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Making friends is easy when you’re fun, kind and welcoming, but keeping them, however, is an entirely different story, especially if you suffer from anxiety and depression. As a woman who has dealt with mental health issues for as long as I can remember, I’ve come to terms with the fact that I will have to live with a lot of acquaintances. Even though I wish that weren’t the case, it’s where my life lessons have brought me.
I’m sure some people from my past may believe I’m awful because I couldn’t live up to certain expectations or I came off cold more times than I would like, and that’s a hard reality to face. There have been too many times in my past where I’m the person sitting there silently listening to everyone else talk but unable to contribute because I’m too busy stuck in my doom and gloom of silence. I can only imagine what my resting bitch face looked like in those moments. There are times where I would be so overwhelmed, beating myself up that I convinced myself no one genuinely liked me. I’d convinced myself that they were talking shit behind my back or that perhaps I just wasn’t their type. I’d tell myself to move on and be strong and to act like I didn’t need them anyhow, but the truth was, I would have loved to remain their friend. It’s just so difficult at times to be the friend they need. Pretending to be happy when I was sad made it hard for me and eventually because I felt like a fake, I had to walk away. It’s hard for those who don’t live with severe internal issues to understand why we act the way that we do. We can be shady for weeks or months at a time, but once they get us out of the house, we’re friendly and outgoing and genuinely excited to be there, then we go right back into our reclusive lifestyle unheard or seen for weeks, months, at a time. We can be excited to get the invitation to your child’s birthday party, holiday get-together, or game night but when the countdown begins, the emotions and worry take over, and eventually we convince ourselves we can’t do it. Something clicks in our mind, and we have to cancel which leads us to pajama sets, snacks we’ll regret, Netflix and a shit ton of self-condemnation. It’s hard to wrap your head around this part of us when you don’t understand where we’re coming from mentally. It’s a personal hell, a hell we don’t like to openly discuss all the time because we know it can make us a lackluster friend and that’s a difficult situation to face when it’s not who we want to be. It’s just who anxiety and depression make us, and we don’t do it to be mean or shitty.
The reality of being ass backward a lot of the time leads us to feel guilty, and it can be overwhelming for everyone. It’s especially hard to explain during the times your mind can’t make one complete rational thought. You wish you could be the person that is always there, you genuinely enjoy their company, want to remain their friend and live up to these expectations that you’ve made up in your head, but sometimes that’s impossible, and it’s hard finding someone who understands that.
We live a double life in a sense, and although we don’t like to admit it, we’re somewhat high maintenance in our own weird way. We require a lot of silence and space. We need more understanding and patience, and perhaps a lot of forgiveness. But that’s incredibly difficult to ask for, and more often than not we end up feeling so guilty for our own needs that we just walk away and convince ourselves it’s for the good of everyone and if they don’t know why you left, it can lead to burnt bridges. Something that kills us inside, or at least it does for me.
Maybe up until this point, you’ve lost more friends than you have because it’s hard to open up about your mental health. You begin to get overwhelmed so you’ll slowly separate yourself from the situation. You’ll make yourself believe that in doing so you may reduce your anxiousness, but in return, you’ll welcome entirely new anxieties into your life. There’s a chance that you’ll never stop replaying your decisions, wishing you had done something different. It’s hard to make friendships last when your current best friends are anxiety and depression, a few bitches that have convinced you that they make all the calls. Thankfully, there are ways to get your voice back and not let those two ruin your friendships. It can be hard to find someone who is open and understanding, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a possibility and when you do, you’ll be thankful you opened up. You can build meaningful and long-lasting friendships even when you find yourself anxious or in another depressive state that requires all your energy and attention. Here are a few things that you can do, to help you make friends, strengthen the friendships you have, and continue building those friendships into ones that last even when you suffer from anxiety and depression.
BE HONEST WITH THEM ABOUT YOUR ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION
“Hi, my name is Amber, and this is Anxiety and Depression, we can suck sometimes, will you be our friend?” You don’t have to do that, but eventually, you will have to be honest about what it is you’re living with, especially if you feel like this is someone who could be a real friend. If you’re going to make meaningful relationships you want them to know ahead of time that you tend to isolate yourself and feel awful. Alone time may be a dream for you when you need healing, but for others, it can be a deal breaker and may lead them to think that you’re a flake. Which you can be a flake, but it doesn’t mean you don’t like them or you don’t want to see them, it’s just that you know your limits and may require a break now and again to handle life’s many obstacles. If they know ahead of time, they won’t assume the worst, but instead, they’ll be more understanding. Let them know what it is that you need, if they’re going to be a real friend, they’ll be understanding. If they aren’t willing to accept this massive part of you and help you along with your healing journey, then you don’t need to worry about it. You need to move on and be happy with yourself that you did. You don’t need that; it’s okay because someone else will be there for you.
