I did something pretty crappy a little while back that I haven’t apologised for.
I – the single, childless adult who does not own any pets (I invested one dollar in two baby goldfish recently and both were dead within a fortnight) – compared parenting a child to owning a dog. I know. I am a garbage human.
And to make matters slightly worse, I made this insulting observational comparison at the dinner table in front of my closest friends, most of whom are mothers. Some of whom are both mothers to children and dogs. Sometimes it makes me wonder whether if there is anyone left on the planet for me to offend.
I’m not going to try and explain why I was making this hideously offensive point. I can’t even remember really. But when I reflected on it afterwards, despite how stupid and judgmental and obnoxious I was being, I realised I was probably still being a better friend than I have been in the past.
One of the most wonderful things about being well from having a mental illness – as opposed to unwell from a mental illness – is you have the opportunity to be a reasonable friend again.
When I was in an episode of some form of mental illness I was a rubbish friend. Like, really rubbish. When we are experiencing a mental illness it can be really, really, really hard to connect with people. Even though I knew at a very logical and rational level that keeping up my social connections and networks would have been very good for me, every part of my being when I was unwell fought against this.
So here is my apology letter to my loved ones for the times I was a rubbish friend.
I’m sorry for all the times I didn’t reply to your text message because I totally overthought the response in my anxiety to the point that I thought it best just to avoid texting you back at all. I see this would appear very weird now.
I’m sorry for all the times I openly denied my feelings to your face when you asked how I was and I said I was “fine”. This just always felt like a much easier option than having to say the truth out loud. And often I had so much trouble even understanding what the truth was.
I’m sorry for the times where I wasn’t fully engaged in our conversations. Where rather than be 100% invested and interested in our conversations, my head and attention was elsewhere. Like engaging in some pretty awful self-talk about what a garbage human I am or obsessing about the last stupid thing I had said. Or when I just let myself drift away, because I felt that I was just so far behind and I couldn’t comprehend how you could all keep going and get things done and have a shower each day and brush your hair and be so polite and behave like a citizen, when I was stuck watching Beverley Hills 90210 on repeat.
I’m sorry for lying. For saying that I had been sick with food poisoning or other weird ailments to get out of seeing you. The truth was that the Black Dog was making it near impossible for me to get out from the covers of my bed.
I’m sorry that I believed all the depressive thoughts I had. The ones that told me that I was unloveable and unworthy. These thoughts justified me declining your calls. And not answering the door. I believed that I didn’t deserve you. And your love and attention.
I’m sorry for missing what would have been really good social occasions. Sometimes I was even ready for them. After getting ready for them way too early, my anxiety would peak right at departure time and by then I had convinced myself that if I did in fact attend the event it would be a form of social torture where a meteorite of word vomit would come out of my mouth and everyone would hate me and no one would talk to me and I’d be stuck in the corner talking only to myself and then the host would have to ask me to leave and I would never have any friends ever again. So instead I went back to bed.
I’m sorry I didn’t let you in when I needed you the most. I was ashamed. And scared.
I’m sorry for doubting that you’d understand. I’m sorry that my brain told me I couldn’t trust you or rely on you, that telling you exactly what was going on would be a mistake. In retrospect, I highly doubt you would have been one of those people to tell me about their second cousin removed who cured her depression by eliminating gluten from her diet and practicing yoga. Nor do I think you would have called me weak for choosing the meds. But that’s the thing about mental illness -– it becomes your biggest secret and your closest friend, and pushes everyone else away in the process.
I’m sorry for the really big things I missed. Like your weddings. Because I was in hospital. I believe you when you say it’s okay. It was where I needed to be. But gee whiz, I wish I could have been there.
I’m especially sorry if at any times I scared you. When I was really struggling and feeling broken and it must have been hard not to look away. The darkness is scary, but it doesn’t scare me like it did before. I know how to work with darkness now.
I’m sorry for all those times my illness made me a crappy friend.
But for the plethora of sorries, there are so many more things I am thankful for.
I am thankful that you kept on loving me.
Thankful that by hanging in there you all reminded me that I am not my illness. Not at all.
Thankful for the lesson that we all make mistakes, whether we have a mental illness or not. We all act out of pain or confusion and do stupid, hurtful things. We are all human.
Thankful for the opportunity now to be a less crappy friend. To laugh with you and be ridiculous. To have deep and meaningful conversations. To celebrate your achievements and your goals and feel pride. To watch your children (and dogs) grow.
I will never be able to thank you too much for staying around.
PS Sorry about the dog/children comparison comment.