“They’re obviously not a real friend”
I’ve heard this a lot during my depression, when in a frequent moment of self-pity, I have bemoaned the loss or the distancing of a friend.
It is a source of genuine sadness and the prompter of many tears that friends have disappeared or keep away now, doing just enough to maintain contact but no more. In the bad moments, I look back and analyse all the things I did – or didn’t do – that resulted in this. The times I cried hysterically, had breakdowns, that time I casually dropped into a Facebook conversation that I had just taken a ton of pills but had thrown them back up. The response I got to that was a sad face emoji. It seemed inadequate at the time but now I think how else do you react to that? What is the appropriate response when someone at the other end of a continent tells you that?
Depression makes you put the people you care about through the most awful things. I am ashamed of the times when I couldn’t breathe because I was panicking so badly, refusing the offer of calling an ambulance. I redden at the memory of messages I sent full of explicit, or in slightly less desperate moments, implicit thoughts of suicide. I grow hot thinking of the self-pity and self-indulgence I communicated when nothing except my own madness would fill my head.
But to say that those people who chose not to stick around were never true friends is unfair. Of course they were. There are many reasons to move away from someone with depression, especially someone who sunk to such low depths as me. For a start, there is simple boredom. It’s seems heartless to say that you abandoned someone because you got bored of their illness, but it gets tiring and tedious to listen to the same negativity over and over again, to offer suggestions and to be told again and again that it won’t work or to be told I’ll try by someone you know can’t and won’t. I whined a lot. My heart would have sunk if I had to keep receiving woe is me messages from myself. I don’t blame those people who just stopped asking how are you and found distance the easiest way to do this.
Then there’s the hopelessness. I can easily imagine how frustrating it must be to offer help, to make suggestions, to find out information, hand out phone numbers and names/numbers of therapists, to look up websites and talking therapy techniques, to research mindfulness and suggest self-help books and for none of that to be followed up or to be followed up and given up in almost the same breath.
And finally there’s the need to look after yourself. I shared some awful things with people. I have full-on panic attacks when even I didn’t know what was happening so I could hardly expect someone else to predict how it was going to turn out. I talked about suicide attempts, not calmly and after the fact, but at times of high emotion when I was desperate to not exist, drizzling snot and covered in cuts.
There is plenty of help available to us depressives but accessing a lot of it involves effort and motivation that dies with the joy. I was paranoid that other people would know so phoning someone ran the risk of a flatmate overhearing. Plus I hate the phone at the best of times. Getting a doctor’s appointment was hard due to the insistence that you tell the receptionist what the problem is as you make the appointment. Getting to a therapist requires motivation that is rarely there; keeping at it without help was, for me, impossible. But, given the right set of circumstances, the help is there.
There seems to be a lot less help available for those poor sods left to deal with us diseased ones. That’s a shame. There are times when they need help as much as we do, when we overburden them, when we frighten them, sadden, frustrate and anger them. There are websites but type my friend/partner is depressed into Google and you arrive at many more articles on how to help us than how to help them. That’s understandable. But most people won’t realise what they are getting themselves in for until they are in deep and their health is also suffering. This website is among the ones that do offer sensible advice for friends, partners and family: https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/helping-a-depressed-person.htm. There are others. If someone is supporting you with depression, it might be worth pointing them in the right direction.
When people first told me they’re obviously not a real friend, I grabbed onto that. It made me feel better, less guilty. It allowed me to continue to look inward and deflect blame. As years have gone by, I’ve accepted my part. I like to think that if I sank that low again, I would do things differently to protect the people I care about. I am careful what I share these days but I trust my severely-depressed self too little to be able to guarantee that in the future I won’t over-burden people again. This time, however, I will argue their corner if anyone says they’re obviously not a real friend.