All relationships are conditional to some degree. It’s undeniable.
Relationships (and I don’t just mean love/sex ones, I mean friendships, family etc.) all hinge on something that can switch it from good to bad.
Perhaps the thing it hinges on is whether your best mate shags your ex, or if you forget to do something for someone, or if you become a sex worker.
What makes me uncomfortable and kind of pissed, is when someone I considered a close friend let our friendship hinge on my mental ill health.
I know that sometimes mental health problems can end friendships, and they can certainly strain them.
I have an anxiety disorder (it was more specifically social but I’ve recovered from that a bit, only for it to become more of a general anxiety disorder). I’ve also suffered from depression in the past.
My social anxiety disorder (SAD) was essentially centred around social rejection. I am/was so intensely afraid of abandonment and rejection that it made it very difficult for me to form friendships because I lack an ability to trust people. I mean, to an extent I can, but trusting people is extremely hard for me. I don’t really know why. Things happened in the past that intensified it, but did not cause it- I cannot pinpoint a time when this inability to trust began.
Anyways, because I have such difficulty forming friendships, and I mean proper ones, not the kind where you just say hi in the street. At present, I would say I have maybe 3 close friends. That sounds pretty normal, but then apart from that I don’t really have a huge number of friends. I have people I am nice to and who are nice back, though really it doesn’t matter to me whether they’re in my life or not. I can cope.
So you can probably imagine what a massive effect it has on me when one of the very small group of people I actually feel comfortable with decides that being friends with me is too much effort.
To be fair, last autumn/winter (from about October-December, so maybe 10 weeks total), I had an extraordinarily hard time with my mental health. I’d become convinced I was evil and dangerous, and I was in a constant state of fear of the world and myself. I was terrified that I was going to harm someone or myself. Reality and the world in my head blurred a little, and things I would not normally believe, things that remained strictly in my daydreams, became darker and had more power over me. It was a very scary time. This friend, who at the time I considered my best friend (although I don’t know if that’s really something you have at 19 but whatever) at first tried to look out for me, but, as they’d recently gotten into a new relationship, became increasingly unavailable.
And then my friend committed suicide, and everything exploded. I wasn’t able to really eat or sleep for a good 2 weeks, I was having anxiety attacks a few times daily and a few panic attacks a week. I dissociated almost constantly- I knew I wasn’t real, that I was part of some mighty creature’s game, or part of a book. I wasn’t able to see my boyfriend much either, who’d normally be there for me, as the dead boy’s closest friends at home were even worse than I was.
I felt completely alone. I’d been convinced my friend would abandon me, and when I needed him most, they did. When I asked them if they would mind hanging out and watching a happy film with me or something, two nights after the boy died, they told me that they’d rather leave me to it and hang out with their partner.
This was the first time in my life that I’d actually been able to be open about my grief. In the past, I have put up a steely facade, and tried to be a crutch for the people I’d decided deserved to grieve more than me (which was everyone), and this time, because I was learning to accept my emotions more, I actually let myself feel it. I didn’t really know how to deal with it, but I knew I needed the friends I trusted and cared for the most to help support me. And although the others did as best they could, my closest friend was just so… Distant. They seemed to find it so easy to leave me on my own to cope with a huge trauma, so they could go and watch a film in bed with their partner.
When I came back to myself a bit, as in being able to sleep a bit more and eat a bit better, I was furious. This person had always said to me we’d always be friends, they’d always be there for me, and they hadn’t been. I’d fallen off the cliff completely, and there were no footholds or handholds to climb back up. It felt like I had no support system.
And then the fighting began. Rather than actually talking to them, I’d crush it down inside, primarily because I thought if I told them how I was actually feeling they’d move further from me, abandon me more. It felt like if I was anymore alone I was going to die. That’s not an exaggeration, my mental health was in such a state that I thought I was going to die from it. Not kill myself- just shut down completely.
But that amount of anger can’t be crushed for long. Soon it began to explode out, at the smallest things. Eventually, it became directed towards their partner, who, in reality, had done nothing wrong, and had actively encouraged my friend to spend time with me and be with me through that really horrible period.
As I had done in the past during times of such extreme anger, I cut the partner off completely. I removed them from all my social media, and, as best as I could, avoided them. I behaved standoffishly when they were about, keeping my sentences to monosyllables, keeping my door locked so they knew I didn’t want them near me.
As I was falling apart inside, my shields, which I had so recently learned to let down, went right back up. I still talked to most of my friends, but emotionally I was back to where I was from about 2010-2015. I was cold and numb.
My severing of ties caused more tension in the friendship, but things calmed down because I felt that by doing that I had removed anger.
