Being A Burden: Depression and Friendship

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While depression is a self-oriented illness, its’ impact reaches far and wide. Ramifications erode into school, work, and of course, ones’ social life. But nowhere have I found this impact as destructive or disturbing as with my family and friends. I’d like to write about friends first, given that the complexity of family warrants its’ own blog post (if not blog).

I’ve always had a hard time making friends. At least as a child, I was bullied and rejected quite a bit. By high school, the bullying stopped given that my trust for others had completely evaporated. While in grade school, I always wanted a BFF and a clique to eat lunch with, but by high school my philosophy was “to be friends with everyone” while never allowing myself to truly care. The point was for them to like me but for me to not get emotionally involved. Obviously, as an emotional person with my disease already intact, this failed terribly. But it became my working “philosophy” for the most part until college. I will note that luckily, I did make it out of high school with a few awesome friends that I am still in touch with and love wholeheartedly.

Since high school, (damn that was a long time ago,) I have had the fortune to find some spectacular people whom I love and who love me back. It amazes me how much they believe in me, especially given how little I believe in myself.

But it hasn’t always been so hunky dory. (Disclaimer: I so apologize for using that expression and it will never happen again.) Two years out of college, I was living with a person who I considered one of my closest friends. I was having a hard time with my depression, spending most of my time in my room, and when with her, given that she was a friend, sharing my concerns and negative thoughts with her.

One random day, she sat me down and told me that I was a burden and that she had to take care of herself and could no longer handle my disease. I suppose I understood her overall sentiment. I imagine living with someone with this disease who is suffering can be quite overwhelming. I always tell people who are friends or family of someone with a mental illness to make sure they are taking care of themselves first. But it was the word “burden” that devastated and destroyed me.

My shame about this illness and its’ impact on those I care for the most, is for me, one of the worst parts of this disease. I can handle my own self-hate and emotional and physical pain, especially considering the disease is always telling me it is what I deserve. But to think I was a burden on someone’s life. I honestly think if she had told me she needed space, or wanted me to get more help, or that she felt helpless, it wouldn’t have had the same impact and I would have understood without the additional guilt and pain.

I know that being friends with me is a serious commitment. I imagine it can be exhausting, frustrating, and at times, a heavy load to bear. But I suppose in saying that word, she justified all of the thoughts I had about myself. And I visualized and understood that my friendship was something my friends had to carry; another “task” they couldn’t cross off their to-do list. I carried that idea for years after. After I moved out, I cut all ties with her and since then have tried to stop using that word.

I am absolutely amazed by my friends. Literally, they are truly extraordinary individuals – I feel bad for people that don’t have them in their lives. They overwhelm me with their love, patience and support. They listen, they offer advice, and they provide hugs, even if they’re virtual. They continue to call and email, even when I don’t pick up the phone.

For years, during depressive episodes, I shut down. I didn’t want to “burden” my friends with my pain, knowing they would tell me they loved me and I was worth having around. At those times, I was too deep in self-hate to hear it. And I can’t imagine having someone in my life who constantly disappears like I did. I have missed weddings, coffee and lunch dates, and other commitments I have made.

Making and following through with commitments has been a huge problem and therefore a big goal of mine in trying to get better and fight this illness. I have set new goals such as calling or emailing my friends once a week. I have been more open about my illness even when I’m nervous about their judgment and boredom (which I try to believe is all in my head.) I try to let them know how much I love and appreciate how amazing and spectacular they are and that I know having a friend with a mental illness can hurt them as well. And I have started to work on not canceling. I know this seems simple, but I have had to develop tactics in order to not cancel or not answer a call. Now, if a friend calls, I force myself to pick up the phone, even if I think I’m not in the mood, knowing I can always get off. But what I have also started to do is when I am feeling good, be proactive and call them myself.

Here’s another example. I make plans to meet a friend for brunch. The morning of, I spiral: I become incredibly anxious, my stomach hurts, I usually get a headache, and I imagine terrible scenarios where we have nothing to talk about, I’m boring or unfunny, or they end up telling me they just can’t handle my friendship anymore. So this is what I have started to do:

  • I try not to make plans too far in advance so I have a better sense of how I’m feeling, i.e. if I’m in an episode or not.
  • The morning of, I get ready and even if my stomach hurts or I feel ugly, I try my best not to text to cancel. I tell myself I can always cancel after I get ready.
  • I get in the car, and I tell myself I can always get there and not leave the car and cancel.
  • I tell myself when I finally get there and meet them, if the conversation is horrible, I can always leave early.

But I have never once regretted seeing or speaking with my friends. In fact, even after I see or talk to them, while tired from expelling energy, I feel high. I love listening and helping, I love hearing their laughs and also being there for their cries and frustrations. It makes me realize I have a purpose in life and a reason to live. Maybe I’ll never be the head of an organization or have the things people in society deem as making one “happy” or “successful.” But I can be a good friend and not only love doing it, I can continue to try and be the best I can be at it. To me, that gives me a profound feeling of happiness and the feeling of success. I thank my friends, (family included,) for giving me that purpose and drive, and love them more than words.

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