I spent nearly a decade, from my late teens and almost through my twenties, in a fog of depression. Some of those years it was so severe as to be debilitating. It affecting every aspect of my life, especially the social.
It’s hard to be friends with people when you are depressed. It’s hard for them to be friends with you, especially if they’ve never known you any other way.
When I am depressed I am emotionally needy. And physically exhausted. I sleep a lot. I don’t want to go out. I’m incredibly sensitive and prone to overreact. I make it very hard for people to be there for me, and yet I have (impossible) expectations that they will.
This is what I was like during my most formative friend-making years. Add drinking and drug-use to manage my depression and you’ve got a pretty horrible combination. I was not great friend material. Looking back I’m not quite sure how I made, or kept, any friends at all.
I wasn’t involved romantically during this time either. Not once. I never even went out on a date. Not until I was 25 and I met my now husband.
For what I consider to be the most formative years of my social life I was severely handicapped by depression. I don’t think I ever learned how to be in a healthy, productive relationship. Obviously I learned enough to get by, but I don’t think I ever understood what was required to be one half of a meaningful friendship. Every interaction, every expectation, every gain and every loss was experienced through the warped lens of depression.
I believe this has been incredibly detrimental to my ability to make and manage friendships. I think this has crippled my trust in myself as a reliable gauge of what is acceptable and what is not. I have very little context with which to make reasonable determinations. There are no “healthy” friendships or relationships with which I can compare because I was never (emotionally and psychologically) healthy in any of my friendships (and I never even had a romantic relationship).
Without these parameters I feel lost. I am mired in self-doubt. I feel like I’m learning now, in my mid-30’s, what everyone else learned in their teens and twenties. I feel like I’m stunted, like I’ll never catch up. I feel like I’ll never have trust in my own abilities to understand other people and the ties that bond us. I’ll never recognize what is a feasible expectation, which slights should be forgiven, what friendships are worth saving, and which should be allowed to drift away.
It feels like something inside, something fundamentally, is broken. That it can never be repaired.
I worry I will never have the kinds of friendships I imagine for myself. I fear my marriage will never satisfy me. I worry I will stumble through life making mistake after mistake and never learning anything.
I’ve worked on this in therapy. I’ve read books. I’ve talked with trusted confidants. But it’s hard to learn something this intricate and complex this late in life. It’s like Spanish; I may approach fluency but I’ll never speak with the ease of a native. I’ll never be able to express myself in the ways that feel most natural. I will never feel as seen or heard in Spanish as I do in my native language.
That is exactly how it feels, like it will always take just enough effort to remind me that I’m different, that friendship is not my native tongue. I’ll always be second guessing myself, lingering over grammatical exceptions, grasping for the perfect word, ignorant of the expected turn of phrase.
I have spent the last 20 years of my life learning Spanish. I teach it now, but I’m still not as fluent as I’d like to be. I am constantly improving my skills, reading in Spanish, watching telenovelas, arranging intercambios, speaking to my kids. It requires a huge amount of effort and sometimes it feels like I’ll never arrive at the level of fluency I want. But I keep at it because I love it. I love the language, I love being able to think and speak in a completely different way. I love how it stretches and flexes my mind.
And I suppose that is how it will be with friendship. I’ll work at it for the rest of my life because it feels worthy of the effort. I just hope I’m not perpetually disappointed in where I end up. And I hope I don’t hurt people along the way.