I feel like an ungrateful jerk when I say this, but I dread the moment when a friend says, “Do you want to talk about it?”
I dread it because I have to lie and say no. I do want to talk about it, at least sometimes. But I can’t.
It used to be that I measured the strength of a friendship or relationship purely by how willing the person was to listen to my bullshit and how well they responded when I vented it. I truly believed in the idea that True Friends will be able to listen to me at my most raw and vulnerable, because that’s how True Friendship is often described when it comes down to it. You can Be Yourself around a True Friend. Well, Myself was often very, very sad.
“If you can’t handle me at my worst then you don’t deserve me at my best,” and all that.
And then I lost a ton of friends and partners who couldn’t handle me at my worst.
They were good people, maybe not as good at communication and boundary-setting as they could’ve been, but then who is at that age? This wasn’t a case of shitty shallow people just not being willing to deal with any negativity; this was a case of normal people not being able to deal with someone’s mental illness.
Eventually something in me snapped, and my entire outlook on it changed. I no longer judge the strength of a friendship by how much the person can listen to me vent and cry. I almost never do anything I’d describe as “venting.” I do not consider it important to have someone I can “vent” to. I do not consider it important for friends and partners to see that side of me.
Am I bitter? Yes, a little bit. Many people who suffer from mental illness tell me that they don’t know where they’d be without their loving friends and partners who listen supportively to all of their completely unfiltered crap. It seems that my crap is of such an especially strong variety that nobody is able to handle it for long.
As if to test my resolve, plenty of people in my life try to convince me that they really can listen. “Yes,” they all say, “I know other people have let you down, but trust me, I want to be there for you.”
For a few years I fell for a few of these lines. Inevitably, “listening” and “being there” went along with “being determined to fix,” and you can’t fix a mental illness. So they’d try to fix me and they’d fail and they’d get frustrated and sooner or later I was such a source of negative feelings and it wasn’t worth it anymore.
It became a boy-cried-wolf situation. Every once in a while someone still tells me that, really, they’re a very good listener and they won’t get frustrated and they won’t expect to fix me and I really can talk to them.
I don’t fall for it anymore.
What is it about me? What is it that makes people so desperate to fix me that they lose the ability to set appropriate emotional boundaries and take a step back when they need to? What is it about my particular problems that make people think that they must fix them immediately or else it’s the end of the world?
I mean, certainly depression makes me feel that way, but as I said, plenty of people with depression nevertheless manage to vent to their friends without destroying everything.
There is a lovely Captain Awkward post that my friends and I often pass around at relevant times, called “The Sandwich Means I Love You.” It’s about a person with depression who worries that they are becoming too much of a burden on their friends, who are always helping them and generally being really great and supportive.
I love your friends. They are wicked practical about emotional matters, and when they say “Keep the pills at my house,” or “I will make you a grilled cheese now” they are really saying “I love you.“
I’m sorry your Jerkbrain is translating that differently for you. I think it is hearing “I love you…for now…as long as you don’t actually like start to depend on that love and count on it too much and maybe become a burden? Enjoy this grilled cheese of temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment.“
But your friends? They’re just saying “I love you.” Really.
This post consistently makes me cry happily, but the truth is that I don’t really believe in it. I mean, I believe that the people who post it on my Facebook wall are being as honest as they can be, but I also believe that when they support me it’s more of the “temporary toleration and eventual judgement and abandonment” thing. Because that’s how it has historically been.
And it makes me sad when I share this and people accuse those ex-friends/-partners of being horrible or selfish or ableist or any number of other bad things. The truth is that dealing with depression is fucking horrible, and if a person with depression is telling you all of their thoughts and feelings, that’s not very far off from the experience of actually having it. The hopelessness. The going around in circles. The fact that nothing seems to ever help at all.
You are not a bad person if you can’t deal with this.
But this is why I feel like I can never fully open up to anyone again. Maybe that’s okay. Maybe that’s adulthood.
Except, I guess, for all the other adults who seem to manage it just fine.