I don’t know about you but when I picture a person suffering from depression, I picture someone who has cut off all communication with the outside world and is now cuddled in a corner of their apartment with tear-stained cheeks. Their hair is disheveled and they probably reek of decomposing bodies. Even as someone who suffers from anxiety and desperately wants my friends and family to not judge, but have empathy and understanding. My views of mental illness is probably on par with the stereotypical images we are bombarded with – even though I have an elevated awareness of the need to ignore those images and offer compassion.
My first day of high school, I met a girl and we clicked instantly over our love of JT. It would be the cornerstone that years of friendship were built upon. As time went on, we remained really good friends and were accepted by each other’s families despite traveling in different social circles. When I first started dating T-Daddy, she was the first person I thought of because of something she said to me that first day we met. It would become an inside joke that never grew old no matter how old we grew. Ironically, our friendship also started to disintegrate around that time.
The exact timeline of events is fuzzy now, as I don’t remember what happened first. My friend told me she was shaving her head. Her mom called to tell me she was in a mental health ward for evaluation and asked me to go visit – I did and was told no one by that name had been admitted. My friend called me to tell me that I was a “horrible friend” that constantly talked down to her and always made her feel bad about herself and she could no longer have a person like me in her life. She reached out to me to tell me that she wasn’t herself when she said those things but was getting the help she needed and very much so wanted me to be a part of her life. She shared some pretty shocking and unbelievable things about her family life. She reached out to me after the birth of TD1 and said she couldn’t wait to meet her. I had to silently decide if I thought my once close friend was a threat to my child – I didn’t know. She called me on my birthday and sang me a very entertaining and heartwarming birthday song. We connected on social media, where more than a few of her posts were borderline disturbing.
Eventually, I determined that she had me on a yo-yo and for my own sanity, I needed to cut the cord. I couldn’t discern what was truth and what was a result of whatever she was dealing with. It wasn’t hard at first, she never made an effort to call and neither did I. Then one day she did. I didn’t know whether to accept it or decline. It went to voicemail before I decided. I listened to the voicemail and decided I wasn’t ready to let her back in my life. She never called again. And just like that, a decade-long friendship ended. Even as I write this, I’m fighting back tears. She was one of my closest friends and I’m saddened by the path our friendship eventually took.
When I was diagnosed with anxiety, she was one of the first people I thought of. I can’t remember what her exact diagnosis is (it wasn’t anxiety), but I wondered if she felt the way I felt at that moment. Would my friends now decide that, for their own sanity, they could no longer deal with me? Did I act too hastily or unempathetically in how I handled the situation? Should I reach out to her? Was it too late?
I didn’t reach out to her. I’m still struggling to understand what all my anxiety entails and the last thing I need to add to my life right now is more confusion. But I do think about her from time to time. Not all the time. Not even once a month. Just when something reminds me of her or the jokes we shared or the time I spent in her apartment. And when I do, I pray that she’s okay. That she’s getting the help she needs to deal with whatever she’s going through. And I wonder if I really did handle our friendship in the best way. Was there something I could have done differently? Not so much that we could still be friends, but so that she knew I really did love and care for her.
And it makes me wonder: in dealing with my own struggles with anxiety, what am I teaching my own daughters about interacting with those that have internal wars we don’t understand? I hope that I’m teaching them how to draw appropriate boundaries, but also to care about others. To lend a helping hand, but also know when someone needs more help than they can give. And to love them regardless, even if it’s from afar. It’s a delicate balance. And as someone that’s been on both sides, I know how sad it is to lose a friend that is going through something you don’t understand and how lonely it is to feel like no one truly understands so you have to go through it alone. I don’t want TD1 and TD2 to be on either side of that war.
But it’s a war that more people than we realize fight, so how do I prepare them?
*May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s each do our part to spark a much needed conversation.