Depressives are asshole friends
Some of us are — and we need to talk about it.
(obvious warning is obvious, but I do address depression and touch on suicidal thoughts in this essay, so if you’d rather do this some other time, you do what you need to do)
I live with depression. I have been living with depression ever since I can remember existing.
I suck at living with depression.
Remember the movie about how John Nash coped so ridiculously well with his mental illness, in the end? That is not me. Not by a fucking long shot.
I have been living with depression basically my entire 29 years of life. And I am not a success story.
I am a semi-success story, in that I am still here, spewing tl;dr on the Mighty Internet and trying to help fellow depressives by giving them something to relate to, trying to help non-depressives gain a better understanding of depressives, working a full-time commercial writing job and doing my absolute best at it most of the time, raising cats, interacting with other human beings and facing my crippling anxiety about doing so, making bad financial decisions, seeing medical professionals for my somewhat yearly check-ups, revisiting my fashion choices, watching trash TV on weekends — all to say, deciding every day so far for some good 29 years to simply survive, despite some twisted part of my brain being somewhat keen on the opposite, while another is having a panic attack.
I’m not all healthy coping strategies, like everyone I seem to read about on the Mighty Internet.
I cannot meditate to save my life, and that few such practices cater to secular individuals isn’t doing much in terms of helping me get into it.
I drink significantly more wine than I should some days after work or on weekends — I’ve been trying not to, yet I still fail sometimes. I smoke more than I’d like (which is like, I would like to not smoke at all).
I eat shit I know is bad for me some days, and I have trouble sticking to the 100% vegan diet I would envision as 100% ethical for an animal with higher reasoning functions and other feeding options available.
I fail dramatically at basic adult shit (or procrastinate them indefinitely which is the same thing) like getting my driver’s license, doing the dishes, brushing my teeth before I crash into bed after a particularly tough workday, exercising regularly, and whatever else my Dad always points out whenever I visit my parents.
Most importantly, and also my point already: I’m a bad friend to literally all of my friends.
My workmates mostly get to see my best, most curated side. Because, well, I’m paid to deliver my best, most curated side — as is everyone, in their respective fields. I really fucking try when I’m at work. I try to be rational, reasonable, efficient. I save each molecule of energy for work. I invest the last little bit that I have at the cost of not brushing my teeth before I go to bed, into work. Don’t get me wrong, I still fail sometimes. I still complain. But I like to think I manage to be more good work than I am anything else, while at work.
To be fair, I’ve been at this for the better part of 11 years, commercial writing. It’s about time I got efficient at it. Despite my general attention span being that of an average starfish, I’m otherwise pretty quick to get commercial-writer-stuff done, I’m an above average word dispenser, and I’m willing to go that extra mile, even while at times complaining loudly about doing so. I’m professional about my writing and don’t treat mass water filtering equipment (personally yawn) any different than I do fashion and makeup (personally love).
I suck on a personal level. As in, as a person, outside of work.
What always takes the hit for my being in an ever so real need of earning a living while also having seriously bad, doctor-treated-and-supervised depression, is my personal life.
I’ve at times been known to be one really fucking shitty life-partner as a result of my mental illness. I’ve been an impossible daughter to some really decent (yet in the past really control freak) parents. I am an absolutely fucking ridiculously impossible friend.
Sooner or later, if you’re my friend, I will, during periods when my depression is at a really intense low:
- ghost you for days before and after a really big social event I absolutely wanted to attend and thought I could but actually could not find the mental capabilities to so and spent the subsequent days after drowning in self-hatred about it;
- take ages to reply to even the most basic of texts;
- forget birthdays and other important milestones;
- the list is sadly ongoing.
I’m decent at making friends. When I’m not depressed, though I’m still always anxious and crowds or voice calls suck the absolute life out of me, I’m decent with one-to-one stuff. Maybe even groups of 3 to 4 people, if I’m really feeling myself.
If I’ve been in a serious winning mode, I have even been known to do excellently at a huge party, however I have, in contrast, at times also been known to do disastrously at a huge party (that is hopefully a story for, well, after I’m dead and can no longer witness my own shame) — so nowadays I just try and avoid them altogether if I can, or spend my evening in a corner talking about what I have been doing to fortuitous by-passers on their way to the lavatory, if I couldn’t bail. (Yes, it does become the same speech to multiple people in one evening, after a while)
So in the frameworks mentioned above (no parties or be responsible about your use of the bar if you must attend and war through the anxiety and constant sensory overload like a true Klingon), I do okay at making friends, as in meeting new people who would like to maybe get to know me and maybe be my friends. That is to say, the occasional people have volunteered throughout time to get to know me in that friend kind of way. Some of them have been bigger assholes than I could ever have nightmares about becoming. Others have been incredibly fucking amazing people I treated like shit.
