Friends – I Bet You Think This Blog Post is About You!

Writing this blog and joining Twitter was my way of trying to expand my network of friends or at the very least learn how to reach out to others. As a single mother over the past nine, nearly 10 years I have been responsible for my children 24/7, 365 days a year and opportunities to meet new people are few and far between, I don’t get alternate weekends off like some divorced parents do!

At times of stress and emotional turmoil I withdraw from contact with others and the last 10 years or so have been full of stressful, emotional events. Without a doubt this started with my father’s death. It was sudden, shocking and very unexpected. I withdrew from my then husband and this behaviour was undoubtedly a contributory factor in his affair that followed. This is the part that I take full responsibility for.

From then on my withdrawal was like a snowball effect. The other woman was known to us and one day I even spoke to her and commented that her ‘new man’ must be good for her as she was looking glowing and well. Why is the wife the last to know? My self imposed alienation from my circle of so called friends (so many of them had known of the affair and not told me or even hinted) just grew & grew as I tried to escape the gossip and keep my pain private. I value the people in my life highly, but I value trust and loyalty too.

This isn’t a poor me post though.

There are always friends that you haven’t met just waiting to be found. When this gossip and speculation by the Playground Mafia was rife, one person who I had never spoken to before made the effort to talk to me every single school day and if she didn’t collect her four year old daughter, then her older seventeen year old daughter took her place. They were both friendly faces in a sea of people who I no longer trusted. Ten years later I am still in contact with them both and I remain incredibly grateful that they reached out.

My personal circumstances also resonated with someone who I met at the same time through my work. We spent many evenings chatting online about partners, life, sadness and eventually dating. Without his support and encouragement I would never have had the courage to set up my online dating profile, met my partner and experienced the love we shared. He’s also held firm as a friend despite moving thousands of miles away and has remotely ‘been there’ for me over the last couple of years since my partner went to work in a war zone and has not been seen since.

Then there was a fellow ‘dance mum’, who I had previously passed the time of day with, she was also experiencing divorce. We have shared so many similar life events since (apart from the one where she gets married) and have, I am sure, many yet to share!

What about when I became ill and ended up in hospital, there was the friend and her husband who stepped in, visited me, taxied my Mum to hospital to see me all during the extreme winter of 2010/11? Not only that, they offered me work afterwards enabling me to escape the corporate job that was making me more and more unhappy every single day. Their entire family, although we see less of them now, has been rock solid for me and my children.

So my friendship circle got pruned. But like the overgrown shrubs in my garden that I mercilessly and viciously attacked earlier this year there are new shoots sprouting again in places where you wouldn’t think possible.

It’s very true that strangers are friends that you haven’t met yet.

WP_000061 (2)(taken on ‎21 ‎August ‎2012, ‏the last full day that I spent with my partner)

A stranger reached out to me recently and gave me hope that there are still new friends to be made. I can already feel the difference that this one gesture has bought me, some of the unhappiness has lifted and life looks more positive. It gives me more confidence to make bolder moves towards others that seem to be offering friendship where perhaps I haven’t been very open.

These people change your life and sometimes they don’t have a clue how much.

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What’s Your Social Story?

Social Media Cans

If you have any contact with a child with Autism you will be all to familiar with the term Social Story, but that’s not really what this post is about. However, these days, we all have a social story of a very different kind. The story that we set out to show the world via Social Media.

The end of my marriage coincidentally was the beginning of my social media story. It all began when my daughter wanted to have a Facebook account. The only way I felt comfortable enough to let her do that was by having one myself and ensuring that I had access to her password and could monitor and close the account down should I feel that it was ever being used inappropriately.

I quite like Facebook, or possibly did like Facebook. Life as a single parent is pretty isolating at times and more so when you have a child with additional needs and also have very little money for babysitters. It means you don’t get out much! Facebook was useful for keeping a virtual eye on teenage habits (the trick is to watch & not comment) it also enabled me to keep in touch with friends, some who lived many miles away and some who lived in different countries altogether. What I hated was the teenage idea that more Facebook friends meant that you were more popular.

I “cull” my Facebook account quite regularly, it might seem harsh to de-friend people, but if they are just there sitting on the periphery of my life and have no interest in interacting with me what’s the point? It’s the equivalent of the friend that never responds to your invites and doesn’t call you back. There comes a point where you have to let them go.

Linkedin is another social media site where I have had quite a lot of experience. I was asked by a friend to work with her on a project on Linkedin. It involved me working from home (perfect for childcare) and coincided with me needing to change my job from a well paid role with an IT company where I was so desperately torn between my new (sole earner) family responsibilities and my children’s needs for a more present, calmer mother. I’d also has a spate of illness which ended in me needing an emergency operation. Ill health focuses the mind to what really matters! Working from home it was then.

It was perfect timing, I was able to regroup my family, recover and work evenings. I grew a Linkedin Group from 1800 members to nearly 18000 in just under two years. I knew very little about the field that I was working in, but I did know how to talk to people and encourage conversations. Social Media conversations do not start themselves. You have to be present and you have to put the effort in. Just like in real life.

Jumping forward to the point where my son wanted a Facebook account, I considered that I was quite savvy in the world of social media. WRONG! This is the point where I became more wary of social media. Whilst any social interaction for a child with autism is seen as a step forward the pitfalls are so exaggerated. Bullying is more rife than in the real world as people are somehow braver (or more stupid?) sitting behind a keypad, keyboard or touch screen. It reinforces my instinctive belief that you  have to be a part of your child’s online activity. I have deleted content, blocked and reported (to the police at one point) a great deal of vile content from his Facebook. It’s very clear that many parents do not have a clue what their children are up to on social media. Yet it remains a valuable means of communication for any teenager in this world today.

My relationship with Facebook is love/hate. I love seeing updates from friends (real friends), I enjoy feeling that we are still ‘connected’. I hate a great deal of the ridiculous stories that get shared about on this forum and I mostly hate that children are not monitored in their online activities.

So what about Twitter? I find myself with a relatively new Twitter account mostly because said daughter has fallen out with Facebook and defected to Twitter, she has also moved away from home and it’s a nice way to touch base with her daily life and occasional rants. More than that though, I have found that I am in a odd place myself.

My long term relationship seems to have ended, my children are older and I am craving the company of like minded people. I know that I need to ‘get back out there’ but I am not really ready YET. At the moment  I am enjoying ‘meeting’ new people on Twitter. Sharing parts of my life that I have, until now, kept really private and finding out that my story, not just my social media story, resonates with others. I feel safer sharing some of my experiences with people who otherwise don’t know me but I also value the human interaction that has been missing in my life.

I am being myself and being totally up front and honest about who I am, with a view to learning that despite some challenges along the way, I know that I need to steer my story nearer to where I would like it to be.