I’ve been thinking a lot lately about friends and how my mental health has affected my friendships over the past 5 years. It may be an old adage, but the notion of going through a hard time and therefore finding out who your real friends are is a very true one. As anyone who has struggled with depression and anxiety will tell you – not everyone understands it and not everyone sees it as a real thing and this can have a real impact on your friends. Some will rally around you, have the patience of saints and just be there for you, some will shy away not really knowing how to treat you and some, will quite frankly, just be dicks.
My circle of friends has never been huge and definitely curtailed in the last few years and whilst at the time it isn’t very pleasant and adds to the feelings of hopelessness, in hindsight it was a positive thing. It means I now only surround myself with people who ‘get it’ and people who aren’t going to make me feel guilty for not being up to going out or for cancelling plans at the last minute. Getting out of bed and showering can be hard enough some days, no-one needs the added pressure of having someone take offence and be bitchy when they can’t make it out for a drink.
When I think about my friends and the people that I thought were my friends, there’s always one instance that sticks in my mind. As with most memories I have it’s not a particularly happy one but it is an important one that proved pivotal.
As previously mentioned I had a stint of self harming when I was first prescribed antidepressants. In my mind it started out relatively innocuously, but soon spiralled into something more serious and my arms were in quite a mess. I tried disguising them and hiding them for a long time but the humid Manchester summer made that quite difficult. At the time I wasn’t really seeing many people, I would make excuses and just spend my time at work or locked in my bedroom. As time went on I plucked up the courage to tell some people; people that at the time, I trusted. Weeks went by and I didn’t really do anything, but a bank holiday came around and a friend suggested I go out with her for a few drinks as a friend of ours was DJing. I’m not sure how it came about but I must have felt a bit more confident as I got dressed up and went out; parts of my arms were on show but it somehow didn’t matter. I remember feeling excited, I had some cocktails and was looking forward to seeing people after weeks of being shut away. We went to my favourite bar and met up with some other friends and my friend who was DJing. I remember going over to speak to her, she already knew about everything that was going on so I felt comfortable, and then, she grabbed my scarred arm and said “god, you’re such an emo aren’t you?”.
Everything seemed to change after that one comment. It made me feel like a freak. And I think that was one of the last times I ever spoke to her. I’d sort of looked up to her before that; beautiful, successful and popular she seemed to have it all. She’d always been really kind and I thought she understood, but the expression on her face when she grabbed my arm is something I will never forget.
I don’t blame her for what she said, I’m sure many people said worse, it was more the disappointment and shame she made me feel. It was the disappointment that someone I thought was my friend didn’t see how much effort it had taken me to even be out of my bedroom that night. In fact I don’t really look back on my last year in Manchester very fondly. It was the hardest time for me and the most lonely of times and the fact that I only have one real friend (lovely Lou) to take from it all speaks volumes. When it came down to it, all those people that I thought were friends weren’t and I blame myself a bit for that as I went through a period of just wanting to be in with all the cool people and threw myself into social circles that I wasn’t necessarily comfortable in. But, I’m a firm believer in life being a learning curve and it made me realise that it’s far better to have a small group of fabulous friends that you can count on than lots of flimsy friends who never really give anything back.
If you have a friend going through a hard time and living with anxiety, depression or any sort of mental illness; be kind to them. Be patient and really think before you speak. You can say something in a fleeting second but the scars can still be there years later.