Perfect Strangers

Living on a narrow boat, it’s easy for us to be alone. Alone, being very different to lonely or feelings of isolation.  There are advantages to being ‘alone’; our dogs can lounge about without agitating the local dogs who are usually in much need of a Confidence Boosting seminar or two, and with anything from liquid drum and bass to radio four being on loud enough to be heard while we potter around outside the boat.

The disadvantages are not as obvious as I thought they would be; my partner and I don’t exactly get bored of each other, which was one I had predicted simply due to the nature of always being together in a small space. There is, however, a certain itching for my world to be expanded by more than just books and YouTube.

At first, being in the middle of nowhere seemed to wholly outweigh the advantages of being around other people, because it reduced my migraine symptoms. I had always got a huge buzz from talking to other people, at the same time as valuing the intense peacefulness of time alone. The buzz from talking to others, I think, was key in landing me a job which focussed on human connection – relationships – as a way of exploring how positive change can happen. This job I had done for the last five years for different organisations and while it was definitely challenging, I loved it possibly as much as I loved those close to me.  

While in my most recent salaried job, I was, as usual, meeting a lot of new people. This gave me that all-familiar buzz. However, by this stage my poor health had led to me work part time and even on fewer hours this buzz created a lot of problems for my now chronic migraine brain. Even more sadly, there is no let up for social and family occasions. If it was possible to die from Migraine symptoms, I’m sure last Christmas would have killed me. I know I’m not alone in this being a difficult time of the year, even for folk without energy limiting conditions! Going up to bed after barely two hours with family, leaving my partner to explain to them what was going on, made me feel like a complete failure. My sister came to say goodbye and I appreciated it retrospectively, but at the time I just wanted the world to swallow me up; I wanted to push her away from the pain and blackness I was experiencing, like if she came closer she might ‘catch’ it.

Having had migraine for a couple of years by this stage, I had come to understand more about the poor mental health it brings on with every peak in symptoms. My problem was that I was having mostly no break from symptoms, meaning I wasn’t getting the rest bite I needed to recover mentally. These feelings made me feel more lonely and isolated than living on a boat ever could. Giving up a job I loved so much was not easy, but it was easier than constantly feeling like a failure. Saying it ‘aloud’ sounds crazy but that’s honestly how it was; giving myself daily heartache for not doing any of the things I loved ‘well’; my job, being a friend, a sister, a daughter…

I was at first quite nervous about socialising with other boaters. I thought this would automatically make my symptoms worse, as they seemed to with most other social situations I was used to. What I’ve found, however, is that it is a lot more manageable; these strangers I could chat to for five minutes if I wanted to and then say I was going in; they haven’t just travelled miles to see me so no problem! This frame of mind I believe also allows me to stay talking to them for longer, perhaps accepting a cup of tea or glass of wine from them and sitting in the sunshine chatting. This way I’ve managed to get my dose of human interaction, without the anxiety or fear of disappointing that I was experiencing before. It’s given me that buzz I was used to, but with enough breaks to allow my mental health to become a lot better.

I’m now hopeful that I can transfer some of this attitude to seeing people close to me. At the same time, accepting that perhaps two hours – for now, at least – is about all I can manage. I will attempt not to panic about my sister’s wedding later this year; I will keep working on acceptance of and for myself, and continue stretching my boundaries at being sociable, with perfect strangers.

The well worn patch of green

Beside the picket fence

The water’s speckled sheen

And I’m no consequence

The blossom of the blackthorn

And the boats that pop pop by

With the sunset and the dawn

Mine’s just a fleeting cry

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my blog. I’d love to hear if you’ve had any similar struggles, with or without a long term condition! Subscribe yourself to get emails when i write more blogs (roughly every two weeks)

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