Making friends isn’t the problem. Despite my introverted nature, I’m fortunate enough to be quite charming, at my best, though somewhat love-or-no-thanks weird.
What I suck at, is keeping friends. Especially if they’re decent people. Because, see above. But in one word, because depression.
For better or worse, I read and watch about people who cope with depression better. All. The. Time. I have favourite authors who cope with depression better. I am surrounded by people who cope so much better with their depression than I cope or ever hope to cope with mine.
There are also those far less fortunate. Many lives have been lost, and are lost every day, to depression. I am, in that sense, lucky.
Those who are unfortunate enough to still be my friends, are not as lucky. They still get the ghosting. The cannot-get-off-the-couch-and-cannot-shower-unless-for-work phases (winter is the worst). For months at a time, I can only be seen either at my own house, or at work — and that is it.
Because I never know when any of my depressive episodes hit, I am really fucking bad at planning social things with. Really. Fucking. Bad. As in I plan for them, get excited, hype about it, and then be depressed and bail, at my really worst without even the mere courtesy of a text, because can I please, reason, find the energy to go and pee, I am curled up into a ball and would die but haven’t the energy to even get up and pee, let alone kill myself. I shit you not, at our worst, what saves people with depression is lacking the energy to even think about the logistics of suicide.
If you could pick a person to receive the award of worst friend you could imagine that isn’t a literal serial killer, it might be me.
How does anyone put up with this shit, that is all the people-repelling-and-mildly-torturing behaviour my depression causes me to exhibit towards those I otherwise love and respect?
Should there be a friend-finder app for depressives who suck at coping to find one another and be shitty miserable friends together?
I want to have friends who don’t live with depression. I also want to have friends who do live with depression, obviously. I just generally don’t want to select my friends based on their mental illness, or lack thereof. Yet how could anyone who doesn’t live with depression understand how incapacitating this is?
I’m extremely friendly, yet reluctant to make friends. Because I know I end up treating them like shit when the worst of the depression hits.
Depression is a tragically selfish thing.
At my core, I’m an over-empathic person. A lot of fellow depressives I know are. We’re the kind of weirdos who cry about homeless puppies, mistreated children, the state of animals at the local zoo, and endangered rhinos across the globe. Yet when the depression hits, there is no empathy in the world can will me into doing what I know needs to be done.
Every ounce of needs doing for your life is allocated to work. Sometimes, above that, I have literally nothing. The depression-monster takes over my brain. I zombie into bed and curl into a ball.
When I don’t do the depression routine or the work routine, I’m probably holding a book/watching trash TV in solitude. If I am interacting, I’m either watching weird sci-fi/playing outdated co-op strategy games with my life-partner, meeting one or two friends at a time for a catch-up/board game, or holding a drink simply to cope with having managed to drag myself into a social situation.
I also sleep. A lot. I over-sleep. If I don’t sleep for 8+ hours a night, 10+ on weekends, I cannot work. And if I cannot work, I get fired and end up under a bridge, and we don’t want that. So I sleep. Through alarms (that are not that 3rd it’s-really-late-Moody one for work), I sleep through birthdays, texts, social events. I’m the depressive who sleeps like a Zombie Sleeping Beauty, rather than the depressive who is the Vampire to Never Sleep. It doesn’t really matter, both result in an average-starfish attention span anyway.
If you’ve been reading thus far and you think I’m the only depressive person who is some derivative of this, you haven’t met many depressive people.
I don’t speak for all depressive people where any of the above is concerned, don’t get me wrong. #somedepressivepeople though, for sure.
What I do find reasonable to kind of generalise: we do our best. Every time. We do our best to show up, yet sometimes some shit gets prioritised. Like, well, surviving. Merely continuing to exist in a world of rent, medical problems, work, a life spent navigating complex and confusing emotions.
I regret more than I could ever express, that it sometimes causes others harm. I wish my depression only had to hurt me.
The truth is, my depression hurts everyone I love. And we need to talk about it. Because I know I am not the only one living with the shame of being an asshole friend as a result of my depression.
It is difficult to love a depressive person. I read about people living with depression who are not difficult to love. All the time. But I know I cannot be the only semi-success story out there, feeling like a total failure. I cannot be the only one whose friends are frustrated, have had enough, maybe are about to walk away to save themselves from drowning in the depression with you.
I can’t be the only one out there on the Mighty Internet, who has to live with their depression hurting those they most love.
I know there is someone out there on the Mighty Internet other than my own friends, who is hurt by a loved one’s depression but feels horrible to even talk about it.
We need to talk about it, from both angles. Because both sides are valid. Depressives suffer, often at the brink of suicide and beyond. But those around them also suffer. Their pain is also valid.
