There were seasons where my best friend Leslie would literally stop responding to me. She didn’t return phone calls, texts, never wanted to hang out. At first I would keep calling her to talk, to hang out, as usual, trying to sooth the rejection I felt listening to her voicemail message one more time, telling myself she was just busy or not feeling well. But it kept happening, and try as I might to let it go, it was eating at me. My friend was avoiding me. Why? I had no idea what I did. After a while, I was so, so hurt. I even questioned if I could really consider her my friend, if she couldn’t take the time to just call me back or want to be around me.
Me today still understands how me at age 16 felt. But I’ve changed since then. Now I also understand how Leslie felt…and when I realized it all, all I had was tears.
My best friend battles chronic depression. It is a battle she has often fought alone, especially in high school. She told me once or twice in high school that she struggled with it but I had no concept of what that meant functionally in her day to day. I remember when she told me that her relationship with one of our favorite history teachers was a safe place for her, and maybe saved her during one of her darkest times. I was like, “wow, that’s amazing, thank you for telling me” but didn’t know how to recognize when that dark time occurred, although it was right in front of me the whole time. I didn’t know how to specifically support her, although she tells me that my friendship did support her. I wish I had gone deeper, I wish I had asked her how she was doing with her depression, how it was affecting her. I wish I had the wisdom to go deeper and talk about the uncomfortable.
See, all that time, I didn’t realize there was a connection between her depression and the seasons where she didn’t call back. It wasn’t personal that she wasn’t calling me. She just didn’t have it in her. Depression has a weird way of sucking out all your extra energy, so you are left with just enough to survive. As she so aptly tells me now, “Depression is one of those things that just fucking sucks because it’s absolutely unrelatable to anyone who has never experienced it.”
During those times when she ‘wasn’t there for me’ were actually the times that I needed to be there extra for her. To pray for her. To remind her she is loved, even if she doesn’t have the energy to talk. To tell her that it’s ok, that there is never any pressure. But I didn’t do that. I was ultimately focused on how hurt I felt. After a while, I labeled her unresponsiveness as rejection and took it personally, when it was never, ever about me.
Gosh, and now I get it more than ever. I suffer from PTSD. Sometimes, it floors me. I am often exhausted after a day of work. Now I screen my phone calls based on how much energy I have. At times the best I can do is sit on my butt, snuggle my puppy and binge netflix. I don’t have the energy to craft, to read, to cook, to clean, and especially not to talk. I don’t call my friends just to chat anymore, even though I really, really love them and wish I had the energy to. I suck at texting back, and I’m constantly trying to get the energy to keep up… because I love my relationships, don’t want to lose them, but I feel trapped in myself sometimes. I feel so guilty for ignoring my friends, but I don’t really know what to do about it.
Leslie gets it. I’ve been really bad about getting back to her, or even listening to voicemails. In fact, my voicemail inbox is usually full because I just don’t want to deal with it.
A few days ago she messaged me on facebook
Tuesday, 3/1, 5:30pm
Leslie: I seriously miss you. How are you doing?
note how it took two days for me to respond… I miss her terribly, but the question ‘how are you doing’ was just overload for me to figure out responding at the time…therefore, no response
Thursday, 3/3, 8:30am
Me: I seriously miss you too. And I have not been doing well… I over exerted myself last weekend and then work had some bumps. And then my back hurt really bad so I found a chiropractor. And I finally have the day off and am self caring. Sorry I didn’t respond. I was mia.
Leslie: I’m so glad you get the day off. And like I have never been mia… Please. I get it.
Me: I figured you would! I used to not understand and now I do. Sometimes responding takes a kind of energy that I don’t have, and it doesn’t mean I don’t like people. It’s just not having it.
Leslie: It sucks that you understand now.
Me: Ya. It does. I used to take it so personally when you went mia and I’m sad about that because I get it now. It’s a hard knock life. Thanks for hanging in there with me, on both sides of the coin for all these years.
Leslie: You are the biggest blessing in my life. And I am so thankful for you- in whatever season you are in.
Me: I feel the same way. And Leslie, I love you forever and so much.
“It sucks that you understand now.” Probably the most compassionate, knowing, and accepting words she could have spoken.
And yes. I do understand.
Invisible illnesses have a sneaky way of putting us into hiding. We fear judgement if we choose to be open about them. So we hide. We pretend we are ‘normal’ and invincible, having a public face and a painful face, that no one gets to see. When really, what we need is to bring our struggles into the light, to be known and embraced, even our disorders.
I wish I had known how to do that for Leslie when we were younger. She assures me though, “Jesse, I’m not exaggerating when I say you have saved my life. You not leaving our friendship through the crappy stuff gave me strength and something to hold on to when the dark came knocking.”
Even though I didn’t get it at the time, and even though I often made it about me when it really wasn’t, I am so, so grateful that my annoying persistence helped her. And now in my need, she is here for me over and over.
I love you Leslie.
Leslie and I want to take away the stigma around mental illness. Will you help us by sharing this post, or even sharing your story?