An abridged extract from The Long Walk Home
Released: Spring 2021
People Like Us
In the grand scheme of things my being and my existence is so insignificant, does it really matter that I have no money, no free time, no social life and little sleep? Deep down I don’t think so. I think it matters that when someone, anyone, needs help, and when that being depends on another to help them, that I throw 100% of myself into being there. I think you’re the same, and the world needs more people like us. Things will get better and you’ll look back on this phase with a sigh and a smile saying; "Yeah, it was tough going for a while there but we got through and she’s my world. She’s always been there for me, never questioned or judged, I wouldn’t trade her for anything.”
A friend sent me this rather heartfelt message on December 5th, 2014, in response to a blog I’d shared on a popular social media platform – and it was her words that undoubtedly helped me through a very difficult period. Although I wasn’t seriously entertaining the idea of giving up Luna, the dog I’d adopted five months previously, I was really struggling with anxiety and depression – so, for her sake and mine, letting the bitch go couldn't be ruled out.
The message stirred several emotions within me, as my friend also mentioned her own struggles with anxiety and how she’d worry her days away, becoming thinner and thinner with stress. I found all this to be very relatable, and this, combined with several other factors, made me believe I’d found a kindred spirit. I certainly liked her, and, at times, she appeared to display a similar dark sense of humour.
I believe that people come into your life for a reason – and I had a gut feeling that this one was a keeper. She appeared to be an animal-loving, people-hating, dry witted, sarcastic soul with a fondness for alcohol – so, seriously, what's not to love? In fact I had a strong feeling that if she clocked a hedgehog in distress near the roadside she would do what I would do – cancel all plans and go out of her way to rescue that hedgehog.
Six years later I can tell you that my friend's message was bang on. Well, she was certainly right about all the dog stuff, but not so much about us being the same – and I’ll expand upon that later in this book.
My hope is that people will read this and think about the detrimental impact of the hideous "cancel culture" that's running amok on social media.
It was on the morning of January 10th, 2020, when I appeared to wake up in some kind of bizarre parallel universe, having fallen through a wormhole in time and space. Although this was a rather unlikely scenario, I found it to be the most plausible explanation for what was to come – because this was the moment that life started to get a bit weird.
This was the day that I discovered that the friend who sent me that very supportive message had now blocked me on Facebook. For no other reason – that I can fathom – other than to appease her own overthinking mind demons. There was no falling out, no long period of radio silence, not an inkling that anything I'd said or done had caused any upset whatsoever - in fact just FIVE days previously this friend was recommending a local curry house to me. Of course, in light of the blocking, I never did try that curry house – as perhaps it made her terribly sick and she wanted me to befall the same fate? Hmmm, well she did say it was to DIE for...
Looking back, I’d say it was the day my interest was roused in human psychology, and I’ve been studying the subject ever since. It certainly posed several questions and led me on a personal quest to find the answers. Do people really change so much in personality overnight? What is the trigger that makes someone, who is seemingly so caring, do something so cold? And did that six-year-old message come from a genuine place of caring – or was it a well-structured masterstroke of manipulation?
I only say that because the only alternative to my friend changing so much was that she’d not changed at all, and that she'd never truly cared. However, as someone who always looks for the best in people, I wanted to believe that she did care – albeit for a very brief period of time. All I knew for sure was that I’d not done anything to warrant such a cold, and, dare I say, cowardly, rejection of friendship.
Initially I thought maybe I was being too "sensitive" – I mean, was it now the norm to suddenly block someone you'd known for almost six years? Yet as the months have passed I've found very little love for this type of behaviour. The words 'immature', 'dysfunctional', 'messed up', 'insecure', 'cruel', 'hurtful', 'mentally unfair', and 'unemotional' keep cropping up, along with words like; "don't abandon people because it's convenient" and "ghosting is toxic behaviour."
In fact only the closest friends of someone who's done this are likely to "support" their friend's behaviour. That or they're also quite an emotionally detached person who would do this sort of thing themselves.
I'm not the first person to be "ghosted" on social media – and I certainly won't be the last – but I need to address this issue because people need to understand that when you hit the 'block' button on someone that person doesn't simply just disappear. Yes, I hate to disappoint. The person pressing the button may need to develop a heart of stone, but if their "victim" has an ounce of humanity within them then they're obviously going to feel a tad hurt.
Obviously I'm only referring to people who are blocked by someone they consider to be a friend. This isn't about blocking a troll who sends you a torrent of abuse on a daily basis – that's an entirely different animal. When someone you've known for almost six years blocks you for no apparent reason then it's obviously going to hurt. This can manifest itself in many ways and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't angry for quite some time after the event. Thankfully my coping mechanisms soon kicked in and I turned to drinking. Well, drinking and writing. Although the latter was far less expensive so it soon became my primary coping mechanism. That and dark humour. Yes, you'll find a lot of that here.
As a sufferer of anxiety I'm acutely aware that this mental impairment can result in me doing things that might be deemed 'irrational' but I don't believe that anxiety is a free pass to be so unkind to others.
