Some people go to priests; others to poetry; I to my friends.
There are some people who have and maybe even need lots of friend; for them, it’s a numbers game. For me, though, just a handful is plenty – as long as they are the kind of friend that can handle the pressure. I can be intense, and I don’t stay on the surface very easily – so I can be a lot to handle and kind of exhausting. It can be a LOT of pressure, too, if you happen to be one of my friends, because friends are a literal lifeline for anyone living with a mental illness, particularly depression.
I’ve hit a rock bottom time in my life, when outer circumstances actually ARE as bad as my depression likes to tell me they are. I still get depressed when my life has been going well: plenty of money, relative health, happiness in my relationships, etc. Depression is a bitch during those times, too, because it can be so confusing. It lies about what is happening in life, just to justify its own existence. If you’ve lived with this bitchy companion in your brain for long enough, however, you can usually suss out when it is lying and when life really IS as bad as depression is telling you it is.
So, what about those times when life actually does really, really SUCK? Those times when it seems as if some greater force is conspiring against you? We all have those times – life is just like that sometimes, no matter how blessed you might be.
When Life’s A Bitch, And So Is Depression
I am currently living through one of those times in life. No money (I mean, literally…NO money), no work, pain and health issues abound, and having moved to a new city, no friends in the vicinity. On top of all of that, my relationship “pillar”, the thing that was always solid, no matter what else was going on…well, let’s just say that isn’t so solid anymore.
So what’s a depressed girl to do when life has served up some radioactive sour lemons, and it really does seem nearly impossible to survive? What to do when I’m just too depressed and too tired to make lemonade myself? My friends make it for me, that’s what.
A good friend will help you move. But a best friend will help you move a dead body.
I am lucky that I live in a time when distance is diminished by the internet, and even though friends may not live nearby, we can still be there for each other.
The other morning, I woke up in a very dark place. My brain was treading a well worn path, trying to convince me, again, that the people closest to me would genuinely be better off without me. I could feel the pull of those thoughts. The logic they presented was at that moment undeniable. In fact, to my mind that morning, I had new proof that my brain was “right”.
To make matters worse, some of the strategies that used to help me deal with these thoughts have recently stopped working, in part because life has been such a dirty, dirty whore lately. So I have less ammunition with which to fight these dangerous thoughts than I used to have.
But I still have friends, and those friends have said to call them when things get bad. It’s hard work to be a friend to someone suffering with the types of mental health issues I face, and I often feel weird and guilty about that. I have to make myself believe them when they say they would rather go through this with me, than be without me.
One of the hardest things for me to do is to call (or text, in my case), when I’m fighting that voice that tells me I’m no good, and I’m annoying, and a burden. That part of my mind imagines my friends groaning when they see my name on caller ID or in the Facebook chat window. I imagine that unless I can earn my keep by being either funny or USEFUL in some way, that they would much rather not have to talk to me.
So, THAT voice starts in the second it realizes I’m even considering calling in the cavalry. Right away, my brain starts telling me NOT to call them, because they have their own problems, and they have a life and I am annoying and bothersome and it must get REALLY irritating for them that they keep having to “be there” for me in this way.
Then I have to just rely on their honesty and their ability to set boundaries, because I really can’t trust my brain.
A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked.
~ Bernard Meltzer
So, I did it anyway. I sent a text/chat message to two of my closest friends, in case one of them was unavailable. These two people in particular have informed me, in one way or another, that they are fully empowered grown ups and if they can’t or don’t want to “deal with me” when I’m like that, they will say so. So I’ve forced myself to take them at their word, to keep myself from going off the deep end.
I actually have 5 people in my life that have made that offer – that I know and trust enough to have talked in depth about my depression and anxiety. I feel so blessed that every single one of them has offered to be a resource when times are hard, without my asking.
They have offered a kind of love and support that I wouldn’t even begin to be able to ask for, which for me, means that I matter. That knowledge alone is often enough to help me pull myself up out of the darkness far enough to reach out for help. I simply have to try and “spread the load”, so none of them get overwhelmed with my issues.
