© 2013 jen

Friendship, Resiliency & Self-Protection

A friend of mine from childhood came to visit me recently. We hadn’t seen each other in years. Whenever we talk on the phone we have so much to catch up on that we can talk for up to four hours at a pop. She is that type of friend.

Her name is Kaira and she’s a talker (like me). Every night while she was here we struggled to go to bed before midnight. There was just so much to catch up on.

One night I asked her if she remembered my home life at all. If she remembered my mom (who was mentally ill and was having some of her first nervous breakdowns then).

I was curious about this because with the exception of immediate family, hardly anyone ever noticed how crazy my mom was in those days. It’s something I still find strange – there were no visits from protective services; none of her friends ever said, “Hey, are you okay?”

I think I was looking for validation of my memories, but I got so much more than that.

Kaira said, “Yes. I remember it well.” And then she launched into her memories and observations, and it totally blew my mind.

She said, “I remember knowing you from school and from the punk scene and always admiring just how bold and fearless you were. You were also so fun and always up for a laugh. I remember spending the night at your house and meeting your mom. She was so stressed and there was such a darkness in your home and in your mother, but  it didn’t seem to affect you,  you were full of light anyway. I remember realizing that you were overcoming something all the time, just by being you. I was so impressed with your resiliency. You had so many more reasons to be afraid and insecure than the average teenager, but you weren’t like that. Your strength and resiliency was always evident.”



We recreated a photo from when we were teens. The bottom one is us 26 years later. We took the photo at 8am before Kaira left town.

Kaira and I knew each other when we were teens back in Bloomington, Indiana, a place I lived because my mother was working on her Ph.D. As my mom became sicker, she couldn’t keep up in school. I was worrying her with my wild punk rock ways. When I was 15, my mom moved our family back to Oregon, because I was getting into too much trouble and because she needed out of the rat race (my grandparents lived in Oregon).

I talked to Kaira about my move. She said, “When you moved away, I was so worried about who would protect you. I begged my mother to adopt you. I wanted you to be in a healthier home. I didn’t want anyone or anything to extinguish your light.”

I sat there for a while with my mouth gaping open, because Kaira couldn’t have known this, but I’ve been thinking about my own self-protection a lot recently.

One thing that is rarely talked about when you lose weight is that there can be a feeling of loss. A feeling of being more exposed to the world in a new way. A feeling of not being protected by the former layers of flesh.

I think that my lack of health, pre-celiac diagnosis, allowed me to be very unconscious with myself and others. The more healthy and conscious I become, the more I’m aware of my own mortality, my weaknesses. I’m aware of how affected I am by other people’s energy, how much I need time to myself and how much my creativity is a major source of my strength.

So when Kaira said to me that she was worried about who would protect me, there is no way she could have known that I am only now really learning how to fully protect myself at 42.

I’m someone who used to be so generous with everyone I met. I’d pretty much go to the ends of the earth for just about anyone if they needed me. I’d volunteer for projects, giving my time, my contacts and resources. One thing I’ve realized is that I really cannot do this anymore. I can only go out of my way in small chunks here and there, because I need to stay focused on myself, my needs, my health and my future.

The bottom line is: I’ve realized just how giving I am and that I feel better when I surround myself with like-minded people. I don’t need to give everything away for free anymore and I always keep a little extra for myself now. I can save my energy for those who are willing to give and receive on the same level as me, which is pretty deep. Maybe deeper than many people are comfortable with, so I must hold out for those who are capable of this.

When I retrace pretty much every negative incident that I’ve ever had with anyone in my life, it really boils down to me feeling like I’m giving too much and in some cases the other person either not seeing how much I’m giving or expecting me to give it for free. In the past I could become resentful of the endless giving, and then there would be problems.

That’s the thing I’ve been thinking about, how some people in your life can really see you for who you are and others are only capable of seeing you within the framework of their own needs or pains. The people who see you for who you truly are are your real and true friends. The others can be friends too, but they are not the people you go visit after 26 years to pick up conversations like you were never apart.

It’s been so good to catch up with Kaira, to bask in the beauty of being seen and truly understood by someone who I’ve known for so long. It’s also so good getting to know myself better and how I function most optimally in the world. I think it makes me a better friend and person to be around. I don’t have to worry about exhausting myself anymore, giving too much and feeling let down in the end. I’ve worked through this.

I love being 42 and still learning so much about myself and the world.

Connecting with people who really get you is one of the most rewarding things you can have in this life. I was reminded of this with my time with Kaira. Hooray for old friends!

Have you reconnected with old friends? What has your experience been? Good, I hope.





  1. Posted September 22, 2013 at 12:30 am | #

    Wow, once again, I am relating so strongly to this. So much of what you say I ‘am’. Particularly this: “I’m aware of how affected I am by other people’s energy…” And the ‘giving’. It took me until into my 40s to figure out who I was without the strong focus on ‘others’. I’m still figuring it out but have come to the same conclusion (with a little – no, a lot of – help) that I am best with a small community of like-minded people around me. Finding them is the challenge but also the joy. I had to give up wanting to be everything and to fit in everywhere. That just isn’t gonna happen. But focussing on the small community of people that ‘get you’ is more rewarding and perhaps less watered down than fitting into all agendas. I’m just not born to fit into main stream. It took a long time to figure that out. I say, when you find a like-minded friend, hold onto them and cherish them, nurture that friendship.

    • Posted September 23, 2013 at 7:39 pm | #

      Jo, we’re practically the same person in some ways! Small, good groups of people are where it’s at! Glad you’ve been finding the same to be true.

  2. Posted September 23, 2013 at 3:47 pm | #

    It’s great to see this kind of transformation. While mine is different in the specifics, I wonder if this is what a healthy “mid-life crisis” is really about: finding who you really are after trying to fit expectations and then readjusting life to who you really are.

    • Posted September 23, 2013 at 7:38 pm | #

      Thanks Dedrick! I think you’re right on with the mid life crisis and expectations. I’d like to coin the phrase mid life solution. It’s really not a crisis it’s fixing old shit.