What to do when depression disrupts your relationships?
January 30, 2009 1:57 PM   Subscribe

What to do when depression disrupts your relationships?

I have chronic mild-to-moderate depression. I am in treatment but it never fully resolves. I go through phases of being quite irritable and/or antisocial. Naturally, this has a tendency to disrupt all but the most solid friendships.

I have one group of friends in which I always feel like an outsider. They will invite me to some things but I often feel that I get left out of important events, and that I'm not invited as often as others in the group are. When, as it usually happens, I find out later that I was left out of a big get together, or a party to celebrate x y or z, my depressed mood further deteriorates. Then again, because I'm down I'm not often extending invitations, so maybe that's why I don't get as many as others in the group do. However, when I'm having a good week, and try to rekindle things, sometimes I feel a touch rebuffed--maybe due to having been out of touch for a while.

I've tried to tell a few friends in this circle that I've been down, "don't take it personally if I'm not super social," etc. However, the fact that this hasn't led to many inquiries into how I'm doing, nor invitations to spend time together, leads me to wonder if in fact that they don't care about me all that much...which leads me to be even less inclined to spend time with them when I am in fact invited, since as described above I feel like I'm treated as a bit of an outsider and I'm not all that sure that any of them care about me as more than just a tertiary member of their large and extended circle. As you can see, this makes becoming isolated a self sustaining cycle.

Anyway, I'm not sure if I'm pushing these people away or if it's more like my mood has caused me to drift away (and they assume that I don't like THEM) or if they simply don't like or care about me all that much--or some combination of the three. However, I'm not sure I feel close enough to discuss the topic any more than I already have. At this point I'm not sure how to address it since we're not all that close and this seems a topic that you'd discuss with good friends.

Any thoughts on how to address the above situation and how to avoid withdrawing in the first place when one gets down?
posted by mintchip to Human Relations (13 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
I've tried to tell a few friends in this circle that I've been down, "don't take it personally if I'm not super social," etc. However, the fact that this hasn't led to many inquiries into how I'm doing, nor invitations to spend time together, leads me to wonder if in fact that they don't care about me all that much.

Another way to interpret that is that they are very kindly giving you the space you're telling them you need, even if you're not saying it in so many words.

Sometimes people are reluctant to ask about these things. There are a lot of reasons -- they don't want to pry, they might feel like the other person doesn't want to talk about it, etc. It doesn't mean they don't care.

Hard as it may be, the best thing to do might be to initiate action yourself. Ask the friends to go out to dinner or get a drink. You don't have to do it often. But you stay engaged and show them that you still want to be around them, even when you're withdrawn. Plus, actually getting out and doing stuff, as little as you may want to, can be the first step in taming that depression.

No advice on how not to withdraw (but I sure look forward to hearing others'.)
posted by mudpuppie at 2:05 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

It sort of sounds like your relationship with these people is a clusterfuck of dysfunction, generally.

It's entirely possible that you're not always invited for reasons other than depression. Perhaps they have something in common with one another (are they all couples? live closer together? from the same workplace?) that's not shared with you. It's also possible that they aren't happy that you don't keep in touch. I had a friend who suffered from a myriad of depression and anxiety problems, and 90% of the time I had to completely chase after her to spend any time with her, and it was exhausting, and it felt inequitable and became extremely frustrating. Eventually, I gave up. Depression or not, you can't expect your friends to support the entire brunt of socializing--you really need to reach out to them and show you're interested and care about them, too.

But this bothered me more than anything else: I've tried to tell a few friends in this circle that I've been down, "don't take it personally if I'm not super social," etc. However, the fact that this hasn't led to many inquiries into how I'm doing, nor invitations to spend time together, leads me to wonder if in fact that they don't care about me all that much...which leads me to be even less inclined to spend time with them when I am in fact invited, since as described above I feel like I'm treated as a bit of an outsider and I'm not all that sure that any of them care about me as more than just a tertiary member of their large and extended circle.

So, you're not telling them not to take it personally if you're antisocial because you're concerned that their feelings will be hurt, but as some sort of test to gauge their reaction to your depression and determine whether they care about you or not? That's passive aggressive and unfair. If you want to spend more time with them, and want to be invited along more, you need to be honest with them: "I've been kind of depressed lately and bad about calling people. I've heard you guys hung out without me and hearing that made me feel bummed. Can you call me next time? I'd love to spend time with you."

