That is the question. Why did I transform from a sociable woman with a wide circle of friends who enjoyed the buzz of city life and working as a community artist into a recluse living in the northern wilderness? My friends had always been precious to me. I’d been determined to prove my father wrong and I spent time and energy cultivating friendships. People described me as flamboyant and charismatic. I often took on leadership roles and was involved in Green Politics and the Disability Rights Movement. I also had a long string of lovers like pearls who came and went. After two disastrous marriages I was no longer interested in further commitment.
There were two landmark events that changed my life. The first was a brain haemorrhage at the age of 37. I spent five days in a coma in Leeds Infirmary. When I woke up I had no idea where I was or what had happened. My illness left little physical damage but it changed my attitude to relationships. I’d looked into the abyss and understood my mortality. My friendships began to seem shallow. I no longer truly connected with anyone. During my illness many of my so-called ‘loved ones’ had been conspicuous by their absence. My boyfriend sent a note saying it was too stressful for him to witness my suffering and to let him know when ‘I’d sorted myself out’. Many friends fell away like rotting autumn leaves. Sick traumatised people are not much fun to hang out with and let’s face it, most of us are motivated by profit and pleasure. My parents blamed my illness on my choice of career over domesticity. I should have been a normal sensible woman and settled down with two kids and a husband, they said. The city no longer felt glamorous and sparkling but more like a horror painting by Hieronymus Bosch. I eventually went back to university and work but my heart wasn’t in it.
The second event was a car crash three years later, two days after I threw a big fancy -dress party for my fortieth birthday, I was on my way to work and it was snowing. I was turning right at traffic lights just around the corner from my flat when a car hit me side-on. The other driver had run a red light. She’d been driving in a distressed state after seeing a man in her local post office collapse and die from a heart attack. She was a nurse and had tried unsuccessfully to revive him. She should not have been behind the wheel. She phoned me several times and was full of remorse and apology. My car was written off. I was lucky to survive but have suffered with severe back pain ever since.
The car crash was the last straw for me. I was done with the city. I had to leave.
I wanted a different kind of life.