In some ways I think only another broken soul could ever find it among their vices to love a depressive. And that I have any friends at all despite all of this that is a result of my chronic depression, is fucking unbelievable and humbling.
The silver lining
The few friends I have managed to make, at the very least, I’ve been extremely loyal to over the years. I’m that friend who really knows how to prioritise, so when the going gets rough and you need someone to mentally support you through surgery and advise you on accessing quality medical care, sort out your resume and help you get back on the market, quietly bail you out of jail after you got drunk and engaged in public urination, and anything you might think of in-between as serious shit, then I’m your lady. I have very few friends, but I like to think I show up for those I do have, in the long run.
I sometimes don’t show up to social events. I save up tons of energy for the really important ones, like weddings etc. (maybe even use one of my 20 paid leave days/year around the event, if the going gets rough). But I do miss smaller-big social events. Especially, sadly, if it’s joyous events where nobody really needs me to help, stuff that can go on without me. More bluntly put, I’d rather miss a party, than a funeral or a major surgery. As a friend, I feel if I have to go through the painful mechanics of prioritising my own limited energy, I want to save it for when I can help make a difference. I’ve learned that the hard way, the prioritising.
And that’s the thing. That’s the silver lining. You do get better at prioritising. You do get better at living with depression, even if you don’t yet feel like you’re one of the success stories you read about on the Mighty Internet.
If you’d have met me 10 years ago, you’d have been fucking crazy yourself to ever want to be my friend. I was a narcissistic, neurotic, directionless, empathy-blind mess. I’m no success story now. At my worst, I still surrender to becoming that narcissistic, neurotic, directionless, empathy-blind mess.
I am getting better at doing that less and less. I spend significantly less time in that state than I did 10 years ago.
As opposed to 10 years ago, I have a good job where my work is valued, and I’m surrounded by really good people there. I drink way less than I did 10 years ago, and I approach it significantly more responsibly when I do so.
I’ve learned how to cook and even do it more often than not, even if it’s just a salad. When I moved out of my parents’ house age 18, I had to google how to boil an egg, and that’s not even a hyperbola.
This getting-better-at-my-lifestyle thing (that does not yet extend to doing the laundry on the weekly) has allowed energy for getting a little better at maintaining some kind of regular contact with a small number of other human beings. It has allowed me the energy to work on the relationships that I do have with the people who have for some obscure reasons decided to remain in my life.
I try to focus on fewer, higher-quality commitments. I try to plan those commitments ahead and make sure they’re intimate enough for me to feel comfortable having any sort of interaction, rather than committing to a bigger event where I’d use up lots of energy resources and ultimately spend my evening being an anxious blob of introversion who fiddles a lot with their hands (which is still better than the former overcompensating, loud, tipsy mess I would most assuredly become within 10 minutes of arriving at a party 10 years ago).
I try to cope better, I try to commit less and deliver more, I do my best every day to try and treat myself a little better, so I can, in turn, treat others with compassion.
I sometimes still fail at all of the above strategy. I fall off the good social behaviour wagon, into unhealthy coping patterns I wish I had buried 10 years into my past. Though I always get back on, I do still divert from what I perceive to be the ideal way of dealing with my mental illness. I slip, and I make a mess and it hurts people around me, sometimes.
I’ve gotten a little better at owning up to my mess, too. I’m not perfect at that either, yet I’ve made progress and I’m going to continue giving it my best and making progress. Fuck, I’ll even look harder on the Mighty Internet for some sort of secular-friendly meditation practices. I’ll even try to exercise, at some point.
I wish someone had told me this when I was 10 years younger in my journey navigating depression and anxiety, so I’m going to say it now for anyone who needs it:
Give yourself time. Be kinder to yourself.
You didn’t choose to be sick. You can choose to get better at living with being sick and getting treatment and such, and you should, but you must give yourself time. Consistent, small steps, compassion for your slip-ups. And, hopefully, just a little bit of kindness.
I hope 10 years from now I will have the privilege of looking back on myself now and wishing I had taken more of my own advice.
As for those who are, at times, unfortunate enough to love me personally, as well as to those who sometimes find it difficult to love someone with depression, I cannot begin to express my gratitude at your compassion. As well as hope that our journeys living with depression is providing you with some sort of wisdom on learning to love yourself while you heal.
This has been an incredibly personal and intimate topic to address, yet I feel like using my own experience could really help us get to the rawer, edited-out parts of dealing with mental illness, so here we are, off into the uncomfortable zone, where all the good things happen.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. If you feel like anyone could use a little uncensored depression talk, I’d appreciate it if you shared this with them, too.
As ever, thank you for taking the time to debate with me. Until next time, stay safe, nerds.