Those ‘crazy’ moments: losing friends & making amends

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T he author C.S.Lewis (of Narnia fame) once said: “Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: “What! You too? I thought I was the only one.”

I guess this kind of connection could refer to just about anything – a hobby, a love of the same eclectic read, splitting your sides at the same absurd jokes. It could even, I think, refer to the trials of living with a health condition and finding a kindred spirit in your experiences.

This quote sprang to mind when I saw the results of a survey published recently to coincide with a campaign to encourage people to talk about mental health.

The survey by Time to Change – England’s biggest mental health anti-stigma programme, run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness – revealed a raft of interesting (if somewhat lamentable) statistics about people’s experiences of mental health.

But the statistic that bothered me most was that three-quarters of people who’ve experienced a mental health problem have lost friendships as a result of their illness. OK, bothered but not in the least bit surprised – I can definitely count myself amongst that high percentage.

Sadly, those times when you need your friends the most may also be the moments when they find it hardest to be available to you. At such times, the connections described by C.S.Lewis are but a fading hope, an unattainable ideal. When you’re feeling crazy and wanting to crawl out of your own skin, it seems only natural to discover that others might also be looking for an exit. I truly understand that.

Right away I’m going to defend good friends, both generically and my own, who, as it turns out, have been tremendous in their capacity to support and accompany me as I’ve journeyed into black and cavernous depressions and back again.

I know how difficult it is to be a friend to someone who isn’t ‘right in the head’. In her book ‘Shoot the Damn Dog: A Memoir of Depression’, Sally Brampton says: ‘We are not easy to help. Nor are we easy to be around. Nobody with a serious illness is easy to be around.’

Dr Ian Drever, consultant psychiatrist at The Priory Hospital Woking, tells me it’s not unusual for patients to say that their illness has cost them relationships or friendships. And often the reason is a lack of understanding of their illness.

“People may think that the sufferer is being lazy, obstinate or not engaging with them out of choice,” he explains, “whereas the reality is that the illness makes it so much more difficult for the sufferer to carry out tasks and engage in social activities.”

This sounds so familiar. I’ve seen how mental illness affected my own friendships as I’ve cancelled dates, all but disappeared and let people down, not through choice but because I’ve been paralysed by depression. I’ve also seen how it has blasted holes through my closest relationships.

Every day I’m acutely aware of how, over the years, my mental ill health has wreaked havoc in my life, like a random demolition ball wildly swinging with my changing moods and felling friends and loved ones who were only trying to help. I’m often surprised at how there are still people around me. Even I felt like running away from me. Thankfully, I stuck around to enjoy my improved mental health, and so did my good friends.

The statistics in this latest ‘Time to Change’ survey bear testimony to how impossible it can sometimes feel helping someone who has a mental health condition, such as depression. The study found that whilst 62 per cent of British adults know someone who has experienced a mental health problem, 40 per cent of them also admitted that they’d feel awkward talking to their friend about it. One in five said they wouldn’t know what to say.

But what do you say? Some years ago I had a conversation with my mum about it and she would say, “People don’t know what to say” and I’d retort, indignantly, “Then they should say that – ‘I don’t know what to say’. Better than them trying to ‘fix it’ when they don’t know how.”

On reflection, I think I may have been a bit harsh. I now feel it’s part of the human condition to want to try to fix things and to offer a lifeline to someone in crisis. And I can appreciate that in trying to say the ‘right thing’, someone may get it wrong. But in getting it wrong they are, at least, actually trying to do something.

It is out of doing something rather than nothing, of talking about mental health as opposed to ignoring it, of reaching out to an ill friend rather than shunning them (or even withholding friendship), that solutions can hopefully be found. This is why campaigns like Time to Change are so vital.

Hopefully, asking people to speak out rather than be mute will haul mental health issues out of the shadows and into the public arena, further away from misunderstanding and even prejudice.

Of course friendship is about reciprocity and when you’re ill you’re only too aware of how it seems to rob you of your ability to give back (sadly, it robs you of your ability to do very much at all). Conversely, when you’re feeling well, like I am right now, you’re hopefully better able to be that good friend in return.

I hope I can be there for other people whilst I’m best able to, making hay while the sun shines, letting them know that I, too, can care when I’m ‘here’ and not in ‘that place’.

OK, I’m still a bit hopeless at times, forgetting birthdays with alarming regularity and double-booking myself due to my haphazard social planning. But I’m hoping my friends will forgive such imperfections and won’t give up on me. After all, whether desperately unwell or at the peak of health, we are all only human.

As such, I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe it’s not so bad if we can’t find that “What! You too?” connection with all our friends. We can’t all possibly relate to everything in each others lives and that’s only to be expected (I think it’s enough to be open to trying). Besides, this view of friendship is just one perspective.

Another quote about friendship says, “A friend is someone who knows all about you and still loves you.” That, I feel, just about sums it up. I can live with that, both on the giving and receiving front, and I’m sure my friends can, too.

Follow Martha Roberts :

Freelance journalist and mental health blogger, based in London UK

5 Responses to “Those ‘crazy’ moments: losing friends & making amends” Subscribe

  1. JellyBabyKid (@JBKid7) January 31, 2013 at 5:07 pm #

    Beautifully put and always good to know you’re not alone.

    • martharoberts69 February 1, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      Thank you, JellyBabyKid. Can be a very lonely place, for sure, but you’re not alone. Very best, Martha.

  2. Emily February 8, 2013 at 2:59 pm #

    Such a lovely blog, really well put. I can emphasise.
    Best of luck for the future! X

  3. singingbirdartist March 8, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    I have a fridge magnet that says “a friend is someone who ignores your broken gate and admires your garden flowers”. I am quick to offer to be someone friends can talk to about the hard stuff (actually, for me, the hard stuff is “everything is and always has been great”, I have very little in common with the silver-spooned!) and would say it strengthens the real friendships…this reminds me of a post of mine on being friends with people with PTSD:
    like Kerouac, give me the crazy ones 😉

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