WHATEVER YOU DO DON’T STOP MAKING PLANS
One of the hardest things for some women who live with anxiety and depression is when a friend wants to do something, and you’re not feeling it. For me, when I am a total mess sometimes the last thing I want is for my friends to text me and get me out of the house. My close girlfriends are well aware that when they haven’t heard or seen me for weeks that a considerable of me is super overwhelmed. I would love a break, and to get out of my head, but it’s hard for me to follow through at times. It may take a week or two of texting and plan making, but eventually, the stars will align and we will do something. I find it easier to make last minute plans, so I don’t have to dwell on them. Doing something that gets you outdoors and into the fresh air or something that keeps you active is always a plus. Ask them if they want to go to the gym or for a bike ride or maybe a hike. Being active will let you be in their presence without having to stress about being awkward. Sometimes you’ll have nothing to say when you’re fighting yourself and it’s nice to just be in their presence. When you’re active the endorphins start flowing; you will loosen up and be able to have genuine positive conversations while creating meaningful memories. Eventually, after the friendship grows and you let your walls down, you can make plans to get coffee or go to the bookstore so you can talk about what raw emotions you’re going through at the time. These meaningful moments build the platform to a lifelong friendship.
RELEASE THE GUILT AND TELL THEM YOU’RE SORRY
Something that happens when you are overwhelmed and in a low place is you’re going to feel awful. You’re going to cancel plans and you’re going to start feeling like a “bad friend,” this guilt will build up and it’s important to release that guilt in order to move forward and strengthen the relationship. The funny thing is that you may feel awful but your friend hasn’t given this situation a second thought because they get it, it wasn’t as a big as a deal as your anxiety made it out to be! You’ve been honest about your anxiety and negative thoughts but that doesn’t mean they won’t persist and create riffs in your mind. The quickest method to remove the guilt is to address it. If you haven’t called them back or you have failed to do something you said you would because life gets busy, the chances are that the guilt is weighing heavy on your heart. Let them know this, they will help you realise that it is okay, and you can move forward with a lighter heart and mind.
TELL THEM THAT YOU APPRECIATE THEM
By being emotionally open with friends, it makes your friendship stronger and lets them know just how important they are to you. They’ll be there when you need them most and won’t let you push them away when you’re fighting with your mental health. When I have developed a good friendship with another woman, I let them know how much I appreciate them and how amazing they are and I enjoy being their cheerleader. I am that mushy friend that says I love you, the one who thanks you for being my friend because I mean it and I want them to know how I feel because it’s important to me and that relieves a lot of my anxieties. Whatever it is that you like to do to show someone you care, be sure to do it. Being vulnerable can be a hard thing to do, and can even make you uncomfortable, but you should never be afraid of being honest with your feelings and more than likely the emotions will be reciprocated. Knowing that they care for you will subdue a lot of your anxieties and create a stronger bond.
IF YOU THINK OF THEM, TEXT THEM.
Sometimes life in your little bubble will become so hectic that before you realize it, months have gone by before you have seen a particular friend. One way to make sure that you don’t let too much time pass without saying hello, is to text them or send them a little gift mail when they come to mind. You need to train yourself to react to those reminders and take them as internal cues to take action. Taking the time to send a text will alleviate anxiety and worry that may build up if you keep thinking of them but push past the aching thoughts. Ask them what they’ve been up to and let them know that you’re thinking of them. Tell them that you’d like to do something soon.
MAKE A MONTHLY DATE TO BRING EVERYONE TOGETHER
Life is busy, and we’ve discussed how essential schedules and routines are to freeing ourselves from anxiety and falling into a depressive state, but these habits are just as helpful in maintaining friendships. If you set a monthly date for a girl’s night out or adventure, it will relieve a lot of the stress and give you something to look forward to, not to mention, create some hilarious and lifelong memories. There is nothing better than having an 80’s themed girl’s night out on the town or staying in and having a movie night surrounded by good friends, food, and cocktails. Monthly get together’s are a way to maintain friendships with those you want to get to know better and a way to meet new people. Maybe throw out the idea that you can rotate the host, this will alleviate a lot of your planning stress.
