Depression: How Poor Mental Health Can Test Friendships

In the midst of a depression fog, friendships can become hard and complicated. They morph into an unrecognisable version of you and those closest to you – a plateau of hot coals, haunted by how things used to be, exacerbated by heart-wrenching change that none of you quite understand. It’s an awful feeling. It’s also quite normal.

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Depression can magnify negative thoughts and feelings. On bad days, these can unintentionally become entangled in our friendships. This confuses communication, gets hard to navigate through the fog, and leaves us feeling helpless. Sometimes even unworthy of the friendships we’re seemingly ‘ruining’. You may find yourself questioning every exchange (or lack of), beating yourself up needlessly. We wanted to address some of these common thoughts, and provide another perspective.

Paranoia

Depression makes it feel like: Your friend is seeing other friends. Without you. So they’ve forgotten all about you, left you to it and are probably conspiring about you right now.

Reality: Think back and see if you can remember a time when your friend saw this particular person/people without you there. If it’s happened before, then nothing has changed. It’s ok. Life goes on as normal and your friend has not abandoned you, much less talked about you behind your back. If you’d normally meet up with this person as a group that includes you, that’s ok too. Your friend may well be sharing their worries and trying to rally you some help. Good friends do that, whether you want them to or not. And that’s pretty amazing.

Try not to punish them for getting support – it makes sure they’re strong enough for you to lean on. Paranoia is a difficult and evil emotion to deal with, but stopping to reason out events can help.

Secrets

Depression makes it feel like: Your friend doesn’t see you as a reliable source of support any more. They’re going through their own bad times, and despite how much you want to help they just aren’t opening up. Depression has made you a terrible friend.

Reality: Your friend is protecting you. No, we know it doesn’t feel like it, but they are. What kind of friend would watch you go through this, then start laying their own problems on you too? It’s not your fault and it’s not theirs, it’s just bad timing. It isn’t forever. They’ll tell you everything when the time is right.

If you have the energy, pop them the following text to let them know you’re still around and love them:

Hello you! I wanted to check in to say I love you millions. I know you’re having a time of it at the moment too. I just wanted to let you know that no matter what’s happening with me, I’m always here to chat if you need to and when you’re ready.

Frustration

Depression makes it feel like: Your friend is really hard to talk to and it’s weird. Sometimes they badger you with texts, sometimes there’s nothing for ages. Other times they’re snippy. You’ve really annoyed them and you are falling out.

Reality: Depression is so difficult to understand and manage that you get frustrated dealing with it, so it stands to reason it’ll confuse others a little too. 100% normal.

Texts can be misconstrued very easily. The likelihood is that your friend is dealing with something completely unrelated whilst texting you – like a work issue – and was accidentally short instead of efficient. If things start going that way, don’t be afraid to put your phone away and revisit the conversation when you feel ready. A little break is much better than firing off frustrated messages.

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Guilt

Depression makes it feel like: Your friend is giving you so much time and attention, but every time you don’t feel up to answering a text or think you’re making them sad just by being alive, you want the world to swallow you up. It’s better if you just cut everyone off because you don’t deserve them. You can’t be helpful to them in return.

Reality: If your friends’ communication has intensified, or even quietened right down, try not to panic. Both behaviours, more often than not, are a sign that they want to help but don’t really know how. There are few practical things someone can do to ease depression, and that’s quite hard for a caring friend to accept.

If their communication is overwhelming, keep your phone on silent and just respond when you’re good and ready – there is no rush. Nothing terrible will happen if you don’t respond in three seconds. If they’re quiet, remind them you appreciate them now and again – send them the odd picture or memory that lets them know the good times are in your thoughts.

Forgetfulness

Depression makes it feel like: You are hands-down the worst friend ever. You forgot to ask how that important thing went yesterday because you were so wrapped up in yourself. How could you forget such a big thing?!

Reality: Short-term memory really suffers when you’re depressed, and it’s not helped by the onset of tunnel vision. In other words, you barely remember anything and find it very hard to notice stuff going on outside of your own spiral. It’s so horrible. But be as honest as you can about it, and your friends will bear with you.

If anyone mentions anything – like a job interview or a birthday – that you know you’ll want to reach out to them for, note it down there and then and stick it somewhere visible, like the fridge, to jog your memory. Already missed something important? Don’t worry – pop them a message like this:

Oh my gosh I am so sorry, my memory is shot at the moment – please tell me how everything went yesterday? I want to know every detail 🙂

Friendship rollercoasters are hard and isolating. Feeling like a burden is horrible. But if the tables were turned, would you just walk away? We thought not.

Real, important friendships will withstand this illness. Sometimes a friend will be there every waking minute. Sometimes you’ll just have a break from each other entirely. Neither of those things are a death sentence on your relationship. Be as honest as you can, and appreciate the people who stick with you through thick and thin. That’s all anyone is asking of you.

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