To be honest, I am a terrible friend. There, I said it, truth bomb dropped! I have messages that are months old, sitting there judging me when I open my inbox. I have texts left in draft status from back in April (I know, pathetic, right?). Sometimes, I will ACTUALLY pick up my phone from the nightstand, look at it ringing, and put it back down. Oh, and don’t bother leaving a voicemail because it will literally never be heard. It’s ugly but it’s true: I am a very bad friend. Now that I’ve called myself out for my actions and take full responsibility, I would like to challenge you to do the same. If you have a friend with #anxiety or #depression, think about your last conversation with them. If you are #anxious or #depressed, think about the last conversation you had with a friend.
Challenge one is for the friends of the anxious and depressed. I’d like to start by thanking you for not running for the hills when you found out about their struggles. You automatically start the challenge with 10 bonus points! Think about the last time you called, texted, or messaged that person. Did you start the conversation? I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but if I were to guess, I would say you did. But honestly, you always do, don’t you? You always have to be the one to make plans but, honestly, why do you even bother? You know that most of the time there is some excuse they give you for why they can’t make it. On the rare occasions that they actually agree to show up, you know the chances of them actually coming are slim to none and most of the time they won’t even bother calling you to let you know. How long did you keep extending the invitations before you got tired of explaining why your friend didn’t show? How long did you keep texting or calling them before you got tired of never getting a response? Now, here comes the toughest question so far: how long has it been since you’ve had contact with that friend (in person, text or through social media)?
Not so fast now you anxiously depressed flaky fellow friend! This isn’t all about how others react to us, and this is not for blaming our friends for bailing on us. Challenge two is for you! Think about the last time you answered a call, responded to a text or accepted an invitation to anything. Think about how your stomach drops when you do reply, hoping NOT to get a response, then you hear that notification start chiming. Think about that internal battle you get when the day arrives and it’s time to get ready. You know the amount of effort it will take just to make it out the door, so you decided on the spot to stay home. Now, think about you friend, sitting by themselves in a restaurant booth, asking their server for another basket of break because, “their friend is on the way”.
Friends of the flakes: all that can be asked, but certainly not expected, of you is patience. Yes, patience, that thing that we all have very little of. Again, I cannot speak for every person about every situation, but I can confidently say that your friend is truly sorry. This may or may be of some comfort, but you are not the only person getting the perceived cold shoulder. Please know that if your friend agreed to something they did so with the best intentions in the world. To hear a “yes” to an event that is not happening, like, right now is a huge step in the right direction. Please do not think that you are being “ignored” out of anger or that you’ve done something wrong. I would like to say that most, if not all of the time, that simple isn’t the case.
Flaky friends: cut it out! I completely understand that there are valid reasons for NOT socializing. I’m not asking you to go to every movie you’re invited to or to go out to eat every time you’re invited. I’m not asking you to answer every phone call or write back on all of your texts. What I AM asking us all to do it the same thing that we already have to do every single day: TRY. Start with baby steps. Text your best friend and ask how they’ve been. Find a way to communicate which does not need a response: “Hey ___. I know it’s been a while so I just wanted to say hey and tell you I miss you”. DONE! You made the first move, you sent that message and you should be proud. The choice to respond is up to you, but the “days since I spoke to ____” just got restarted. As far as making (and KEEPING) plans, this will be a much slower process and THAT’S OK!!!! Start with something less than 3 days away from when you’re invited and give a qualifier when you accept. I’ve always used, “I’d really love to hang out with you, and if I’m feeling up to it, I would love to catch up. I know it’s been a while. Heads up though, please don’t hate me if I’m not able to make it. I really don’t know if I’ll be up to it when it’s time to go, but I will do my best to let you know”. I’ve found my friends to be much more understanding by letting them know up front that the possibility of not being there is a very real one.
Open communication and a little empathy are game changers in any relationships. Unfortunately, we have yet to create an app for mind reading, so until then we are forced to go about it the old-fashioned way. Think of how your communication (or lack thereof) effects the other person. Be patient with each other and never turn your friendship into a high-pressure situation. If you’re text gets ignored, that’s ok. Try again tomorrow. If you stop getting invited anywhere, ask to tag along. Yes, we are terrible friends, but when we are most distant is when we need our friends the most.