When Friends Retreat During Periods of Depression


I lost friends during my severe depression.

It was two and a half years long, and it only abated (thankfully) after a ne medication and diagnosis. “Getting better” was never a given.

This was my second bout of major depression. The first was when I was 28-ish and was comparatively mild. This one, 20 years later, was fully debilitating — and the anhedonia, lethargy and hopelessness were crippling. I hated myself and my personality disappeared.

I lived this way for 836 days straight.

One of the many heartbreaking side effects of my disappearing and diminished self was that many of my friends retreated. Maybe not at first, when it was early on and when I was weary and anxious but still hopeful that “this too shall pass.” But, months in, when it was apparent that my illness was becoming a tragic lifestyle, the diaspora began.

I don’t know 100 percent why they scattered. It could have been a million different reasons or a combination of them. I imagine that some were bored with my cardboard personality or realized it was not “socially advantageous” to waste time with me. I could feel them rolling their eyes invisibly when I mentioned the word “depression.”

There were others who may have been freaked out by the changes they saw — my dirty hair or inability to smile or the stiff way I carried myself. One friend, whose mother fought her own demons, exuded a tacit but clear message (in my mind at least): “I can’t go there…” Were some unsure of their role, waiting for me to reach out? And, those who sermonized on one or another “pick yourself up by your bootstraps” theme, must have been frustrated that I couldn’t.

Once I felt better, I questioned the mass retreat. Could it have been that I was the one who isolated myself and became unavailable? Or, did my sick brain conjure their exit, just like I became sure of my worthlessness?

The answer: I don’t think so.

One friend asked three times over the course of two and a half years how I was doing, and once texted an offer of help. Two invited me to take a couple walks. Another stopped by. But, sadly, those ladies represent the high end of the bar. There were few invitations, few texts (even to relay a funny story or recommend a book). The silence was painful.

And now many of these friends are back. And I am happy.

Onlookers may suggest the girlfriends I surround myself with are “fair weather friends” and don’t deserve my continued loyalty and appreciation.

But I choose not to see it that way. I always knew the “normals” were incapable of fathoming how sickening and devastating depression is, and many can’t understand it is a real illness. The first symptom listed on many depression checklists is “a deep sense of sadness”– and it’s often hard for people to see beyond that. And the discomfort some felt around me? How can I blame them when I felt so uncomfortable with myself? We both, in a sense, were abandoning me — and I’m not sure either of us could do otherwise.

I have the option of being bitter for the past and scared for future. (Statistically, I can’t expect to remain 100 percent healthy for the rest of my life.) Or, I can continue forward in the present, thankful for each day I am well and able to feel the joy in life. And part of that joy is being able to enjoy continued coffee dates, ladies nights and sisterhood.

This is what makes sense to me.

*To be fair, there were a few gals who stuck close. They know who they are. ❤️️

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