I don’t know about you but suffering from both depression and anxiety makes me unreliable and “flaky” when it comes to socialising.
I love spending time with friends and family but wanting to do it and achieving it are two very different ends of the spectrum when I’m stuck in the middle of an episode of anxiety or depression.
I’ve been (and am) the sufferer but I have also been the friend who’s been cancelled on.
I have and can see it from both sides of the friendship so if you’re currently trying to be a friend to someone depressed and anxious, or you are the person suffering and feel like the “worst friend in the world,” here are some things that have helped me over the years.
May they be of benefit and help keep your friendships going.
Don’t be afraid to invite your friend.
This may sound like an obvious point but that’s precisely why I’m making it. Never give up asking your friend to events. Don’t stop inviting them because the moment you do, the depression will tell them that you have “finally given up on them” and that you don’t want to be friends with them anymore. Yes it’s hard work inviting someone who never says “yes” but the moment you stop asking, the moment the depression wins in our minds. Never stop inviting us because there will be times where we do say “yes!”
Tailor the invite.
If you know that your friend has a lot of anxiety in group settings, why not invite them to the movies? Or if you’re having a party, ask them to come right at the start of it before it gets busy! You know your friend and what stresses them out so, if you can, try and avoid those triggers. Perhaps they have issues with eating in public?
I’m not saying change your plans altogether but everyone is different just and some things are more stressful than others. If in doubt, ask your friend what they feel comfortable with. Yes your friends need to make an effort to push through but sometimes social situations can be a little too overwhelming particularly if they’re suffering an episode at the time.
Don’t put pressure on them.
This point can be a bit of a grey area and not one that everyone will agree on. But if you can, depending on what you’re inviting your friend to, try and leave the invitation open. Obviously that’s not going to work if you’re asking them to a wedding and you need numbers in advance—but appreciate that very often the person will need to wait until the day of the event to see how they’re feeling. Likewise, if they do attend, allow them to leave when they’re ready. If they stay for four hours then great but sometimes an hour is enough. It doesn’t mean they don’t love you or that they haven’t enjoyed themselves, it just means that they’ve spent their emotional energy.
Realise that it isn’t personal.
This is the best advice I have learned from personally.
One of the worst things you can do is take your friends “no” as related to you when nothing could be further from the truth. Most of the time whilst you’re getting angry that they “turned you down again,” they’re at home in bed beating themselves up that they’re “useless” and “pathetic” that they can’t just put on some clothes and spend time with someone they love and have fun. It does hurt you when we say no and we realise that; it hurts us too.
For those of you suffering:
Nobody knows you and your problems better than yourself which means that there are days where you can’t leave your house. But there are also days where you would prefer to stay indoors but know that you have enough energy to leave the house for a bit and spend some time with a friend. If your friend is kind enough to invite you, you should try and make the effort to attend. It’s not always possible and yes you may be exhausted afterwards but your friend would appreciate the effort you made.
Realise that sometimes we have to put our own issues aside. If it’s a wedding, for example, you are simply going to have to do everything in your power to make it happen. Friends are worth it.
If you really don’t think that you’ll be able to face going to your friends event, don’t tell them you will. Compromise and say that you don’t think you will but you’ll try or “see how you feel on the day.” One of the quickest and easiest ways to upset your friend is to make false promises. Speaking from experience, it is far easier to hear ‘no’ and they unexpectedly turn up than a “yes” and have no-one show. That’s rude and cruel. We all have feelings and suffering mental health issues doesn’t give you the right to be a jackass.
Offer an alternative.
If you really don’t think you can meet up with your friend that day, offer an alternative. If, for example, you were due to head out to dinner together but can’t face the world, why not offer pizza and a movie night back at yours one day soon?
Alternatively, if you don’t think you can attend their party, maybe you could still buy them a cake or a bottle of wine for the event even though you’re not going; that way your friend still feels loved and cared for despite you not being able to be there.
Do something nice for them.
If you’ve had to cancel on your friends invitation, why not find a little way, perhaps, to let them know that you still love them and appreciate their invite? It doesn’t have to be much; maybe a nice drawing you’ve done when you had the energy, a bunch of flowers you know they like or a voucher for a golf game when you’re feeling up to it again. Small gestures mean a lot to everyone. If they’ve lost weight, take the time to congratulate them or tell them how proud you are of them for getting a new job. You may not be able to be a ‘great friend’ all the time but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be a good friend consistently.
It’s not easy to be friends with someone who is suffering depression and anxiety; it’s fraught with pitfalls with the “do’s” and “don’ts” but remember that at their very core, they are the people that you fell in love with.
Just as you are trying to be there for them in their dark times, they will return the favour when needed. Friendship may be a two-way street but that doesn’t mean you can’t meet in the middle.
Author: Toni White
Assistant Editor: Ellie Cleary / Editor: Catherine Monkman
Image: Author’s Own