MUTUAL RESPECT AND UNDERSTANDING
Having mutual respect and understanding for one another is the only way that you’ll be able to create a lifelong friendship. Life is hectic, and EVERYONE has their lives, busy schedules, personal issues and difficulties that they’re dealing with on a daily basis. Whether anxiety and depression are involved or not, life is insane. Friends deserve the right to get busy, and they shouldn’t have to explain themselves unless they’re ready to. If you are holding grudges or expectations over someone’s head, there is no way that friendship will last because there isn’t respect. If you reach out to your friend and they don’t get back to you, stop assuming the worst and just let it go. If you are having a tough time, let them know that your anxiety is being a bitch and you would like some reassurance that everything is okay. I promise you that they’re just busy and they’re not trying to make you think the worst on purpose. It’s important not to jump to conclusions and make them out to be an awful friend; remember you wouldn’t want someone to think that way about you. There should be going both ways in the relationship. If they’re giving you a hard time because you’ve canceled plans or aren’t supporting you when you need them to, the chances are that the friendship will be on the rocks and cause you a lot more anxiety than you need. Let them know how you feel, and hopefully, things will change, you need to be honest with your friends without worrying that they’re holding the friendship for ransom.
The friendships that I have had since I was younger and continue to be the strongest are the ones where we can go for months without talking or seeing each other but know that we will always be there for each other. We have that mutual respect and understanding that life gets crazy and hustling is a must. We’re doers, wives, mothers, employees, students, friends with others, and we want the best for each other even if that means having to go apart for long periods of time. When we do talk and get together, it’s like no time has passed, we have a blast because we respect each other for our differences and can’t wait to have pure fun with no drama. We are each other’s biggest cheerleaders. We keep group chats going so that we can share random memes or videos that remind us of each other or to just bitch with no judgment when we’re having a hard time. And we don’t get mad when one of us says that they want us to shut the fuck up because we’ve sent 1000 comments in a five-minute time frame. Let your friends be honest and appreciate the fact that they are a separate entity with separate wants and needs. When you have that you’ll create something that can’t be fucked with, no matter what life throws your way.
DON’T WORRY ABOUT HAVING ALL OF YOUR FRIENDS BE FRIENDS WITH EACH OTHER
If you’re only looking for friends within your circle of friend’s friends then more than likely you’re missing out. Go and find something that interests you, and keep an open mind to finding a new friend in the process. You have to start pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and opening up to the possibility that you could see a new friend in everyone you meet. There are many sides to us, and it’s possible to find life-long friendships with others because of your separate interests or hobbies. It can be hard to make new friends when you have anxiety, but the women in your yoga class or that you always run into at your favorite cafe may end up being a life-long friend if you ring up a conversation. All of your friends don’t have to be friends with each other so don’t put that pressure on yourself because it limits the range of possibility.
PUSH YOURSELF TO BE A GOOD FRIEND ESPECIALLY WHEN IT’S HARD
When it comes to making friends and making those friendships last when you have anxiety and suffer from depression, is that you have to push yourself when it’s the hardest. It’s important not to let your anxiety and depression to become a crutch. I know that this can seem impossible at times, but the purpose of healing is to heal and better yourself and not let these two rule your life. No one wants to live with anxiety and depression forever, and if you continue to push yourself when it’s hardest, you’ll discover that those two bitches are all talk and you can take charge. Like all relationships, friendships take work. You’ll have to work on your mental health while at the same time opening up about what it is you’re going through and return the favor to them; friends need to help each other grow and fill in those gaps that are missing. If they understand that you’re suffering at the moment but still want to see them, you can find ways to compromise. Work with each other’s strengths and weaknesses. You can be a good friend when you’re not at your best because you’ll trust that they are there for you and you are there for them when life gets tough.
LAUGH A LOT
Do something fun, stop being serious, and act like a fool. Let your guard down and do something that you wouldn’t necessarily consider before. Go and find yourself in situations with your friends that make you cry because you’re laughing so hard. A friend is someone that is there for you when times are hard but they’re also the ones that free you from life’s stresses. When you let your guard down and let your fun side out, you’ll create strong bonds and let them see the real you. That way when depression rolls around your friends will be able to sense that something is wrong and they will be there for you. You’ve opened up about these struggles by now, and they know that this is something that you can’t help, it’s a never-ending battle fighting anxiety and depression sometimes. Pretending like it’s never going to happen again may set you up for failure; a hard reality to face but when you work on being the best friend possible and being honest, you won’t have to go through it alone. Doing this will help you bounce back faster and realize that anxiety and depression are just two stage 5 clinger frenemies, who don’t stand a chance.