Trying to Friend While Dealing with Mental Illness

“…sometimes I don’t want to make new friends,
sometimes I just miss my old friends” -Christmas Lights by Paul Baribeau

This is such an awkward damn post because to write it I have to admit that sometimes I am lonely as hell. I don’t think that makes me special or anything, I know a lot of people my age have a hard time making friends or even just upkeeping the friendships they already have. By the time you get to your mid-twenties you start to realize that the quick, strangers-to-best-friends-in-an-hour relationships you might have formed in your youth do not come along so often as you grow up. This is especially true for me since I’m in this weird no-man’s-land of not being a student, not being employed, not having a kid, or having any hobbies that force me to leave my house to congregate with other people. There’s just not an easy way to meet folks with my similar interests. Add my anxiety and depression into the mix and it is extremely hard to leave the house; forget attempting to make friends with whichever poor person crosses my path when I’m just trying to get back to my castle of comfort.

Because we’re living in the future, I do, of course, have many online friends that have made all the difference in getting me through this extended mental health crisis. But as lovely as those relationships are, they do not replace the need for face to face shenanigans. Since moving back to Colorado and getting treatment for my illnesses, I have been able to reignite a few of the friendships that fizzled a bit after I graduated college and moved out of state. Those few friendships have sustained me as I work on building up a support system. Without those rare social foot holds it would have been near impossible to pull myself out of the hole I’d landed in.

And as great as these special friendships have been, they certainly haven’t been easy to maintain. I can’t count how many times I’ve been feeling well, reached out to make plans, only to feel shitty when it was time to follow through with those plans and ended up postponing or flaking out entirely. I am especially blessed that many of these friends have their own mental health struggles and have been very understanding when I don’t show up. Still, it sucks to feel like you’re letting down the only people who still care enough to wait around for you. Lately I’ve been trying to figure out how I can better deal with the things that make it hard for me to socialize, like asking for a ride because driving makes me hella anxious, or getting comfortable with people in my house so I don’t have to fight the fear of leaving my house when I want to hang out. I’m hoping that by opening up my options in this way I will find it easier to strengthen the few friendships that survived the last several years.

Because looking back now, it’s pretty clear that I was battling depression long before I struggled with serious anxiety. But it was the combination of the two that kicked off my official crisis back in March 2015.  Like a lot of people, I had a tough time after graduating college. Just getting used to not being a student for the first time since I was five was a huge adjustment, and when you add a thousand mile move away from all of my family and friends, it’s not too surprising that things ended up going from bad to worse. It felt like I was never able to get truly settled in Idaho and it seems like friendships on every side suffered for it.

It can be frustrating to have quite a few friendships that’d I’d love to reestablish, but the time lost to anxiety and depression sometimes leaves a chasm in relationships that are damn hard to fill, especially when that anxiety and depression is still hanging around. I end up in this awkward dance between wanting, and trying, to reach out, and at the same time not wanting to bother people I’ve probably let down a bit (or a lot). No matter how disappointing not getting a response to my endeavor is, I mostly keep trying because when I think about trying to find friends I like as much as the ones I’m missing, I tend to feel especially punctured by the delightful friendships I’ve squandered. It’s deflating trying to look forward to the future and not seeing the people you thought would be there with ya.

Still, I know dwelling is hardly beneficial. As tough as it is, to keep moving forward I need to continue building my support group back up, and that means having several close friends that I can rely on and can rely on me. So I’ve gotten creative with my various efforts to meet new people, from friendship apps to joining support groups for the struggles I have, but honestly, forming whole new relationships is difficult as fuck when you’re digging your way out of the pit of crisis. It’s disorienting to not have familiar territory to fall back on when being an interesting human is much too much. I feel like a total jerk when I connect with seemingly great people, but I struggle to take the steps needed to form a lasting relationship. For now I will keep making attempts as well as trying to show myself grace when I find it challenging to build a whole new bridge.

So yeah, this is just a bit of rambling about trying to friend while mentally ill. Like the rest of this, it’s a journey for sure, one that I feel like I’m making slow but steady progress with. Does anyone else struggle with this whole friendship thing? How do you manage to upkeep the friendships that suffer due to your illness? What are your tips and tricks for seeking out new friendships when you have anxiety or depression (or another mental illness)? I’d love to hear your thoughts and suggestions!

Until next time,

Be well my friends!

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