Friendships & Mental Health…
That’s a crappy blog title, isn’t it? That damn title is the reason why it has taken me so long to write this piece. I have finally given up and accepted that this is the headline.
What I want the title to be is: “Even Though I Have Depression/Anxiety, I Can Be a Good Friend – Most of the Time”. Or “I’m A Little Off. Can We Still Be Friends?”.
I wonder a lot how other people in my position handle friendships. It is hard enough to make/maintain friendships after
40 51, but throw in a little wackiness on top of it and you might sometimes feel like saying screw this and pick up your hermit hat on the way up to Solitude Mountain.
It’s not like I can walk up to someone new and say, “You seem interesting. I’m pretty much normal until the depression hits and then I won’t want to talk to you for a while. Wanna hang out sometime?”
Shortly after my nervous breakdown, I tried going back to work. I missed my career in the mortgage industry and found a great company that was happy to have me. I explained my gap of employment by saying I was burnt out and needed a break. Which was kind of the truth, right? I did not tell anyone the real story. There were a lot of fun people there my age and we were all single at the time. We started going out all the time. I dated some guy in IT and became friends with this girl from another department. We went to lunch every day and partied every weekend. But I kept my secret from her – from all of them.
Until I couldn’t any longer.
It took about 8 months before I cycled back into the depression. I couldn’t go to work… all I did was cry and panic. I finally told her the truth and our friendship ended. I don’t know if it was because she couldn’t understand the overwhelming sadness or because I had hidden the truth, but she did not want anything to do with me after that. I didn’t blame her.
I never know how long a down cycle is going to last. It could be a day or a month or three. I don’t know how deep into that big black hole I’ll go. Sometimes it is just a matter of being overwhelmed and needing to go in to clear my head. Other times, I’m dragged in. And if the timing comes with the onset of *THAT time of the month*, then my thinking can get as little clouded when I believe the entire world hates me and I fantasize about cutting again.
The thing is: it always lifts. At some point, the unbearable despair leaves me and I am me again. I get to breathe and live for a bit.
I am almost like everyone else. I can go on play-dates or have coffee or go for lunch. I will still struggle with the phone… talking on it is never easy for me. But mostly, I can hide my quirky thinking and blend in well with the rest of the world.
Isn’t that okay? Sometimes I have to remind myself that I deserve to enjoy friendships and all that they entail during those up times. Take this past year… since May 2012 I have been pretty good. I had days here and there where I would need some alone time, but they were just bumps along the road. I have been able to be the class mom for all three children and do Meet The Masters for each class too. I have worked hard to improve my home life and let my past stay in my past.
A couple of years ago, I was able to connect with an old friend. I was just coming out of a really bad cycle, in fact it was the one and only time I had contemplated suicide since my children were born and I had pushed myself to get out of the house. Something got said that acted as a spring-board for me. It helped me to remember that I was human, but instead of getting to that *normal stage*, I became almost manic – which is strange – even for me. I struggled with controlling impulses and my mind raced with 50 million thoughts at once without pause over-thinking every little thing. I ruined any chance to renew that friendship and how do I explain that? I’m sorry I went a little crazy? There are different levels of crazy and I usually run a few levels above/below this one?
Since then I tend to hide from any meaningful real life friendships now and keep things on the surface. To be honest, it is rare that I’ll meet someone that I connect with offline enough to take that risk. Most of the time, I don’t think that I’m worth the trouble. I mean… I don’t know if I would want to be friends with someone like me. It is kind of screwy to think someone could just stop calling for a couple of weeks or do the opposite and call a bunch of times out of neediness or paranoia. You would have to care an awful lot about a person to be willing to put up with that.
When I do meet someone new though, I do try to hint at it from the beginning. If it keeps progressing, then I am up-front and say that I deal with depression and anxiety. I find it easier that way because hiding it causes too much of the same things I try to avoid like the anxiety. If you deal with mental health issues, how do you tell the new people in your life?
I miss it though… going out with friends for a drink, a movie, or just some laughs.
(The above was originally written and published in January of 2013)
NEWLY Added 2/18/2020: I wrote this 7 years ago… an eternity ago. I’m not the same person, but in a way, I still am. I am definitely a little stronger now than I used to be and have been blessed with a few friendships along the way. I still have my BFF that I’ve known since childhood. I have friendships within my family that are separate from the “family” part, if that makes sense. I have people that I enjoy spending time with and look forward to hanging out with, but… I have also made connections and then I hid when it became overwhelming. I still struggle to be around people when there is no other focus… an activity of sorts.
So, in almost a decade, have I figured out if someone like me (someone who deals with depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues) can have true friendships? It isn’t a question any longer – the answer is yes.
Perhaps not typical TV type friendships. I can’t meet for trivia every Wednesday night or drinks every Friday night, but I could once a month or so. I can’t go to someone’s house every week for dinner, but I can usually go to church on Sunday. I believe it is a matter of “living within your means”… not financially in this case — but emotional energy. If you understand your limitations and accept them, if you are friends with yourself, then you can be happy with the type of friendships you do form.
I guess the bottom line is to go beyond acceptance and love the “weirdness” that is you. Learning to love yourself is where true happiness is found. (I know – I sound like some self-help book hype, but as someone who first tried to take knife to her wrist at 12 years old, now just about 40 years later, it is my truth.)