To have a friend, be a friend.
That’s how the saying goes, and it goes double for friends with mental disorders.
There are limits. Boundaries. You may call them self-serving or self-saving, but there they are.
When you are depressed, you neglect friends, and I have certainly done that. I permanently lost one friend over it. But another kept reaching out to me and I eventually responded. (We then had a good game of “I’m a bad friend.” “No, I’m a bad friend.” She thought she hadn’t reached out often enough. I was glad she put up with my silence as long as she did, until I was able to reach back.)
But I have this friend. We used to be tight. When we were both depressed, we shared our misery and so lessened it. But now that the Pit of Despair is no longer my permanent abode…I have to limit my contact.
Why? My social skills have never been terrific, but now I frequently find myself walking that invisible line between Bad Friend and burnout.
Why is it so hard to be a Good Friend?
First, there is the Disaster Report. Whenever I talk to her, I hear a litany of all that is going wrong in her life. Almost never anything else. I’m no fan of relentless positivity, but its opposite is sometimes hard to bear too, even though I’ve been guilty of the same.
Then there is the fact that any suggestions are pushed away, denied as impossible, dismissed as unworkable. Granted, we have completely different styles of coping, but I feel discounted, unheard. Eventually I gave up sharing anything but a few of my own tribulations, some awful jokes, and commiseration.
Then I get off the phone or off Facebook, usually after half an hour or so. That’s about my limit.
I still keep reaching out. I don’t want to be a Bad Friend. I know I can’t fix her, or even her day-to-day difficulties, the kind even non-depressed people have. But I sure wish there were a way I could help, short of climbing down into the Pit with her. I hope that listening, even half an hour at a time, does some good.
And when I talk to other friends of mine, I try to remember to ask how their day was and what’s new in their life and have they seen any good movies and what is a mutual friend doing. I try to listen if they have something to share, good or bad, and I try not to overwhelm them or play whose-life-sucks-the-most. I try to be a Not-Bad Friend, even if I do have to lean on my friends, at times pretty heavily.
And they do likewise, when they can.