Depression is lonely. I know because I am lonely when I am in a major depressive episode.
Saying that depression is lonely probably makes my husband sigh and people in my life cringe because they try to be there for me. They want to be my friends and I reject them. Can I be honest? It makes me sigh and cringe, too. Loneliness is part of my illness. It is a battle, friendship that is, one in which I’m often unable to tackle even though I want friends.
But know what? Identifying why I am lonely helps.
Now that I experience less depressive episodes that aren’t quite ao long and dark (well, except sometimes), I am trying to work out what makes friendships difficult. Here’s what I’ve come up with.
1. Depression is lonely because my illness exhausts me.
My energy is sparse after an episode and if I do too much, I get depressed again. I have a family who needs me. I try to reconnect with them first. If I put time into friendships, guilt seeps in. And I hate guilt. Guilt is a huge part of my depression. Friendship comes last.
2. Depression is lonely because I am afraid of hurting people.
Friendship takes work. Can I work at it? Can I be there for someone instead of going dark for a time? Is it fair? My actions and words communicate that I don’t want friends. A friend texts, emails, calls, and I look at the message, perhaps smile, and then forget about it. Not answering communicates disinterest. At least, I think it’s true.
3. Depression is lonely because I’ve decided that I am not worth having a friend.
Negative thoughts hold me hostage. Who would want to be friends with me? After years of struggle, I decided that people no longer wanted to hear what I had to say. I missed so many things, I assumed my presence was no longer needed. My self-esteem is often in the toilet.
4. Depression is lonely because friendship is challenging when I don’t want to leave my house.
Please don’t make me leave my safe place. I am afraid to be alone, but even more petrified of a friend coming into my mess. What’s worse? Going out into the world. I struggle with the idea of people seeing me struggle. They can read my memoir. I can explain it. But I don’t want to show them. It’s so much easier to go inward.
5. Depression is lonely because I forgot how to socialize.
Looking a person in the eye for more than a couple of minutes equals torture. I don’t know what to say. I used to decipher social cues, how to listen and then respond. But now? I sit opposite of someone and stare and obsess about the fact that I am staring and not talking. Say something. Say something! Ugh. When can I leave?
6. Depression is lonely because I don’t want to be a drain.
I’ve known people who take and take and take. I never want to do that. My life is heavy and self focused. I don’t want to drain people. “How are you?” How should I answer? ‘Um, I am resisting the urge to go home and crawl under my bed. You?’ Won’t people get tired of discouraging answers? I would.
Can you identify with this?
If so, you are not alone. Oh, what a tangled web we weave. But this can be changed. My therapist told me that my fear of friendships is what actually pushes people away. We didn’t DECIDE to be lonely. It is a symptom of the disease. But depression is an active illness. It takes work to move towards health. When we can do the work, we must.
Start small. Don’t decide for others what they think of you. Call or text a friend. Plan an outing, push through, and go (hint: maybe just an hour?). Be honest if you are having a hard time. Naming social awkwardness makes you less awkward. People care for you. Open up a little bit, and you will see.
And if YOU have a friend or loved one who is depressed, listen to me.
It’s not that they don’t want to let you in. It’s probably that they’ve forgotten how. It’s not that they don’t to care. It’s probably because they have grown accustom to silencing the outside world because of the continual screaming inside their head. Hang on. They care, I promise.
Stay tuned for my blog post next week: How to be a friend to someone who is depressed.
Want to know about my journey with depression?
Read my book, Still Life, A Memoir of Living Fully with Depression.
Interested in writing a book?
Check out my online course: Memoir 101, Write a memoir worthy of publishing.