For me, the first indication that I am experiencing a dip or decline in my mental health is that I stop communicating effectively. It’s usually regarding friends and family but appears to now extend to blogging too.
A voice in my head was telling me to give up, to stop posting, that I had nothing ‘interesting’ to say. But then I reminded myself that this isn’t about having ‘something to say’ or even about adding to the broadening discussion and increasing openness about mental health (which is really positive and important). This is personal. It’s about being honest with myself.
This is one of the most persistent aspects of my anxiety, and one of the earliest I can remember. It isn’t so much a preoccupation with what people think about me, rather that I have already decided what they think for them.
With friends, people who I have a connection with (frequently longstanding), this involves becoming overwhelmed when texts, emails or other messages come through. I end up leaving them, unread so that they remain highlighted and I wont forget to come back to them later, but then I start to worry that too much time has past. Then they get left for longer, and longer, until I start berating myself that it’s too late to contact them, that I am a terrible friend and convincing myself that no one likes me.
It has taken me an entire year to finally meet up with some friends. I saw one friend when I was back in England who I hadn’t seen and barely spoken to for 5 years. But to me, that is the reminder that I experience true friendship, with the ability to be apart and barely in touch for years, and then just pick up exactly where we left off. But I’ll admit there were many times during that 5 year period that I blamed myself for our lack of contact; for not being at home when she came back to visit from the Philippines and feared that the friendship was dead. That we would never get back what we had at school where we sat next to each other in English class and she drew all over me (and often my assignment).
During university, I worked a lot. I often signed up for extra shifts and frequently missed out on social events as a result. I had acquaintances at work, but few true friendships. During my last relationship I began to become even more distant from my university friends. I was rarely in the flat as I stayed over with my boyfriend as he lived nearer the university. Then we moved in together at the same time many of my closest friends went on years abroad. As my mental health began to decline I contacted these friends less and less. I was also spending more and more time with people who I know realise were very judgemental and competitive, and whilst they were good company, they were not good for me.
Throughout the past two years especially, I have felt that I had done irreversible damage to the friendships I had at school and during the first two years at university. However, writing this post has once again enabled me to revisit past friendships and experiences and to see not only that a number of those individuals who were negatively impacting my confidence and sense of self-worth are no longer part of my life, but also to remind myself that I do have strong friendships.
These friends know everything about me and travelled from Scotland to a small village in the South of England for my wedding reception. They have hosted me in their home countries and let me stay with them when I walked out on my partner and our abusive relationship. I hope that they feel similarly supported by me and I certainly go forward from today with an ever increased appreciation for the friendship they have borne me.