friendship and depression, how to reconnect?
December 16, 2010 9:16 AM   Subscribe

How to re-connect with friends while depressed/trying to get over depression?

For the last year or so I've been very depressed - a lot of things went wrong all at once and I really just couldn't cope. For the last month this has gotten really acute, to the point that I started having anxiety attacks whenever I thought about seeing close friends - anyone who was close enough to know that things were not ok and ask about it. I didn't want to think about how bad things were. I've been putting all of my energy into trying to appear "normal" in situations where I can't afford not to (e.g. work). But the result of this is that I have now basically cut myself off from my support system. The few people who were close enough to know that things were really bad I've basically told, "I don't want to talk about this, I can't face talking about this, don't ask me about it, just leave me alone." So now they won't ask, which is what I wanted, only now the pressure is becoming unbearable. I still feel anxious when I think about talking to a friend about all of these things but it's making me equally anxious to not talk about them. How can I undo this and reconnect with somebody before I lose it completely? What do I do if having pushed them away now they don't want to deal with me and my problems?

Before you say "therapy", I'm on a waiting list, but they're overbooked (and it's the holiday season) so it will be a while, and I'm too broke to go elsewhere. And I can't talk to family; family is one of the problems I'm depressed about.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
What do I do if having pushed them away now they don't want to deal with me and my problems?

Depression doesn't want to be fixed and it will do anything to drive away anyone who wishes to help, as you have noticed. If these are real, genuine friends, you have not driven them to no longer wish to help you. Instead, they have complied with your (depression's) desire to be left alone so that it can keep itself alive. Be honest and plainspoken to your friends and tell them that regardless of what you have told them in the past, you want their help if they are still willing to offer it.
posted by griphus at 9:25 AM on December 16, 2010 [4 favorites]

Send this post to some of those friends! They're probably worried about you and just don't know what to do.

I went to a workshop on helping people who've had trauma in their lives. I remember them telling us not to push people to talk about it; instead, we were advised to do whatever we could to make them comfortable, offer them hot drinks, food, a safe place to be.

Read all of the great responses to an earlier question today. Hang in there, it gets better.
posted by mareli at 9:30 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

Coming to grips with the fact that your close friends already realize things aren't okay might help. No one is perfect and always has everything together, and your friends don't expect that from you.

Once you get there, which may relieve a lot of pressure, you can decide if you want to maintain the "don't ask, let's not go there" policy or if you want to talk about things. If you decide you want to revise that policy in favor of talking about things, maybe get a beer and start off with a "so, things are pretty stressful/difficult right now."
posted by J. Wilson at 9:32 AM on December 16, 2010

Oh that's rough. I've been there a few times. The fear of crying or appearing weak in front of other people can be overwhelming. And then there's the fear that they will be as disgusted as you feel yourself.

But the truth is, depression makes it seem much worse than it really is. If they are good friends or any kind of decent sympathetic people at all, they will be able to feel for you. If you can get to the point where you start to let go of this fear of rejection then you'll probably find that you can hang out normally and eventually talk a bit about how you feel. Your friends will definitely want to help you.
posted by mr.ersatz at 9:53 AM on December 16, 2010

I could have written this question. I pretty much did exactly this over the course of the past year. Fortunately, my friends (the good ones, anyway) are very forgiving people.

What I did to start breaking out of the cocoon I had wrapped myself in was apologize to the people I had deliberately pushed away, and humbly ask for their help. Apologizing is not fun, but a good friend will understand, and accept the apology (or most likely tell you that you have nothing to apologize for, but in reality, apologizing lets them know that you don't take their friendship for granted). More often than not they'll be thrilled at the opportunity to actually do something, anything, to help you out, even if it's just listen. I've found that good friends are often really, really frustrated when someone they love is hurting and it seems like there's nothing they can do. I've been on both sides of this.

So, I'd say bite the bullet and pick up the phone, don't bother rehearsing or trying to collect yourself, but just say something like, "Hey, I know we haven't talked in a while, and I'm really sorry about that. I've been a basket case, and I feel even worse for telling you to leave me alone when you were just trying to help. I know I said I didn't want to talk about things, but, well, do you think we could go for coffee, my treat?" and take it from there. If any of them are such fair-weather friends that they'd blow you off, even though they knew full well you've been struggling, don't waste any more time trying to reconnect with them (at least not right now, when you need friends who are going to be supportive).
posted by Gator at 9:59 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

First off, I'm sorry for what's going on in your head. I understand it. It sucks. But though it feels like a lot and I don't want to seem like I'm dismissing it, it's only as big between you and your friends as you make it. Your friends want to help you out, they want to be there for you if you need it -- congratulations your miles ahead of most people. But guess what -- unless they're big drama-loving freaks, they don't want to talk about it. Not because they don't care, but because since they care about you, they'd just assume it not be a topic. So if you don't want to talk about it, as long as you don't make their lives miserable by not talking about it, they are probably a-okay with that.

But they will be there for you if you need it, just because you didn't need it them.