Only a few days previously this same friend was still ‘liking’ the occasional dog-related post on social media. She’d also recently messaged me about a car for sale and offered to send me a discount code for a subscription to Headspace. I know we both struggled a bit with our sleep, and, although she never got around to sending me that code, I now swear by Headspace for aiding my sleep. Of course, other online healthcare applications are available.
So none of this screamed; ‘Actually, David, I don’t like you very much’ which only deepened my puzzlement when I found myself blocked.
Despite this, sometime between January 5th and January 10th something extraordinary happened to provoke such a robust dismissal – and obviously this sent my overthinking brain into warp drive.
You may think that the obvious solution would be to ask why I’d been treated like an irritating fly being swatted from a dinner table – but I doubt I’d receive a truthful answer. In fact I concluded that there’d be more chance of her responding if I tossed a ‘message in a bottle’ into the North Sea – that was scrawled in invisible ink and written in Arabic.
To be fair, she had never been a very affable or communicative soul – at least not with me. That message from 2014 was undoubtedly the longest and most open communication I’d ever received. Over the next five years my messages would often be ignored or met with a very brief, matter-of-fact response – and nine times out of ten I’d be the one initiating the conversation. At times I got the impression that she simply wanted to be left alone. So perhaps I’ve answered my own question. Perhaps something in her mind just snapped and she couldn’t keep up the pretence of ‘enjoying’ our brief exchanges any longer.
Perhaps she wanted no more than an 'acquaintanceship' as this wouldn't carry the "emotional burden" of a fully fledged friendship. Some people favour "weak tie" relationships if they already have a small circle of friends. Maybe the fact that I wanted a friendship, as opposed to an occasional Facebook 'like' meant that I had to go? That or she'd just grown to despise me.
I must admit, at times, I felt a bit like a dog bringing his mistress a treat, only for her to say; “Not now, David, I’m busy.” Although I can’t imagine my name would be ‘David’ if I was a dog.
In 2018 I literally messaged her about three times as I could tell she seemed coldly indifferent towards me [and everything I said] so I wanted to give her some space. In 2019 I increased the momentum slightly with closer to seven or eight messages in the latter part of the year. Although I suspect the killer blow came on January 7th, 2020, when I asked how she was, and suggested Luna and I could ‘swing by for a visit’ sometime.
Was that the straw that broke the camel’s back? To be honest… yes, I suspect that did it. I'd concluded that she didn’t wish for any form of ‘real life’ friendship and didn’t have the courage to say this in her own words.
When did kindness start being met with so much hostility? Is it simply because people feel pressured into being kind in return? Or is this refusal to accept kind words or gifts born out of a feeling of inadequacy or unworthiness? Or am I just attracted to people who loathe kindness in all its forms?
It’s fine to hate everybody, I get that. Let’s be fair, as a borderline sociopath I dislike most people, but I really can’t stomach liars. I just think lying is such an easy, lazy way to make life easier for everybody. Maybe in that message from 2014 she was just telling me everything I needed to hear at a time when I needed to hear it? Maybe she didn’t mean or believe a word of it. The truth is, now I’ll never know.
Despite all this, I know that if she ever needed me, I’d still throw 100% of myself into being there for her. Yes, I’m sure many people treat forgiveness as some form of weakness, but to forgive someone [for being unkind to you] actually takes a lot of strength. Unless of course that person continues to be unkind – then you should dump them down the nearest well. Metaphorically of course!
It would be wholly misguided to say that the world needs more people like me. Really? Animal-loving, people-hating, overthinkers with a penchant for alcohol and a dark sense of humour? No, I’m not sure if the world needs more people like me. However, it does need more people who are willing to throw 100% of themselves into being there for others – and people who speak the truth – and that’s the type of person I strive to be.
Unfortunately this wasn't my first dalliance with being blocked or "unfriended" for no apparent reason. Another self-confessed worrier and overthinker appeared to be convinced that I was "manipulating" everyone due to being very open about my money worries and struggles with anxiety. They have since lambasted the "cancel culture" of social media, which is akin to kicking someone in the head and then condemning all forms of violence.
People are strange, complicated beasts.
Curiously, it was that second week in January 2020 that I noticed an ominous cloud was beginning to form over the entire world. It may not add credence to my theory that I did indeed fall into a parallel universe, but I did have a very strong sense that something wasn't quite right. A feeling akin to Luna being suspiciously quiet of an evening.
Upon hearing the news that Prince Harry and Meghan Markle were stepping away from the Royal family I thought; "Well, I expect that'll be the biggest news story of the year."
I'm sure I, like many others in early January, scrolled past the headline; "China's Sars-like illness worries health experts" and didn't give it too much thought.
Yet now, with the benefit of hindsight, I see that a friend blocking me on Facebook wasn't the strangest thing to befall me in 2020 – while Harry and Meghan wouldn't be the biggest talking point. In fact I'd say the weirdest shit hadn't even begun, and the most bizarre year in living memory was merely setting up its stall...