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Monday, 16 May 2016

Mental Health Awareness week Day 1: Friends

This week is Mental Health Awareness week, with a theme of 'relationships'. I'm going to be publishing a blog post each day talking about different ways in which relationships with various people (or groups of people) impact on my mental health. I've struggled with depression for years now, and my journey has been shaped by relationships and interactions with others.
Today, I'll be writing about my relationships with my friends.

I've never been the most popular person, but I've never been friendless; and those friends I have, I'd do anything for. And yet, for the longest time, I hid how I was feeling from them all. I lost track of the amount of times I said 'I'm fine, I'm just tired' when really I was struggling. I always tried to act like nothing was wrong, like I was fine, and even now I can't remember how long I've been doing it for. There was never a defining moment where I broke through and confided in someone, so there's no landmark for me to look back and see how long this has been going on for. My closest friends new I was feeling rough, but even with them I kept them at arms length, hid behind my walls.

But why? Why did I hide it all? I had it in my mind that me telling people how I felt would draw them into it, and have a negative effect on them. With no real outlet for this feeling it spiraled out of control, until I just saw myself as this huge black hole that would leech the happiness and fun out of anyone I let get close enough to see the real me. Then I started to worry that if I told people how I felt, they would see me the way I did. They would hate me as much as I did.

In my third year of undergrad, it all started to come out, though. I had started having panic attacks about a year before, but again hid them from everyone. They started small but got worse and worse, and more and more frequent. But I put up my walls and shut the world out. I was at a restaurant for a christmas meal, when I started panicking. It was the worst I'd ever had (up to that point) and I could barely breathe, I couldn't eat, and everyone could see it happening. I ran up and locked myself in the bathroom but a friend came after me. They had seen; a crack in my armour and everyone saw through and realised I wasn't ok.

And not one person who came to help me felt anything more negative than concern. None of them hated me, they only supported me, and told me their own experiences with similar things. But I was so convinced that I was going to ruin everybody's lives that all I told them about was the panic attacks, and when I'd started taking medication for them I went back to hiding behind my walls, feeling awful but painting on a smiling mask. My friends had seen I wasn't ok, and tried to help, but I pushed them away and went back to 'I'm fine, just tired'.

Long story short, I had my heart broken, and I went into full meltdown. I thought that I had somehow 'failed', and not been 'good enough', or even not worth anything at all. This totally crushed me in every way, and marked the start of what I tend to think of as 'when I got really bad' (although it was later referred to by professionals as 'a severe/profound/crippling/extreme (delete as appropriate, all were said at one point or another) depressive episode').

I'd hidden from friends all along. But a friend heard what happened (a different one of course. I'm not mentioning names but if you're reading this, you know who you are). She saved my life that night (and many nights since), when she picked up the phone and called me. We were talking until the sun came up, until the alcohol was out of my system... She saw the full extent of my violent self-hatred, despair and misery. She saw my walls come tumbling down. And she took my hand, smiled at me, and stood by me. She's the one who asked me to go to a doctor for the depression. She would stay up with me all night, I don't know how many times, just to make sure I made it through to the morning.

Kick-starting my medical treatment helped me get on the road to where I am now, but the real healing, my real medicine, was the fact that someone saw me, the real me, scars and all, and didn't blink or hesitate for a single second before holding out a hand to help me up, help me start putting things back together. I finally reached out to a friend, and everything I thought would happen withered and died in the face of the reality; I reached out to a friend and she caught me.

If I could turn back the clock, but still had to go through everything again, the main thing I would change (apart from my awful haircut) would be how I approached my relationships with my friends. I should have realised that me talking to them wouldn't make things worse, and that not one of them would have turned their backs on me or even thought less of me in any way. Because if the roles were reversed, if one of them came to me and said they were struggling, I would do anything to help them out.

I would do anything for my friends.

We would all do anything for our friends, and they would do anything for us.

 *** Please feel free to send me questions here or on Twitter, I'll do a Q&A post on Sunday ***

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