Content warning: blunt descriptions of negative emotions and disturbed thoughts.
So you have a severe mental health condition. You’re aware that it causes stress to people around you, and you’d like to minimize that, not only because you care about people, but because you realize that having zero friends will probably not help your mental health condition. Here’s some wisdom I’ve collected over many years as the Crazy Friend.
Just follow these simple steps, and I can guarantee… absolutely nothing. Right? I mean, life doesn’t work that way. But I’m pretty sure that at least some of this stuff will be helpful if you can get past the fact that some of it’s hard to hear.
Buckle up; here we go.
- Rotate. Don’t go to the same person all the time when you’re Having a Moment. I know that there’s that one person who always makes you feel so much better, but that’s all the more reason you shouldn’t drive that person to the point where she has an anxiety attack every time she sees your name pop up on her phone. Give some other people a chance. It’s okay to share your burdens, but spread them around as much as you can. Don’t have more than one person you can share this stuff with? That is probably a result of bad choices in your past that you needn’t dwell on, but should not repeat. Get through this bad spell as best you can, and then once you’re in a place where you can do so, devote a ton of your energy to making more friends. Please trust me on this one.
- Update. If you have at any point told someone that you are feeling miserable, please remember to check back in when you are feeling good (or better) and let her know. You don’t have to directly say “I’m doing so much better now!” especially if it you’re still wobbly, but make sure you don’t end on “I wish I’d never been born” and then that’s the last he hears from you for a week. Find some time in a day or two to send him a stupid meme or a picture of the flowers in your yard. Consider each Heavy Conversation to be a piece of your friend’s heart dangling over a cliff. Don’t just leave it there. Don’t wait until you’re 100% cured to relieve your friend of that suspense. Give him some sort of hope, remind him that you are a person with layers and not just the Event Horizon of Despair.
- Try Other Stuff First. Especially if you’re an extrovert, reaching out to a friend is often your first instinct. But first try distracting yourself with a video game, running around the block, taking a hot shower, or doing something else to change your mood that is completely under your control and does not require others’ input. First, because if you succeed, that means you’ll keep your friends a bit fresher and more ready for you when you really need them. Second, because it will make you feel empowered. Wow, I feel better, and I did that all on my own. I’ve got this.
- Respect Individuality. If you want cool, logical advice, don’t call Mr. Feels. If you need warmth and affection, don’t call Ms. Pedantic. Even if it’s Ms. Pedantic’s affection you crave, or Mr. Feels’ advice on what to actually do with your life, your desires are not going to magically change another person’s psychological makeup. People respond how they respond. Learn their needs and quirks, and love them for who they are. Call up Mr. Tough Love when you need a brisk verbal smack in the face. Don’t expect Ms. Squishy to do much but cry with you. People are not a series of uniform receptacles for your feelings; they will react to your emotional chemistry in unique ways. Make this one of the factors you consider when staring at your contact list. What is it that will actually help you, and who is equipped to deliver it?
- Gratitude, Not Apology. If someone sits patiently through a torrent of your misery, your first instinct is going to be to feel shame, to apologize. I mean, good God, it’s been an hour, and they probably missed that movie they wanted to watch. But your apology will not give them their hour back, and also, having a mental illness is not a crime. You didn’t wake up today and decide to be miserable beyond coping. So the proper thing to say, instead, is thank you. “You were amazing.” “Thanks so much for your patience.” “Your insight is so helpful.” Whatever is appropriate. Be as specific as you can. If the person didn’t help at all, or even unintentionally made you feel a little worse, consider at least that you just spent that time talking to someone rather than drinking yourself into a stupor and driving your car into a tree, and realize, that’s not nothing. Thank them for their time, at least. “I really appreciate you spending this time with me. You’re a good friend.”
- When In Doubt, Don’t. Friends forgive neglect much more easily than they forgive bad behavior. If you’re worried that you’re so far gone that you can’t treat a friend the way they deserve to be treated, you may need to step away for a little while. People are not painkillers, and until you realize this, they cannot actually help you anyway. Maybe there is another way to get through this. Unless you are making concrete plans to commit suicide or otherwise harm yourself, chances are you can actually get through whatever it is you’re feeling right now and out the other side of it with zero intervention. It might feel urgently horrible. You might cry yourself sick and fall asleep on your couch face down in Cheeto crumbs. But then you’ll wake up and you’ll feel a little… different, at least, if not better. Just wash your face, because Cheetos.
- And Remember This. If you have friends, if there is one person who has ever given you his phone number, there’s a reason for that. There’s something in you, somewhere, that someone wanted in his life. We’re all pains in the ass sometimes. I’d go so far as to say that each of us can, at times, be unbearable. But remember, we are not defined by our worst days. If you do your best not to implode your friendships when you’re at your worst, that means they’ll still be there when you’re ready to make people laugh, make them think, whatever it is you do that got you all these names on your contact list in the first place. You may not even remember, now. But they remember. And they’ll wait for you longer than you think.