or if they just brush past it and want to move on, or if they can’t be in that moment with me, that’s hard. I suppose it is about sharing vulnerability with me. They don’t have to say or do anything meaningful, but if they can’t just be there, then I suppose I probably think ‘oh right, I need to protect myself a little bit from you, because I can’t be fully myself with you’.

Laura:

If you were having a bad day, and you felt you couldn’t tell me, or you couldn’t tell Matt, then that must feel harder than with somebody you aren’t close to.

Me:

It does feel harder.

I am a massive over-sharer, and live with all the emotions on the outside. So to feel, that I have to guard a relationship that is very close to me, is difficult.

I think with you, Sri, Jan and others, the only time I haven’t shared ‘in the moment’ is if I know you have got shit going on.

Just because I have been through some stuff, it doesnt mean our friendship is all about me. It is about both of us. I know I write about myself all the time but i am not entirely self-obsessed!

Laura:

But that is really tricky isn’t it? Because if we reverse the situation and I haven’t come to you with my pain, because you have had stuff going on… It is quite difficult isn’t it… Because actually the strength of the relationship is the sharing.

And it is actually more complicated than that. It is that I don’t want to stress you into thinking you have got to do something. Which is silly because you don’t expect that of me.

Me:

Do you feel like that with me?

Laura:

Sometimes. Not loads. But that is about a learning curve for me, about trusting other people and actually applying the same standards I apply to myself, to other people. So when you say you have got stuff going on, I know that doesnt mean ‘immediately make me a lasagne and come round and fix something…’

Me:

But you worry that if you tell me that you have stuff going on, that I might spring into action?

Laura:

Yes, at a time when really you need to be looking after yourself.

Me:

Well, don’t worry. I am much more selfish these days!

Laura:

But that is the hard thing, it is remembering that my vulnerability to you is still an investment in our relationship. We are not building in gold just because I am available to help you, I actually have to be vulnerable too.

Me:

If I felt like my relationship with you, or Matt, or Sri ,or Jan or whoever, was always about me, that is really very unhelpful, because then I feel like I am such a drain.

It can make me think it must be so hard for people to be friends with me.

And I don’t think that is what it is like, I think I am quite a good friend!

Laura:

I think it is about switching the idea of what is a ‘good’ friend on the head. A good friend is not the person who brings the lasagne or has the ear or anything, but the good friend is the person who can be vulnerable.

Me:

Yes!

Laura:

So the goodness comes from me bringing you my problems…!

Me:

That is the massive learning curve of the last seven years: actually, weakness is strength, pain is joy. The whole thing is flipped on its head.

Laura:

Yes, being able to bring someone your pain is such a huge privilege.

Me:

Completely.

Laura:

And more precious than any gin I may have brought you. It is so much more valuable that. Remembering that giving to you as a person isn’t going to be about a bunch of flowers every now and then, it is actually giving you the respect of giving back what you have given to me, which is honesty and vulnerability.

(The End).