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Re-claiming wellbeing: The joys of friendship

Could nurturing our friendships help us reclaim our wellbeing?

When I was a child I lived oversees and only saw my wider family (grandparents, cousins etc.) once, maybe twice, a year.  I had a first cousin who was a year older than me but we did not get on as children.  I will now admit to pretending that she bit me to get her in trouble with our grandfather (I even went as far as biting my own arm as ‘proof’!)  However, around the age of 12 we became firm friends and my summer holidays were spent with her and her friends walking around the streets of Lerwick, Shetland Islands and chatting in bedrooms (with the odd trip to the roller disco or swimming pool).   Aged 17 I moved back to Scotland (leaving my parents and brother in Taiwan) and my friendship with my cousin and two of the other girls was one of the foundations on which I built the next phase in my life.  During late teenage years our friendships were cemented with countless shared experiences – university, nights out, 5 hour coffee shop visits and a brilliant fortnight holiday in Crete we found on teletext for £179 each!  

Although I have made other friends over the years none have withstood the test of time in the same way and I think this is due to a number of reasons.  Firstly, although we are the best of friends we do not live in each other’s pockets and never have done, even when this was geographically possible.  Now one of us now lives in Australia, one in England, and two in the Shetland Isles.  Other more intense, and at times quite suffocating, friendships have not endured.  Secondly, although we have different  interests, personalities, careers and lifestyles I have never compared or competed against my friends.  Rather than being jealous of their achievements and qualities I find them inspirational and uplifting.  I think the third reason for our enduring friendship is that we all make the effort to stay connected, even if the gaps in between are sometimes too long.  Our friendship was developed in ‘real time’ with phone calls (or even letters!) in between meet ups.  Although we now use Whats App video calls to stay in touch none of us are fans of social media.  As a result, there are no blanket messages and photos to replace more personalised communication for which I am thankful.

These girls have provided the backdrop to the highest and lowest points of my life and are as ready to commiserate as to celebrate with me.  It doesn’t matter if we are crying or laughing, going out or staying in, single or married, kids or no kids because decades of shared history instantly connect and level us.  We sat in bedrooms speaking about our hopes and dreams then stood by each other as these were enacted, helping to pick up the pieces when things did not turn out as planned.  Don’t get me wrong there have been times I have spoken and acted in ways towards my friends that I regretted, projecting my own issues and insecurities onto them, but I have been understood and forgiven.  

My friends are ‘an anchor’ and provide stability and reassurance when the world feels adrift.  They know me as Nina – a child with an American accent, a teenager working in a fish factory, someone struggling with OCD, a wife, a mother, a lecturer– and for that I am truly grateful.  One of the greatest joys of friendship is that there is no need to perpetually impress, prove yourself or offer more - which feels like a sanctuary in a demanding world.

Friendship is a wonderful gift that deserves to be nurtured and treasured - it can be your constant when all else changes. Thank you to my life-long friends – Heidi, Alison and Kirsty.

This blog is part of the WGU Health and Wellbeing Team’s drive to re-claim wellbeing. Could nurturing our friendships help us to do this? Stay up to date with the drive by following us on Facebook @glyndwrhealth and Twitter @glyndwrhealth. 

About the author

Nina Patterson

Nina Patterson

Nina Patterson is a lecturer in Public Health, Mental Health and Wellbeing here at WGU; as well as spending time with friends she is an avid reader and enjoys time outdoors in the sunshine. 

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