To my friends – here is the truth about my mental illness

This week in the Year of Gratitude series, the suggested writing prompt is ‘a friend’ that you’re grateful for. Here’s my take on the subject…

It took a few minutes for me to realise that my phone was ringing. The harsh sound of it vibrating on the wooden bedside table was what finally woke me up, but I didn’t reach over to pick it up. Instead I looked at the clock. It was 2.30pm. On a Tuesday.

I pulled the sheets over my head and went back to sleep. An hour later I woke up and saw I had a text message as well as the missed call from earlier. It was my friend Kirsty explaining that her and Claire had been in the area having lunch and did I want to join them.

Obviously I had missed the opportunity because I had slept in, but I didn’t care. I had successfully avoided another human interaction and that was all good in my book. Cha-ching.

Ignoring people was a commonly used strategy for me back then, when I was unfit for work due to depression and anxiety. I’m not sure how much I let show to my friends at the time, and I’m sorry for that. I didn’t want them to see the bad parts of my life which meant I didn’t let them see much of me at all.

I’m so grateful for my friends that have stuck by me throughout my mental illness. I also don’t blame the ones who didn’t hang around. It’s been almost 5 years since I was diagnosed and I’ve been a bit of a handful to deal with. Sorry about that.

There are a few things I want them to know though and here they are, in no particular order.

mental health truth to friends

I hide it constantly

When I’m out shopping, at the gym, in a restaurant or at work – especially at work – I’m probably pretending to be OK. There’s a negative voice inside my head and sometimes it can take control of how I feel.

I’m getting better at ignoring the internal commentary – I hate myself, I’m so fat, I’m so useless, I’ve got nothing to say – but it’s always underlying and waiting to hijack me when I least expect it.

The painful part is that I’m always expecting it, and that’s exhausting in itself; always been on high alert for low moods and panic attacks. When they finally do show up I’m ready to hit the deck almost immediately.

I can’t always explain my actions

Sometimes I ignore phone calls. I read messages and then procrastinate for hours or sometimes days before responding. I know it’s rude. I know I’m being a crappy friend but sometimes I just can’t communicate with other people.

I don’t fully know why and I can’t justify my actions but believe me when I say it’s nothing personal.

I’m so grateful

I don’t always show it but I’m so grateful to have people around me who still care about me. I know I make situations difficult when I get socially awkward and shut down to everyone around me. It’s inconvenient and embarrassing for me.

The thing that gets me through is knowing that other people care. When I think I’m a total piece of shit, my friends and family are still there. They’re knocking on my door when I don’t answer the phone to make sure I’m OK, and that is something I’ll always be grateful for.

 

 

 

 

How to make friends when you have social anxiety 

making friends when you have depression social anxiety disorder

I had two bad days this week. Sweaty palms, a huge knot in my stomach and shortness of breath were just a few of the symptoms that followed me around whilst I tried to appear normal to the rest of the world. I try not to bother people with my anxiety when it crops up; firstly because there’s not much anyone can say to make it go away and secondly because I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I guess I should work on that.

I did overcome one fear this week though; I went to my first blogging event on a day where my anxiety was really bad. Seems impossible right? It was all down to making some new friends, something I never thought I would be able to do since I started suffering from anxiety and panic attacks a few years ago. Here’s how I did it…

Make a few close friends 

The biggest thing that helped me get through those few hours of socialising with strangers was already knowing a few people attending. It meant I didn’t have to turn up on my own or find anyone to talk to! If you’d asked me six months ago what I was most looking forward to about moving to Birmingham the last thing on my list would have been making new friends.

For me, going out and meeting new people is like asking someone with a fear of spiders to go on “I’m a Celebrity” and eat bugs in return for their dinner. I would rather just go hungry. It’s something I’ve feared so greatly for over four years now, that I can’t quite believe I’ve built my own little circle of friends all on my own. I only have a handful of friends but I personally think that’s better because I can explain my mental health problems better in a small group, which is means everyone is aware of when I’m not feeling 100%.

Use social media 

I didn’t have a clue how to even start meeting new people, and to be honest it wasn’t something I was planning on doing straight away. My main focus when I moved to the city was to find a job and work on my blog. I found a job within two weeks and started building my Twitter followers to get more blog traffic. Whilst I had some extra time on my hands I followed every Birmingham Twitter group I could find (Brum Bloggers, Brum Hour, etc) and got talking to other followers. I noticed a few other bloggers tweeting things like “I’ve just moved to Birmingham and I don’t know anyone” and felt compelled to speak to them, even though it made me really nervous. Leaving the comfort of Scotland where my friends and family were always on call meant for the first time in my life my loneliness outweighed my anxiety, so I reached out to a few girls in a similar position.

My advice to anyone looking to make friends on Twitter would be to make as many connections online as possible, and don’t think about the actual real life meeting until it happens. I talk to lots of people online that I’ll probably never meet in person, so I just enjoy the conversation for what it is; a brief meeting of minds over a funny GIF or a relatable comment. Over time you’ll strengthen some friendships and these are the people you should meet in real life. The girls I met on Twitter actually talk more to each other via text than we do online, I think that’s a good thing because it feels more genuine.

Be honest

This one is hard, because it can be really scary to tell people you’ve just met that you have mental health problems. I urge you to mention to at least one of your new acquaintances that you have some anxiety issues, so that they understand if you flake out last minute or don’t seem your usual self once in a while. In fact, social media is perfect for this because you can tell them about it – in as much or as little detail as you desire – via direct message instead of actually having to go through the horror or mumbling the words out loud. Go on, be brave. It’s so worth it.

Have you struggled to meet new friends because of social anxiety?