The Christmas holidays came, and we were all apart for 4 weeks. I went home and recuperated (and also a wisdom tooth came in which was not pleasant, didn’t enjoy Christmas dinner as much because my whole face hurt) and when I came back my mental state, though it wasn’t perfect, had greatly improved. I decided to keep my distance a bit, because, although most of what I did was reaction and response, rather than attacking, I had, at times, been unfair.
I apologised to my friend, and their partner, and did my best to make amends.
And was met with a wall. I tried to talk to them about stuff, accepting that we’d both been dicks, and instead I was ripped to shreds. They didn’t understand how much they had hurt me, and instead tore into me. I apologised over and over, and meant it each and every time, for the stuff I’d done and said, but not once could they bring themselves to say sorry, or accept that anyone but me had done anything wrong.
In the end, I got so tired of feeling like I was the only one who had to make amends, I started distancing myself from them. They had become so prone to lashing out at me that I felt as though I couldn’t say or do anything, literally anything, around them without it being wrong. The steps I’d made in improving my mental state were quickly reversing. I once again was starting to feel as though I was a great evil.
I had my other close friend, but because she is so extraverted, and so sociable, I am used to her not being as available. I couldn’t see my boyfriend as much as I’d have liked either.
It was at this point I did something I thought I never would: I reconnected with my best friend from high school, who I’d battled with over something petty (that’d gotten blown out of proportion by other people sticking their oars in) and hadn’t spoken to in 2 years.
I once again had support, and it was beginning to feel more like I had people I could turn to. I was sad because this person had faded out of my life mostly, like Homer in the hedge (google it), but I was mostly just glad that I felt like I had true friends again.
The only issue was that I was supposed to be living with that person next uni year. We hadn’t said much beyond “hi” for weeks. I didn’t want them in my life at all anymore, because it had become so detrimental to my mental health. I had grown stronger again, and though I was terrified of fighting again, I knew I couldn’t sign the lease for the new flat with the way things were. Because the way they’d been making me feel… I didn’t want to have to deal with that for another year. I’d rather they just got out and stayed out.
My other flatmate, my extraverted friend, had become more of a confidante in this time, and she encouraged me to talk to them. And then eventually half forced me into it, because I was beating about the bush.
I told them that we needed to talk asap. I told them that if they didn’t talk to me then I would not be living with them next year. So they agreed.
I was so distressed about it that at times in the conversation I had to tell them to stop talking because I physically felt like I was about to throw up. When they came into my room to talk, I was shaking like a leaf, felt feverish and dizzy. It was like the beginnings of a panic attack. It took all my strength of will to stop it becoming a full blown panic attack.
I kept calm though. When they started to raise their voice I very carefully asked them to keep it a bit more relaxed. I sat and took it as they unreservedly lay into me (although it was mostly at very calm tones, but it was still aggressive). I tried my best to respond in the calmest manner I could.
I did cry.
I cried because I was distressed. I cried because it felt like this was the final chance to make things better. I cried because I felt like if I said anything at all then they’d walk out of my life forever. I cried because of the things they were saying.
By the end of it though… Things weren’t good, but they were a little better. They hugged me. Which was nice.
Now though, I don’t feel as though I can ever truly trust them again. My extravert flatmate had a nice way of putting it- “there are a few people in our lives that we know, if we were taken in by the police, and phoned them, that they would do anything to help. We both thought he was one of those people, but maybe that’s not so” (she also felt as though he could not be relied on as much anymore). Maybe, superficial friends is all we can ever be. I don’t think I can ever let them know what’s really going on my head, or trust them to be there for me when I need them, because I know it will happen again. They are talking to me and acting as though everything is fine, but it’s not. And I just don’t know how we can ever get close to returning to how we used to be.
I get that when people get into horrendous mental states it can be hard at times to support them. But it’s not okay to just walk away from them at the first sign of trouble, which is exactly what happened. I know that I did become pretty awful. The primary reason for that, though, was because I felt alone, and by avoiding me and abandoning me further, I ended up feeling completely terrified and isolated.
When people say that your mental health is your responsibility, it really pisses me off. It’s simply not true. It is your responsibility to seek help, but then it also becomes the responsibility of the healthcare professionals looking after you. Friends and family are responsible for, essentially, loving and supporting you. Not being there to fix you and pick up all your pieces, but to stand by you and help you to be strong, till you can be strong on your own again.
It is extremely difficult to make it through serious mental issues alone. Trust me, I’ve tried. You need a support system there for you, so when things are at their hardest, you have someone there give you a helping hand. Not do it all for you, but just help.
This is honestly all how I feel and how I view the events that occurred. Obviously more stuff happened inside my head, that I would prefer not to discuss at the moment, because I still struggle to think about it. Maybe at some point, I’ll feel better about talking about it, but right now the wounds are still raw.