Maintaining healthy friendships while struggling with a mental illness.
October 16, 2013 5:19 PM   Subscribe

Trying to figure out how to manage both a mental illness and a set friendships at the same time - balance between opening the can of worms that thoughts of a depressed mind can be and closing in, keeping things to myself appears to be incedibly hard to strike, and being unable to figure it out for 4 years now has been costing me plenty of sleepless nights and otherwise good friendships along the way. All input appreciated; more backstory inside.

I've been feeling very content with my current, small circle of friends, but things have started slip trough the cracks again, and once again, it makes me bring up the ages-old question: "How exactly do you manage both an illness of this kind and a friendship, let alone a relationship?" - i.e. what are the main pitfalls I should look out for in order to not sabotage my chances of social success?

I do find myself in a Catch-22 situation here: therapy is not available here, so I am on meds - they are not enough to completely overcome this set if health issues, so I end up looking for support in people around me: eventually me not making much progress all-around breaks down their tolerance to such darkness and friendship silently dies at some point. Trying to talk it out directly by voicing concerns has so far been a fruitless effort, for it acts as the killing blow to the friendship. How to break the loop?

Background: I am 20 years old male, residing in a small town in Latvia, Europe. Diagnosed with anxiety and depression 4 years ago; been on med treatment ever since. Changing residence is currently not an option, although I plan to entroll a university abroad next year.
posted by 9080 to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
 
I'm hearing that you're worried you're overwhelming your friends in asking for support with your mental health.

While in-person therapy is great, there are other options. David Burns' Feeling Good Handbook is helpful. Mood Gym is an online Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy program that was really helpful for me. There are many other wonderful books and resources out there. Psych Central has online forums for people dealing with mental health issues; it's not as immediately gratifying as a support group, but it could still be helpful. Working with a book or an online program would give you tools to deal better with your depression and anxiety, so that you weren't relying solely on your friends. (If you can't get Amazon or someone else to ship the Burns book to you, please Memail me and I'll help.)

When was the last time you had a medical evaluation of your medications, and is that something you can do? You may need a higher dosage of your current medications, or a new medication.

I absolutely think you should be able to look for support from your friends, but they can't be your only hope. The more tools you can work on on your own, the more you can see your friends as friends rather than lifelines.
posted by jaguar at 5:28 PM on October 16, 2013 [4 favorites]


Other activities that have been shown to help with depression and anxiety:

Meditation
Exercise
Gratitude journal (write down 5-10 things each day for which you are grateful)
Spiritual practices
Volunteering to help others in a structured way

You may not be capable of doing any of those things right now, and that's ok, but if that's the case, I would strongly suggest you talk to your doctor about increasing or changing your medication.
posted by jaguar at 5:33 PM on October 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't have any specific one to recommend, but an on-line support group is a good thing when you find the right one.

When I was depressed, my friendships suffered; that's just part of it. But, in retrospect I can see that the only times I derived depression-beating benefit from friendships were when I had managed to get myself into a good enough spot to be giving to the friendship instead of taking from it. Giving will make your life better, so a focus on 'How can I find support systems for myself so that I am able to be a giving friend' is a better focus than 'How can I get support from my friends.'

Further on with that: healthy laypeople are not normally terribly well equipped to help you anyway. Even when they are, it is draining for them. Peers, in the sense of other depressives, are going to be able to understand in ways that the mentally healthy are not. I lost a big chunk of my life to severe depression and I don't even understand it now -- you would hope I might have some sort of magical insights as a person who had come out the other side, but most of what I think looking back is: what. Why? Wow. It was so irrational that a rational mind can't quite process it, which is probably part of why your friends are withering at your disclosures.

If you can't find an established online support group that looks like the right flavour, it is easy peasy to start up a group on Facebook and post about it to a few related groups.

Reach out to friends when you are at your best, not when you are at your worst, because giving of yourself is curative. It will be excruciating at first and seemingly senseless -- what is the point of trying to give when all you feel is need, I know -- but the payoffs are terrific. If you can't make your own life better right now, you can gain purpose and direction by making somebody else's life better.
posted by kmennie at 6:42 PM on October 16, 2013 [5 favorites]


Would it be helpful to just hang out one on one with friends instead of in a group? Sometimes that is less stressful.
posted by radioamy at 6:44 PM on October 16, 2013


I ended up telling my friends that I was having some personal problems (I would elaborate about depression, etc if I was close to the person) and that it had NOTHING to do with them if I didn't want to hang out or something... I was just having a really hard time and needed time to myself to recalibrate.

I also avoided making plans with people for awhile, or only agreed to join a group activity - that way if I was feeling really shitty the day we agreed to hang out, I could drop out and not worry I would be leaving someone hanging (since it was more than just me hanging out with a person).

Most of my friends were understanding and we hung out sporadically over a few years when I was dealing with things, but we are still friends. Though, one friend took it super personally even after I explained that they weren't the reason I didn't want to hang out.

If someone is acting super selfish and complains about you wanting to take care of YOU, then you should avoid them anyways. Nothing is more stressful than trying to make someone happy when you are trying to make yourself happy.
posted by littlesq at 7:36 PM on October 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hello, and thank you for all the replies. I will try to address the things brought up:

* When was the last time you had a medical evaluation of your medications, and is that something you can do? You may need a higher dosage of your current medications, or a new medication.
> Memory's a bit fuzzy, for right now I have a really big stack of medicine that I rely on, and have successfully managed to stay away from my psychiatrist for good quarter of a year. However, I recall it all getting to the "this is the best we can do; it won't get any better than this" responses from her. Let's just say it wasn't encouraging.

* When I was depressed, my friendships suffered; that's just part of it. But, in retrospect I can see that the only times I derived depression-beating benefit from friendships were when I had managed to get myself into a good enough spot to be giving to the friendship instead of taking from it. Giving will make your life better, so a focus on 'How can I find support systems for myself so that I am able to be a giving friend' is a better focus than 'How can I get support from my friends.'
> Thank you for the reminder. I like to think that I genuinely am trying my best to follow this philosophy, for whenever I meet a new person, I try to listen and figure out how I can help them or just make them feel more understood, make the conversation interesting for it to be worth ther time. I try to never cling up to somebody and ask them to solve my issues, but I sometimes ask for their input on things. And when they ask me how I am doing, I reply honestly, with occasional snippets of what's on my mind. It does seem to me now that giving people the idea that my problems are not going anywhere because of me frequently mentioning their presence is one heck of a downer for many.

Sometimes it gets exhausting and feeling pointless to make the effort to listen to all others have to say without offering any non-technical info or advice, i.e. stating my feelings or potentially suicide-inclinded thoughts. I slip at times, and it can change one's perception of me for a long time, unfortunately.

* Would it be helpful to just hang out one on one with friends instead of in a group? Sometimes that is less stressful.
> I'm the person who generally prefers one-to-one online conversations, yes. Currently not having any of my friends in close proximity either, so I cannot get together and hang out with them.


Thank you, everyone, for your input and resource and book recommendations. I appreciate it.
posted by 9080 at 5:35 AM on October 17, 2013


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