Managing Friendships During A Depressive Episode
I’ve been on both sides of depression: I’ve been the one going through a depressive episode, and I’ve also been the best friend of, well, several individuals going through such episodes. So when I talk about this, I don’t come from some totally blind, naïve place. I’ve been very depressed, for months on end. I almost thought I couldn’t keep a handle on my life anymore, and just needed to move back in with my mother. I got so dark once I couldn’t remember what smiling felt like. So, yes, I do know that depression feels like it possesses you—it makes you not even recognize yourself. The other thing I will say is that, no matter how much it can feel that your friends don’t understand you or know how to help you, they do want to help you and you’ll want them there when you come out of this. It’s very difficult, but here’s how to handle friendships in the midst of a depressive episode.
They can’t always pick up
Understand that your friends cannot pick up every time you call crying, or needing to talk. Even if they had five minutes to talk, it can feel very rude putting a time crunch on someone having an emotional break down. “You can cry, but only for four minutes” doesn’t feel right to say. If your friend can’t talk now, it’s probably because she’d rather wait until a time she can give you the attention you deserve.
They’ll call when they can
In order to help someone, people need to be strong themselves. So, there may be days when your friends can’t talk to you. If they’re going through something tough themselves, they don’t have the strength to be your pillar. But they love you and they will call you when they can be your strength again.
They can’t come over at a moment’s notice
If you’re in a place when you truly cannot be alone, ask to stay with a friend. Or perhaps stay with your family. Expecting a friend to come over at a moment’s notice when you feel you can’t handle yourself just isn’t realistic, or a safe plan for yourself. Someone can’t really leave work or bail on date night with their partner because you need them to come over.
They still want to talk about themselves
Find it in yourself to listen to your friend. If you want them to be a listening ear, you need to also be one—at least a little. You need to vent more than most right now, but even still, everyone needs to talk about themselves and their day at least a little. Make time for your friend to do that, or she’ll just feel used at the end of your interactions.
Don’t make a plan you probably won’t keep
If your emotions are so unpredictable right now that you might need to cancel plans at a moment’s notice, then don’t make major plans. If your friend, for example, spends $75 on a ticket to go to a concert with you, and you cancel 30 minutes before due to depression, even though you’re having a hard time, that’s still very unfair to your friend. Be open with friends at this time and say it’s best you don’t make such permanent, non-refundable plans. Otherwise, you may just get a reputation for being flaky.
If they don’t invite you, they still love you
Sometimes, you may learn that a group of your friends did something and didn’t invite you. They aren’t evil. They’re only human and perhaps they just wanted to enjoy the booze cruise or girls’ weekend without trying to take care of someone with depression. I know it feels very cold but, for their own sanity, they need those light-hearted, happy experiences. From there, they’ll be re-energized, and can help you.
If they don’t share everything, they still love you
You might sometimes find out something good—or bad—happened to a friend, and she didn’t tell you. It’s not because you are no longer close. She may just feel that at this time, you weren’t equipped to handle the news.
Know they’re at a loss
Try not to assess your friends as if they are therapists—they are not. They’re just regular humans who love you. They have no idea how to handle this. But you can’t decide they’re suddenly bad friends just because they don’t know how to help someone with depression.
Sometimes, they need a break
It’s hard to accept, but your friends may retreat sometimes right now. It has nothing to do with not loving you and everything to do with preserving their mental health. Nobody wants to be surrounded by darkness and depression. Not even you, right? It’s the natural tendency of happy people to gravitate towards other happy people. Your friends will still be there for you, but they may spend more time with other friends.
Don’t go ghost; its scares them
Even though you sometimes don’t want to talk to anyone, don’t go ghost on your friends for days. Ignoring their calls and texts for over 48 hours can make them think something is very wrong. A simple text of, “Just not up to talking now but ok” goes a long way.
Don’t only hang with other depressives
Maybe, when you resent your friends for spending more time with their happier friends, you’ll spend more time with other depressed friends. It’s some attempt at making your other friends jealous. It doesn’t do anyone, any good. Though other depressives may understand you, they won’t lift you up.
They don’t mean to be insensitive
If they talk about their lives—their jobs, relationships, vacations—and forget to ask how your mental state is, they aren’t insensitive. It’s normal that people just talk about their regular lives. They’re getting used to adjusting the conversation for you.
Try not to scoff at their advice
They may offer advice that you know won’t help—advice like, “Try this diet—it’s good for your mood” or “Have you tried yoga?” Don’t roll your eyes. They’re just trying to help.
Seek professional help
Your friends will help you as much as they can, but therapists exist for a reason: therapy is a place where the expectation is that the entire conversation will be about you. And therapists are trained to help. In a friendship, the expectation isn’t typically that conversation will revolve entirely around one person, so it’s important to get that in counseling.
Find it in yourself to help them
Even though you can’t exactly be emotional support to anyone else right now, when you have little bursts of energy, find it in you to help your friends if you can. Whether that’s taking their dog out for them or driving them to the airport—if they’re there for you a lot right now, they’d probably appreciate just a little help sometimes.