Mental health issues can cause a myriad of relationship problems. One of my enduring issues is an inability to reply to messages from friends in a timely manner, and I know that this is quite a common problem for many people suffering from depression and anxiety. I’m often torn between wanting to be surrounded by people because I’m lonely and the polar opposite; just wanting to be totally alone because I’m too overwhelmed.
When I’m in a particularly bad place, my whole world shrinks. I focus on one task at a time, hour by hour, just doing what I need to in order to get through the day until bedtime. Often, this doesn’t even include showering or eating. Gross but true! When a text comes through from a friend or loved one (this even includes my Nan) whilst I read through it and know it’s there, I just can’t bring myself to type a reply and send it. If I could reply, it would probably help me to feel better, but when I feel particularly bad there’s a mental block that stops me from doing anything productive or positive for myself. Logically, I know that I’m pleased to have heard from you, but right now, I can’t actually feel the emotion of being pleased, because I’m struggling to feel anything at all. For people that haven’t experienced it, most think that depression is feelings of extreme sadness and crying, but for a lot of people it’s just pure emptiness, exhaustion, a foggy head and engulfing emotional numbness.
Depression can sap you of every last scrap of energy, until even just standing up to go into another room takes maximum effort. Motivating oneself to send an email for work is a gargantuan task, and even making a cup of tea is a challenge. So whilst that text message is appreciated, it remains unanswered, because it’s just too much right now. Sometimes it feels like an internet browser with way too many tabs open – I just focus on the tab that’s currently open and the others will just have to wait until later.
Hours roll by, and suddenly three days later I remember with a start that I have a backlog of messages to reply to. The depression has lifted slightly so surely I must be able to reply now – wrong. Now I feel incredibly guilty about my silence, and I feel sure that you’re probably annoyed with me. I start to reply but I just can’t think of the right way to say “sorry” for the umpteenth time. I don’t really want to tell you that I was feeling bad again because I’m sure you’re probably sick of hearing it by now and it makes me feel pathetic. I feel useless and like the world’s most terrible friend. It’s a classic trait of someone with depression to be totally hard on themselves and now is the perfect time to kick the self-loathing into gear. I spend ages typing, deleting and retyping but it’s no use; I can’t think of the right words. So I close my phone and forget about it for a few more days…
Here are some things you should know
It isn’t personal
Your friend isn’t mad at you. As I said above, I don’t even reply to my Nan when I’m at my worse. So please don’t take it personally that your friend hasn’t replied.
You are appreciated
Even though they haven’t replied, your friend does appreciate your text, even just the smallest of hellos. Reading it will have made them feel less alone when they’re stuck in a black fog, even if they don’t always show it.
I know it makes it worse that you can probably see your friend liking and commenting on things on Facebook, or sharing a quick snap on Instagram. Please understand though, that your friend probably finds it so much easier to leave an empty, throwaway heart emoji on a Facebook post than it is to write a meaningful, real reply to your message. It’s easy to put out a happy face out to the world on on social media, but it’s so much harder to lie to your friends.
Netflix and TV
Did your friend mention that they had binge watched the entire two seasons of The Good Place last week, when they should have been texting you back? For some, getting lost in hours upon hours of TV shows is the ultimate way to cope and pass the time when feeling bad, so just because they’ve been watching TV it doesn’t mean they were able to write back to you. I see depression as kind of like the weather – you just have to ride out the rainy days until you feel better, and a sofa and a box set is my ideal coping mechanism.
They will reply eventually
When they feel better, your friend will be in touch. The very best friendships are timeless – the kind that can pick up after a period of silence as though no time has passed at all. Your friend loves you and values you and that will never go away.
What can you do?
The best thing you can do is make sure your friend knows that you understand, and that you won’t be angry or think any less of them if you don’t hear from them for a few days. This takes the pressure off, and when they do feel better it can help minimise the guilt afterwards and hopefully help them to reply faster. If they’ve gone quiet for a few days, send a meme or a picture if you like – it may help break through those horrible feelings of inadequacy after a silence.
Special thanks to my beautiful best friends who never get mad when they don’t hear from me for a few days! It makes it so much easier knowing that when I feel better, you’re still here.