Let’s say an average person experiences emotions on a scale of 1 to 10. Usually the day-to-day feelings sit in the 3 to 4 range because the emotions exist but they don’t dictate... until something extraordinary happens — a divorce, a death, a job promotion, or another unusual event.
Then a person’s emotions will peak within the 8 to 10 range and they’ll be a little obsessed with the event. And everyone understands that. It makes sense for someone who’s just lost a loved one to have that at the top of their mind most of the time.
Except, with major depression, I’m almost always living in the 8 to 10 range. And this can make me appear — in fact, the emotional exhaustion may turn me into — a “bad” friend.
Sometimes, I don’t seem invested in your story or life
Believe me when I tell you, I care about those around me. I still want to know about you, even if I forget to ask. Sometimes the pain is so bad it’s the only thing at the top of my mind.
My suffering, my sadness, my fatigue, my anxiety… all the effects that comes with my depression are extreme and camp up there no matter what. This is my everyday experience, which people don’t always “get.” There’s no unusual event to explain these extreme emotions. Due to a brain illness, I’m in this state constantly.
These feeling are on top of my mind so often, it seems like they’re the only things I can think about. I can come across as navel-gazing, like I’m sucked into my own pain and the only thing I can think about is myself.
But I still care. Our experiences and my reactions might be filtered through miles of depressive gunk, but I still care. I still want to be a friend. I still want to be there for you.
Almost always, I won’t return your emails, texts, or voicemails
I know it seems like a five-second task, but it’s hard for me to check my voicemail. Really. I find it painful and intimidating.
I don’t want to know what other people are saying about me. I’m scared that there’ll be something “bad” in my email, texts, or voicemail and I won’t be able to handle it. It can take me hours or even days to work up the energy and strength just to check what people are saying to me.
It’s not that I think these people aren’t kind or caring. It’s just that my depressed brain has me believing that something bad will happen if I decide to listen.
And what if I won’t be able to handle it?
These worries are real for me. But it’s also real that I do care about you and I do want to respond. Please know that your communication with me is important even if I can’t always reciprocate.
Often, I don’t show up to your social events
I love it when people ask me to social events. Sometimes I’m even excited about it at the time they ask — but my mood is so unpredictable. This probably makes me seem like a bad friend, someone you want to stop asking to social events.
It’s just that by the time the event comes around, I may be far too depressed to leave the house. I may not have showered for days. I may not have brushed my teeth or my hair. I may feel like the fattest cow ever when I see myself in clothes that I might want to wear out. I may be convinced I’m a very bad person and far too “bad” to be in front of others. And all of that doesn’t include my anxiety.
I have social anxiety. I have anxiety about meeting new people. I have anxiety about what others are going to think about me. I have anxiety that I’m going to do or say the wrong thing.
All of this can build, and by the time the event comes around, I’m unlikely to attend. It’s not that I don’t want to be there. I do. It’s just that my brain illness has taken over and I can’t fight it enough to leave the house.
But I want you to know that I still want you to ask and I really do want to be there, if I possibly can.
Am I really a bad friend? I don’t want to be
I don’t want to be a bad friend. I want to be as good a friend to you as you are to me. I want to be there for you. I want to hear about your life. I want to talk to you and I want to spend time with you.
It just so happens that my depression has put a huge barrier between you and me. I promise I will work to vault that barrier whenever I can, but I can’t promise I’ll always be able to.
Please understand: While my depression may make me a bad friend sometimes, my depression isn’t me. The real me cares about you and wants to treat you as you deserve to be treated.
Natasha Tracy is a renowned speaker and award-winning writer. Her blog, Bipolar Burble, consistently places among the top 10 health blogs online. Natasha is also an author with the acclaimed Lost Marbles: Insights into My Life with Depression & Bipolar to her credit. She is considered a major influencer in the area of mental health. She has written for many sites including HealthyPlace, HealthLine, PsychCentral, The Mighty, Huffington Post and many others.