I should put them on a rotating schedule. 🙂 Maybe I can make a pretty rainbow calendar with sparkles, and each friend can be a different color. I can let them pick their own colors, and maybe an avatar to represent them. Then I can easily mark who’s up to bat next, AND have a glorious work of ever changing art with which to brighten my space.
This is by far your worst idea ever…I’ll be there in 15 minutes.
Here’s the lovely, magical part about the two individuals I contacted this time. Both of them have an amazing gift for being able to be serious when necessary, but also deeply irreverent and hilarious. One balances on the serious and thoughtful side, but is able to have a good, hearty belly-laugh about how ridiculous life can get. The other balances on the hilarious and wildly inappropriate side, but has the ability to listen and be compassionate and loving when that is called for.
To tell the truth, that very balance is what saved me this past weekend. They both know me well, and just feeling seen and known was half the battle.
When Saying the Wrong Thing is SO Right
The hilariously inappropriate friend replied first. I stumbled over telling him what was going on with me, even after he responded to my initial message. I decided that I shouldn’t bother him because he was with company. He simply said it was no big deal, he could chat for a minute.
So I asked him what he does when he feels like he just can’t keep going. He started sending me lyrics to a song that he wrote. It helped – gave me something on which to focus my brain, and the lyrics were stellar. We talked a bit more, but then he pulled out the big guns.
His particular gift is knowing when and how to make me laugh. He has this knack for saying what others won’t, what for some might be the wrong thing…but for me, when offered in just the right way, is the absolutely perfect thing. This time, it was in the form of a music video. It snapped me out of my own funk, made me laugh out loud, and hit the reset button in my brain.
The link he sent was to “Always Look on The Bright Side Of Life”, from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian”. I invite you to go listen, because it’s playing right now as I write this, and I can’t stop dancing a little while I type.
It was absolutely and totally exactly what I needed – an irreverent and hearty “guffaw” that helped me acknowledge that a lot of life really DOES actually suck right now, and that suckiness can be kind of funny, when viewed from a certain perspective. I’ve been hearing that song in my head for the last couple of days, and it makes me smile every single time.
When Friends Know You Better Than You Know Yourself
Shortly after I was done chatting with my “Bright Side of Life” friend (and calling him that is pretty ironic, so I hope he reads this and feels the love), the other friend I had messaged called me. We video chatted for over 2 hours, and she let me vent and be mad and not have to “be fair” about the things that were bothering me. She got mad WITH me and FOR me, even though we both know that there is always more to a story than one person’s perspective. She knows me well enough to know that sometimes we just have to say “WHAT THE F*&K???”
This particular friend has a LOT going on in her own life, and I really don’t want to be an additional burden or drain on her energy. But she loves me. I mean, loves me through 25 years of ups and downs and fights and reconciliation. Her special gift in life, and believe me, she has MANY…but her true super power, is her ability to love.
She loves deeply and fully and with her feet rooted firmly in the earth. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen “The Last Airbender” on Nickelodeon, but if you have, think of an Earth Bender.
The way they plant their feet wide apart and create a solid, steady and FIRM connection, giving them the power to literally move mountains. THAT is how my friend loves.
A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.
I’d like to say I finished chatting with my two friends and was magically transported to a land filled with happiness and joy. But I’d be lying: life around me still sucks, and I’m dealing with some BIG and difficult things right now. Lots of them – a very full plate. My friend and I agreed that if you were to try and write my life as a television show right now, no one would buy it because no one would believe that ALL of these things could be happening at the same friggin’ time!
Somehow, though, a ridiculous song from a ridiculous movie sent by one friend who loves me, and a long, honest, and gritty talk with another friend who loves me, kept me from falling off the edge of the world. Kept me hanging on and gave me the will to limp along and hope for better.
When it comes to depression, that ability to hope is a life saver. For me, if I have it, no matter how pale and wispy it is, I can keep going. When I lose hope…those are the times when I’m just not sure I’ll make it another day.
So, then, I call a friend, and they give me some of theirs, and the whole things starts all over again.