But seriously, don't test people like that. It's not honest or fair.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 2:28 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'm a very social person by nature, and when I feel myself succumbing to anxiety/depression I will start to retreat and turn down invitations, not reach out, make people chase me etc. I just fight that urge like hell, go out anyway, and find things to like about it and get through it. The way I see it, if you are coming down with the flu, you don't go out and party. You stay in bed. If you're coming down with depression, don't stay in bed. Don't party, either, but get out there and be with people. It's what you need. YMMV, this is all personal strategy.
posted by sweetkid at 2:58 PM on January 30, 2009

Yeah, PhoBWanKenobi got it.

As someone who suffers from depression and is generally not enthusiastic about social engagements, I know that it is MY job to determine what I am comfortable with and what I am not comfortable with. It isn't their job to read your mind.

I often find myself going places and doing things because I know, very specifically, if I don't accept an invitation I'll no longer GET invitations. Sometimes it sucks. (Case in point: I went to the opera last weekend, miserable, because I wanted to be at home in bed instead. Opera was great. Didn't solve my depression or make me want to be out of the house any more.) Sometimes it doesn't. But I know that it is MY job to navigate this, not their job.
posted by greekphilosophy at 3:00 PM on January 30, 2009 [2 favorites]

Try and find some level of communication that you're comfortable with maintaining, like Facebook or Twitter or emails or text messages. You can keep your space, but also keep in touch. Ramp it up to phone calls and in-person interaction when you feel better.

Also, have some regular weekly/monthly event planned, like a book club or karaoke night, that you feel semi-obligated to go to (or that your friends expect you to be there). This will force you out of the house. Confide in a friend that sometimes you have trouble dragging yourself out, and you'd appreciate an encouraging phone call. Generally I feel better once I'm at the event.

Most of all, get out of the mindset that they don't care, because that is a downward spiral. You are testing them because you believe the "truth" that no one cares about you (this is the fundamental basis of depression after all), and you will keep finding ways to "prove" it. Insecurity is a bottomless pit; no amount of external reassurance will satisfy you. Take the leap of faith that it's NOT true, that people DO care, and see what results that produces.

Best wishes from someone who has struggled with agoraphobia and depression.
posted by desjardins at 5:01 PM on January 30, 2009 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Just to be clear (maybe I didn't word things as well as I could have to get my point across), I was not telling my friends that I was down in order to test them to see how much they care. What I was trying to communicate is that, due to being depressed, which is an illness that runs in my family, I was not feeling up to initiating contact, making plans, etc., but that I was open to it and wasn't mad at anyone or avoiding anyone. I didn't want anyone to take my disappearing act personally, as it was due to personal reasons.

It was hard for me to take the risk of voicing this sort of thing, which many people would never talk about. The fact that the response to this was basically met with a nonresponse sort of made me feel bad. I guess what would have made me feel less depressed, and more happy, was to have had my friends try to draw me out more, ask me how I'm doing, try to talk to me about it (because i feel rather isolated, and moreso, incapable of changing the situation). I'm not saying they need to know that...but to me, I would just assume that's what *most* people would wish for from their friends--maybe I'm wrong though, and some people would actually want space.
posted by mintchip at 5:53 PM on January 30, 2009

mintchip, it's okay to talk about depression. Just don't assume that your friends know what you need unless you communicate your needs to them.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:56 PM on January 30, 2009

I'm one of those people that really does want space. I will turn off my phone. If I say I'm not going to call you because I'm depressed, well don't call me because I won't answer.
posted by desjardins at 6:44 PM on January 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

The one thing I learned over the years is that good friends will always be there for you. Whether it's that they are there for you through every turn, or that that they are there to welcome you back after some time apart, at the end of the day, good friends don't need to be chased after. Depression is a tough illness. It's not one many people understand or are able to deal with. Alot of folks who suffer from depression lose friends, because when push comes to shove and the party is over, alot of people just don't want to deal with it as it commands a deeper level of commitment to another individual. But there will always be those special people in your life who will want to deal with it or be there when you need them. Take a long hard look and ask yourself if these people are those kinds of friends. If they aren't, then attempting to hold onto their "friendship" will do you more damage than good.
posted by scarello at 6:59 PM on January 30, 2009

Listen, they like you and care about you. And they probably have no clue you've been feeling this down. Next time you get invited to something, will yourself to accept it and then deliberately shelf your hangups for the night. Forget about yourself and really listen to your friends. Watch them, rather than yourself, and you'll find that they're not really thinking about you or judging you. And if they do happen to have a few issues with you (probably nothing more than some mild confusion about what's expected of them) hey, big deal. At least you've made an impression.
posted by cymru_j at 7:29 PM on January 30, 2009

It is clear that you already know that these people are not close friends of the always be there type (although some may or may not have that potential.)

