Looking through countless glossy magazines, you’d be hard pressed to find any that don’t give advice, in one way or another, on how to deal with romantic love, break ups and moving on from long term relationships. As someone who unfortunately (or not!) has never been in that position myself as a single woman, I’ve never really identified with those kinds of situations in terms of intimate, sexual relationships. However, the themes of trust, understanding and compassion; things that you’d want to have in any intimate relationship, have often run throughout my friendships with people too and if anything that ultimate betrayal of those themes, which leads to the downfall of the relationships, hits harder because throughout your life – in society, culture and the media – you are told that your friends will always be there for you.
When I was in my last couple of years in High School, about to take on my A levels, I met a group of people that I would stay close friends with for the next 10 years. We survived sixth form together, we graduated from university and got our first jobs. We still managed to keep in touch with each other throughout all that time – sending birthday wishes, Christmas cards and still arranging to meet up every year for a lovely festive get together.
In my early to mid 20s, not long after finishing uni, there were signs that our friendship group was slowly drifting apart as we all each started our own adventures. Some friends moved away from our local area to start new exciting careers, some friends settled down, got married and had kids. When I was younger, I assumed that no matter what happened, friendships that had lasted that long would find a way to keep going, and that even if you didn’t keep in close contact with each other, you’d still keep in touch and be there for each other at the good times and the bad. However, unlike the rose tinted view of long term friendships that you get from US sitcoms, life isn’t always like that.
In 2012, after spending almost 3 years back at home with my parents after graduating university, I finally found a place where I could live on my own and have my own life. Reminiscing of the independence I had at university, I was really looking forward to the time when I could finally socialise with my friends more often by inviting them round to my own home when I wanted instead of having to rely on my parents to awkwardly drop me round at my friends’ (and carry me in to their unfortunately inaccessible homes too!) when they were able to. Frustratingly, as is often the case when you have a disability and are reliant on parents and caregivers to physically assist you to get out and about, I realised that yet again in my life I was socially a few steps behind everyone else. At around 24, the majority of my friends had already gone through the era of care free house parties, going out to bars on nights out and being closer to friends than they were with their own family. Now many of had full time jobs to go to, partners and kids to look after, and as I felt no where near that stage in life myself, I found it harder to relate to them and felt that we were all wanting different things in life and heading in different directions. Not that I’d consider any of those lifestyles bad or unworthy, its just that many of them, particularly parenthood, are completely life changing and dramatically alter your perspective on your own ideals, beliefs and future.
As my friends’ lives changed, it made me question my own. I ended up having what I feel was an identity crisis. Throughout your childhood and your school life you are encouraged to follow a criteria and hit certain milestones – Say your first word, walk (well I had already failed on that one!), start school, finish primary school, start High School, GCSEs, A-Levels, university, work. But now that I had graduated university and was struggling to find work when it felt like everyone else was moving on without me, where did I fit in? I thought I knew what I wanted – I wanted to socialise more with the friends I had already made now that I felt I was able to. I wanted to try and be more outgoing, go out more, stay up later with friends. But now I realised, with both friends moving past that stage and my increasingly frustrating carer situation (Due to lack of support, I can’t get help to go to bed after 10pm), this would probably no longer be possible.
It was around this time that my mental health took a nosedive. Depression and Anxiety hit hard and I really didn’t know what it was that I wanted from life. Suicidal thoughts and urges to self harm still do affect me somewhat, but that was when it was at its peak. They always say that the ones who truly care for you will be there for you at times when you really need it, and at crisis point, this was when I realised that some people weren’t as close friends with me as I’d previously thought.
When you have mental illnesses such as Depression and Anxiety, they can manifest themselves in various ways. One of the big ways in which I struggled was anxiety and paranoia about how others I cared about perceived me. When one of my closest friends began communicating with a mutual friend of mine through social media, I was initially really happy and excited for them. But then the anxiety and paranoia kicked in and I started fretting to myself about whether they would be better friends than I was with them both, or whether they would talk about me behind my back, and all those silly little things that you would have probably worried about back in the days of cliquey friendship groups in primary school. The anxiety around this affected me so badly that I ended up with intrusive thoughts, trawling through social media accounts for signs that they were best friends and that I wasn’t good enough for them – basically fulfilling my depression fuelled prophecy that I wasn’t a good person and my life wasn’t good enough. It all came to a head when I saw both friends together at a party. One of my friendsI hadn’t seen in person for a few years despite trying to arrange to meet up with them, so I thought they might have wanted to tell me they were going to be there or maybe have another catch up afterwards, considering we hadn’t seen each other in such a long time, but neither of those things happened. Looking back now, I know I probably should have done and said a lot of things differently, and also maybe explained how bad and confusing my mental health was at that time too. Having a friend seemingly jealous of your other friendship would have obviously made me come across as petty and childish, when inwardly, I wanted to be seen as anything but that! Surely though, if they were true friends, they would have been able to spot a slight chink in the armour and have been brave enough to discuss both our feelings in more detail – not just ignore me and ghost me from their lives like they did!
The endings of friendships like this, when you have put so much effort and love into them and have had dreams of staying friends long into the future, can be devastating and hard to move on from. This is especially difficult moving into your 20s and 30s where it can be harder to make new friends as people are busy with work and families and social groups for people of your age and with similar interests can be hard to come by. As with romantic break ups, moving on from a friendship brings with it a whole range of emotions – anger, jealousy, sadness, self blame, and that thread of hope than one day might signal the possibility of rekindling the friendship again, albeit not in the same guise as it was before. It is tough and I despise those who nonchalantly tell you to “get over it!”. When you’ve invested so much time in someone, whether it be a friend or a partner, it is an incredibly difficult thing to “get over”. These things take time, and as I have learnt, this time helps you realise things about yourself too – that you are worthy of friendship, love and compassion, but sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective for you to see it.
In battling through my crisis’ and receiving support from various people and organisations, as well as my own friends and family, I have gained a whole new circle of friends, some who I am close to, some who I just chat with once in a while, but they have all helped me see myself in a better light, and for that I am grateful!
If you are currently struggling with your own mental health, then please speak to your GP. If you live in the UK, you can speak anonymously and confidentially with Samaritans by phoning 116 123 or if you also live in North Yorkshire and are registered with a GP, you can phone the North Yorkshire Mental Health Helpline out of GP hours on 0333 0000 309