The best way to keep these lines of communication open is to make plans with people -- it doesn't have to be as big as you make it in your head -- just do something. Go out, see a movie or a play or get a drink or have coffee or watch TV with them. Just because you know you might one day want to talk with friends about this doesn't mean the next time you see them has to be that time. But if you spend time with them and you think to yourself "I'm going to enjoy this", even if you fake it, you'll feel better. Maybe you won't. Maybe you'll break down half way through it. But I doubt it. Depression lives and thrives in lonely shadows. Being with people casts light on it. Even if you are, like me, the type of introvert who can, when depressed, feel more miserable around people, at least you'll be feeling something you can recognize and, then, being around friends, you can let it out and say "Look, here's what's going on. It's, as they say, not you; it's me. And I'm glad to have you as a friend." Anybody who cares will understand this.

Good luck and take care of yourself.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:34 AM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

I agree with griphus, both about how depression doesn't want to be fixed and how good friends will understand and give you space.

I was really inspired by the use of index cards in this memorable AskMe. Now, your situation is nowhere near as dire (in many ways), but I think the concept could work. Just write out as much or as little as you feel like discussing at any point in time. You don't have to use index cards; e-mail or Post-Its are fine, too. You don't have to put it all in one basket; just put little bits on each piece of paper/paragraph/e-mail and give them to your friends as an explanation in whatever order you feel like.

This gives you several advantages. It helps you reflect as you write, which is good for your own well-being. It lets you distill your thoughts down into short bits, so you can figure out what's most important. It helps you get the thoughts and feelings out of your own head while still having the safety of not telling someone else until you're ready. It breaks the situation down into manageable pieces, which is great for you in dealing with it (see? not such a huge thing anymore) and great for sharing your feelings with friends at your own pace.

The other thing to remember is that they probably know more than you think they do. They can probably tell that something is really off and are just waiting for you to confirm it. If you're depressed, that can seem awfully insurmountable too -- "Geez, I've made these people worry about me; how do I dig out from that?" -- and it can be very hard to visualize the level of relief you could find on the other side.

But you can also remember that it'll be a huge relief for them, as well. I don't know what kind of stuff is going on in your life; it could be anything from something personally difficult to a much larger ongoing thing like family illness or similar. The worst thing, though, is not knowing what's going on. No matter how big/visible it is ("I don't want them dragged into this big fight..."), or how significant to you but seemingly insignificant to others ("Oh, they'll think it's so stupid for me to worry this much..."), they will breathe a sigh of relief when you tell them because they will have a better idea of how to be your friend.

It's not even about help or pity or compassion; it's about being able to have a perspective on things. The thing that gives me strength in tough times is remembering that everyone -- absolutely everyone -- has difficulties that they're hiding and think they have to deal with on their own. You'd be surprised what people will share, and how little it will matter in the big picture, when you give them your trust.
posted by Madamina at 10:57 AM on December 16, 2010 [2 favorites]

When you have anxiety it is easy to feel as if it is "you" and that it is your fault. Just remember it is your brain - your brain is full of chemicals that can make you do crazy things. You are doing the right thing by going to get therapy. Tell your friends - I have some issues I need to work on - I realized I made poor decisions but this is what I need.

What do you want your friends to do? Spend time with you? Pledge to be there after therapy? You can say I'm struggling with anxiety but I am working on it. For now can we not talk about and just do x.

You'll be fine because you are looking for how to deal with - just keep at it.
posted by turtlefu at 10:58 AM on December 16, 2010

A different note: in the meanwhile (while you're waiting for help) it might help to join an online support group, and be in contact with people who understand what you're going through (in case your friend don't get it enough).
posted by mirileh at 1:21 PM on December 16, 2010 [1 favorite]

Depression doesn't want to be fixed and it will do anything to drive away anyone who wishes to help, as you have noticed.

Do not agree!! Depression is not an evil spirit or a willing entity—it can't want anything. While it may be helpful at times to personify disorders in this way, it can also be seriously counterproductive as it posits an implacable enemy with interests against our own.

Dealing with depression effectively tends to require that you be very, very easy on yourself— seeing it as some kind of devil can make you beat yourself up when you are low and unable to feel good and beating yourself up for beating yourself up or for not being able to beat depression alone or for being weak in any way actually makes it significantly worse. It's this meta level of self hate and depression that becomes the most unbearable, for me anyway.

In this instance, I'd just apologize for whatever you might have done to push people away and explain you are feeling low and would totally appreciate people reaching out and inviting you to do things and encouraging you to see them when you are resistant to going out. People respond well to openness and tend to feel good when they know they can help someone. Keep in mind that when you allow someone to help you, you are actually giving *them* a gift. Feeling useful by helping someone else is in fact a very good antidote to depression, when you can manage it. So do your part by letting other people help you!
posted by Maias at 4:44 PM on December 16, 2010

The few people who were close enough to know that things were really bad I've basically told, "I don't want to talk about this, I can't face talking about this, don't ask me about it, just leave me alone." So now they won't ask, which is what I wanted, only now the pressure is becoming unbearable. I still feel anxious when I think about talking to a friend about all of these things but it's making me equally anxious to not talk about them.

You have every right to change your mind. Have coffee with them or something, and say, "I think it was a mistake to ask people not to ask about what I'm going through. That was the depression talking. But I don't know how to talk about these things, and it hurts."

If you have one friend who can be your advocate, you can tell them this and ask them to tell others. That's still avoidant, but when it's a step forward it's OK to take the middle ground between avoiding things and not.
posted by Bongotrance Rabbitfriend at 12:44 PM on December 17, 2010

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