I also assume that because of the depression you tend to be particularly sensitive to negative input such as rebuffs and to blaming yourself when things go wrong - maybe that even why you posted - to get another perspective.

It is entirely possible that you did not get the response you wanted because most people are uncomfortable talking about depression (not just you) and, as you said, these are not close friends. Also, reappearing after an absence can be awkward - and that awkwardness may feel like a rebuff.

It is also possible that you are right that you are on periphery of the group - sometimes there, sometimes not, sometimes invited, sometimes not. (also, be aware the invitations don't come from the group - they usually start with an individual and some group members may seek you out more than others.) That doesn't make you an outsider but it does put you further away from the inner circle. Most groups usually have a few core members, a some more regulars and a collection of people on the periphery. But those on the periphery often have other groups or close friendships where they are closer to the center.

So, I'm wondering if it is OK with you to be in the group but on the periphery here. If you want a closer friendship with the people (or some of the people) in this group, you will probably need to reach out and participate more. You don't know what will happen if you try - maybe you will get closer, maybe things won't change.

The question is do you want to invest the energy in finding out? If you do decide to try, you should also think about how to deal with being left out of certain events - it will probably still happen, at least on occasion, but it doesn't have to feed the depression.

This is just my personal bias - but consider being more open about your struggles with depression. "People" don't talk about it - you can be (if you are willing) the person who is an exception. You might find that once you are willing to do a simple disclosure ("I often struggle with depression.") you will probably find many other people who have either experienced depression themselves or with someone that they care about. About 5% of the US population is struggling with major depression in any given year - if each person has a network of 5 close friends and family members than a quarter of all the people you meet would know someone close to them that is currently experiencing depression. If you open the door to talking about it openly, many of them will bring up their own stories. You might also want to develop a 1-2 sentence answer to people who do invite you to do something and you don't feel up to it. ("The depression is bad this week. Sorry that I don't have the energy - it sounds like fun. Please keep inviting me - it means a lot even if I can't always go.)

This has been my experience. I have a child who has problems with depression and more. When I just mentioned that my child was struggling with depression at an alumni event (talk about people you know but are not close to!) I was surprised how many started telling me stories from their own family, and in far more detail than the one sentence I had offered them. Similarly, we live in community where it seems like everyone's child goes to an Ivy League school. But, when I mention that my child basically flunked out her first quarter at college, I start hearing the stories of children struggling academically that most parents don't want to tell unless they know they are talking to another parent who will understand. So, if you feel comfortable disclosing just a little bit about your situation (coming out of the closet, so to speak), you would be supporting more general social openness about mental illness.
posted by metahawk at 8:23 PM on January 30, 2009

Best answer: I know exactly how you feel. In those times I feel like I just want to curl up and disappear.
The thought of activities and meeting people is downright repulsive. And yet there is a part of
me that thinks how nice it would be if, though I don't want to talk, some would drop by. To
inquire about my well being. To show concern.

It's normal to think the way you do. Though you have found out that it's a downward spiral.
Not hearing from people makes you want to retreat more. And the more you retreat,
the harder for people to give you what you want.

You have to keep in mind that it's hard for people too though they might be aware of what
you go through. Depression is more accepted nowadays but I doubt people who never had it
understand the full depth one can sink into. That is, unfortunately, a fact of life.

That does not give you an excuse to fully retreat altogether. You've seen the cycle. Nip it in the bud. As someone suggested above, have events and activites that you're semi obligated to go to. And go. No matter what.

And it will probably do you good to get in touch with like minded people. Depression online forums or support group. They understand more and might give you the feedback you want. Which in turn will hopefully draw you out of your retreats more. So you have the energy to initiate contact with this group if that's what you want.

Good luck to you
posted by 7life at 10:16 AM on January 31, 2009

Was talking to my boyfriend - also an avowed introvert - and he said that sometimes we get all caught up in our diagnoses and avoid examining what might also be at play. For example, you might be trying to do things that are just NOT YOUR THING. He and I both prefer one-on-one activities, small groups, etc. It's just not enticing for us to attend mega-super-public functions. We do sometimes, of course. But it isn't our preference. Do a bit of searching to find out if you can figure out what experiences you might prefer and learn to revel in them and not feel like you are missing out on the bigger events.
posted by greekphilosophy at 10:05 AM on February 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

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