Depression Marathon Blog

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Diagnosed with depression 17 years ago, I lost the life I once knew, but in the process re-created a better me. I am alive and functional today because of my dog, my treatment team, my sobriety, and my willingness to re-create myself within the confines of this illness. I hate the illness, but I'm grateful for the person I've become and the opportunities I've seized because of it. I hope writing a depression blog will reduce stigma and improve the understanding and treatment of people with mental illness. All original content copyright to me: etta. Enjoy your visit!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

losing friends

Another blogger in our mental health community is having a really hard time right now. I pray her depression lessens soon. She is an asset to our community, and when she's feeling well, there isn't another blogger who reads more blogs or leaves more supportive comments than she does. She's a friend to many.

I'm not sure she realizes how much she's loved by all of her cyber-friends. I realize cyber-friends cannot take the place of real, physically-present friends, but sometimes real people let us down. My blogging friend wrote a recent post about her disappointment with "no-return friends." No-return friends--the people with whom we were previously close, but who, for no apparent reason, no longer return our phone calls. Unfortunately, those of us with mental illness are all too familiar with this unique term.

Those of us with mental illness likely have too many examples of friends who have fallen out of our lives. I know I do. This phenomena seems to be unique to mental illness. It is one of the many reasons I have found depression so isolating. No hallmark cards, no pancake breakfasts, no hotdish, and friends who disappear. Ouch. It hurts. It's painful. It sucks.

Unfortunately, it's reality. When I speak to the public about my illness, I acknowledge this loss as one of the most difficult in an illness full of painful losses. There are probably multiple reasons for this reality, but one suggested reason stirred controversy over on my friend's blog. Perhaps, it was suggested, we aren't much fun to be around. That is, when my symptoms are raging, perhaps I'm not the brightest, happiest, most positive person to hang out with! I can't argue with that. It's another cruel reality of my illness.

Because the suggestion reflected one of my realities, I didn't find the comment controversial. Rather, having an explanation for the otherwise inexplicable loss of close friends relieves a bit of my pain. It's like acknowledging depression as an illness versus a character defect. The illness lets me off the hook. When my depression takes over, I may appear lazy, anti-social, irritable, and sad, but that's not me. It's the illness. I am an active, relatively social, pleasant person.

However, depression urges me to isolate. If I do get out, my illness makes socializing nearly impossible, especially if I can't separate myself from my symptoms. And when I am drowning in symptoms, I can't separate. Depression becomes me. I become depression. And I imagine, I'm not a whole lot of laughs to hang out with.

The following is an excerpt from the comment I left on my friend's blog post.

...most people cannot handle anything other than “shiny happy people.” It is a reflection on THEIR character, NOT YOURS. It sucks.

What worked for me when I lost friends...I shifted my focus to talking with people who could handle it–the professionals in my life. When that wasn’t enough, I connected with more professionals, the local NAMI organization, and did more writing.

I’m not suggesting you do any of the above–rather, just letting you know how I dealt with the pain of “friends” falling out of my life. Those “friends” originally caused me much pain with their ignorance and absence. Over time, the pain lessened–though it still stings if I allow myself to dwell on it too much.

This illness SUCKS. It steals everything we know and are comfortable with. It steals our soul. For me, once I accepted that fact and tried to focus on what I could do, and what I could control–vs. what I couldn’t do or control (i.e. other people)–my life got a little easier. Again, just letting you know what has worked for me–when I am able to do it!

There are a select few people with whom I confide what is “really” going on in my life. If I am around others outside that select few, I try to look at it as a time of distraction–a time to just be in that moment and a distraction from my internal strife. But I can only do that when I am in a slightly better space than the deep hole you seem to be in right now. When I’m feeling like super-duper, mega crap–I can’t handle much of anyone or anything. Everything I interpret, I interpret in the worst possible light. It’s a shitty place to be, and I hate it.

I am praying for you. ... Please, please take care of yourself. Be kind to you and to those around you, and hang on tight! ...

I hope this is helpful to others out their struggling with the cruel realities of depression and mental illness. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences, too.

To stay alive, I try to remember I have an illness. I have an illness which often sucks the life out of me, changes my character, and distorts my personality; but I don't have to let it define me. Keep fighting, folks. Don't let your illness define you.

Click here to read the post which inspired this post.