I wrote recently in Five Minutes of Magical Thinking about how, sometimes, when you need it most, comfort arrives. A lot of the time, though, when you need comfort, nothing happens. And then, sometimes when you are the end of your tether, hanging over the edge by just your finger tips, someone comes along and stamps on your hands or slashes through the last threads of your sanity and sends you into free fall.
This happened to me earlier this year when I was in the throes of one of the most terrible bouts of depression of my life. On one of my worst days, I had been hiding away in a local cafe, slumped in a sofa, sipping tea, feeling hollowed out, haggard, grey and exhausted. After a couple of hours I staggered up off the sofa and went to leave. On my way out I spotted a friend. Realising that connection was important for me, I walked over to him to see how he was.
This friend had been through a bad few years, some of his friends, a few of them mutual, had died. He confided in me that once he had felt like taking his own life. I had listened and though I never felt a deep connection with him, I thought I recognised a fellow soul in pain.
This day he seemed well, even jovial. He eventually asked how I was and I mentioned I was blogging a lot at which point in interrupted me to launch into a tirade about my use of FaceBook and how stupid it was and how sick he was of seeing my posts.
I was taken aback but as I knew his antipathy to my use of the internet I changed the subject. In hindsight I should have just left. I asked if he had been on holidays. He had, he had been away with a friend.
“That’s lovely. It must be nice to have someone to go away with.” I said it laughingly just to keep it light.
“That’s your own fault he sneered at me. “Its your own fault that you’re on your own.” And he laughed, nastily.
It was like being slapped in the face. This man knew my state of mind, he knew how I had been struggling. I had often listened to him without judging him or his questionable lifestyle yet here he was judging me merely for using the internet and being single, sneering at me for being alone and on one of the worst days of my life.
I turned and walked out. I got in my car and drove to my local supermarket, parked and cried so hard for about half an hour. He did not phone or text to see if I was alright and I was far from alright. After a while I text him and told him I did not want to see him again, that he was no longer welcome in my life. He has not been in touch since.
There could be many reasons that you find yourself at the receiving end of some arbitrary nastiness from a so-called friend. Sometimes when you are in a negative place you unwittingly attract negative situations to yourself but whatever the reason all you need to know is that no friend would subject you to that when you need it least, even if they are having a bad day too.
We all have some responsibility for our shitty relationships. I have a history of choosing friends badly, of investing time in the wrong people. Sometimes I feel sorry for someone who seems to be in pain. Sometimes I try to make friends out of whoever is around because I think I “should” . Sometimes I just read someone terribly wrong.
Sadly, if you do not value yourself , as so many with depression don’t, you will attract those who do not value you either. Even if you have built your self-esteem up, relationships from the bad times can drag on for years afterwards, making it harder to shake negative states.
Constant low-level depression can warp ones judgement badly. This is why it is important be careful of who we connect with and how we do it. It is not to say we should withdraw into isolation, quite the contrary, but we must learn to hold back a little, draw our boundaries more firmly, question our own motives, take time to get to know people and develop multiple connections rather than relying on just one or two.
Ironically this drawing of boundaries, this skill at building relationships is often missing in those of us who suffer from depression. This inability to separate ourselves firmly from others is possibly at the root of why we suffer from depression in the first place. (If you want to read more about Separation Issues you could start with the work of John Bowlby and work up from there.)
Though it can seem impossible it is important to at least try to establish healthy boundaries between ourselves and others to the best of our ability.
It is important to remember too, at times like this, that even people with the most sophisticated boundary building skills cannot keep all bad at bay.
So if you open your door on a bad day and someone you allow in decides to wreck the place just know that their behaviour is not your fault. That is like blaming yourself for being burgled. You may need a better alarm system or maybe you need to move to new, better neighbourhood. Over time, these are achievable things.
In the mean time chuck them out, these invaders, these wreckers. They are not your friends and they have no place in your life. You deserve better than that. We all do.