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5 Ways I Maintain Friendships With Anxiety and Depression

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I have anxiety and depression, which can sometimes make friendships difficult. I can cause issues when there are none. I can have high moments of anxiety that cause me to lash out. I can be selfish at times when it feels like my anxiety and depression are taking control. I can get lost in my own thoughts. Now, these are my issues. I know them. I’m self-aware of them. I have lost some good and not-so-good friendships due to my struggles. I grappled with this for a long time, but I find myself finally at peace with this fact. It gave me the opportunity to reflect on my friendships and what I do or should do differently because of my anxiety and depression. Mental illness does not mean that I’m not worthy of a real friendship. It took me a while to understand how my anxiety and depression might affect my friends around me and through many friendships, I created an understanding of how I can help maintain friendships. Below are five tips for how to keep friendships while struggling with anxiety and depression:

1. Be Honest

This one can be hard for some. I have been open enough about my anxiety and depression that this one comes a little easier for me. I found that when I’m honest with friends about my anxiety and depression, it creates a more open communication and relationship. Once I tell them that I am feeling high anxiety, so I need to disappear for five minutes to center myself, they may understand more and not take it the wrong way if I just run away. If I had plans with a friend but found myself in a depressed period, I may call them and explain what is happening instead of ditching them.

This also goes both ways — not just when you are struggling with anxiety and depression. Since I have talked so much about my anxiety and depression, I now have friends who share their struggles with me. For example, when I was living in Vermont, I asked one of my good friends to hang out one night. Instead of just saying she couldn’t, she explained that she wasn’t feeling mentally well and needed a night in to unwind and just take care of herself. I completely understood and this caused no issues. This can start slowly and can be with the friends you trust the most. It’s a process, but be open to it.

2. Take Care of Yourself

In my introduction, I mentioned how anxiety and depression could cause me to be selfish. When my anxiety and depression are high, it can be difficult for me to be there for anyone else. I get stuck in a cycle where I’m just thinking of the worst possible outcomes that can happen in my life. I reach out to friends for guidance or comfort and stay in the little bubble of what is going on with me and no one else. Now, this can make me a bad friend sometimes. I get so wrapped up in my own life that I forget about others. When this is happening and I’m self-aware that I recognize I’m spiraling, I can usually collect myself and take a day to focus on what I need to do to feel better. The truth is, until I calm this emotional brain of mine, I’m not going to be a good friend — I’m not mentally able to.

So I take time for myself and get myself to feel better and then I reach out to friends and explain (which goes along with point number one). Taking the time to take care of yourself doesn’t make you a bad friend. You cannot be there for others if you, yourself, are struggling. Pick yourself back up once you feel better and reach out and be there for them. Sometimes you need a day to yourself, and you know yourself, so maybe you can only do a certain number of activities a day. Do that.

3. Reciprocate Support

Sometimes, since I have anxiety and depression, I may need more help than others. Like I mentioned earlier, I become wrapped up in my own problems. This is why it is important to be there for others when they need you, just like you hope they are there for you. In a friendship, if you are the one constantly taking the energy of the other person, it can be hard to create a foundation for a great relationship. Being there for them as well is one of the most important pieces of friendship.

4. Apologize and Take Responsibility

We all mess up. I mean we all do. We have moments where we are the worst. We let anxiety take over and lash out at loved ones. We can accuse. We can verbally attack. We can push others away. We can’t always stop the anxiety brain from taking control. This is especially true after a long day, or after you’ve been triggered. Once the moment has passed and you recognize what happened, take ownership of it. Anxiety and depression aren’t an excuse to be hurtful to friends and still expect them to stick around. Apologize. Explain. Move forward.

5. Let People Go

This one is the hardest for me. I still feel the sting of lost friendships due to anxiety and depression. Sometimes, no matter if you explain, apologize and are there for the other person, some people can’t or won’t be around a person who struggles with anxiety and depression. This may happen after an anxiety attack occurred in front of them. Maybe you haven’t been around for a while because depression took over. Maybe it was just over time. Or maybe they just couldn’t understand. If someone doesn’t want to be your friend due to anxiety and depression, let them go.

It sucks and it hurts. I have cried and felt guilty. I have wished that anxiety and depression would just go away so I can have “normal” friendships. That isn’t always the case. I have friends who have seen numerous anxiety attacks and known the darkest corners of my mind — they stick around. I had a friend who saw one anxiety attack and left. I had a friend who was tired of trying to help me when I couldn’t help myself. People can leave for whatever reason they choose. I no longer beg people to be in my life if they do not want to be there. I accepted the fact that I’m worthy of having strong friendships. I’m worthy of people sticking around for. At this point in my recovery and my life, I let those people leave. I give my energy to the ones who want to be there with me through my freak outs and everything else.

It is important to keep in mind that every friendship is different. There may be history that might influence this. Stay true to yourself and your friends. No matter your struggles or issues, you are worthy of friendships. There are moments of weakness where I still have to check in with friends to make sure we are still good. Most of them understand this and just say “yes, promise,” and I’m able to move forward. Try to find friends that love you for you and will be there for you through thick and thin.

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Photo by Spenser Sembrat on Unsplash

Originally published: December 5, 2017
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