My Crumbling Empire: On Depression, And Social Networks

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 12.06% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

Yesterday, I saw a dear friend of mine for lunch. We had some lovely burgers, chatted amiably, and when she left I slumped into my chair and stared numbly at the wall for half an hour, drained to the point of paralysis.
I am normally an introvert, which is to say that I love people, but it takes me energy to spend time in their company.
When I’m in Seasonal Affective Disorder, as I am now, talking to people takes so much energy that I have to schedule social engagements like I would workouts. You can’t just go out and run a ten-mile; you gotta build in warmup and recovery time.
Normally, I’m a super social person. I text probably twenty people during the course of a day, merrily exchange @s on Twitter, flirt on FetLife. I have Woodworking Wednesdays, and Roleplaying Tuesdays, and guests over almost every weekend.
My SAD is really fucking with me right now, in a fundamental way. Right now, “answering a text” involves mental labor. My phone buzzes, and rather than going, “Oooh, who is it?” like I normally do, I flinch with a sagging “Oh, man, I have to respond to that.”
And the thing is, it’s costing me. I usually have an excellent support network of friends who tell me happy things and distract me when I’m bored. (For a depressive introvert, in fact, I have a thoroughly vibrant social life.) But weeks have passed, and some folks have quite correctly decided that I’m not being a particularly good friend, and so why waste time on me when I’ll respond erratically if at all?
So I’ve been losing people I like to talk to. In theory. In practice, I want to talk to few people now, and sporadically, but I still like these people, I just… am pretty limited at the moment.
And here comes the annoying part where people tell me, “Well, if they can’t deal with you cutting out on them because you’re depressed, they’re not true friends and they don’t matter!” And that is such, such stinking bullshit.
First off, by defining the only friends worth having as “people who will stay with you for long periods where you don’t reciprocate their interest,” you’re dismissing the need for casual friends. Yes, it’s lovely to have that Deep Friend who will hold your hand when you’re having open-heart surgery – but it’s also good to have a wide, shallow network of people to go catch a movie with.
Depressives tend to fetishize the “TRUE FRIEND,” without realizing that casual engagements are equally worth having, because sometimes you just want to get out of the house and get a drink with someone who makes you laugh. Having multiple people you get together with sporadically enrichens your social life, makes you more resilient to life’s inevitable bumps (what if your One True Friend moves away?), and increases the chances of meeting someone who does get your weird-ass social rhythms
Furthermore, I think it becomes seriously toxic to view the “True Friend” as “someone who’s okay to neglect.” It may be that you have to neglect people to keep your sanity intact, as I am right now, but it’s not a good thing that I do this. It’s me not returning texts, it’s me canceling out on social engagements, it’s me not reaching out to people I love –
And I think that going, “Well, True Friends endure the dismal friendships you give them!” does a disservice to the concept of friendship going both ways. Yes, a True Friend will understand when you’re going through a bad patch – but if you are a True Friend in return, then you’ll do what you can to make your friends feel valued even during your deep funks.
The True Friend myth often seems to dismiss the notion that friendship is a two-way street, treating the True Friend as a toy and not a human. “Here, I’m going to toss you under my bed for weeks at a time and not pay attention to you – but now that I want you, come out and play!”
Friendships include maintenance. Maintenance I don’t necessarily have the energy to give right now. And perhaps a lot of the people I talk to understand that withdrawal, but it’s also a not-incorrect move to go “Ferrett’s not talking to me much, so I’m not going to prioritize him the way I used to.”
And so I think of my social network as a crumbling empire – at the core, I’m still talking to my closest friends. But expanding out in rings from that are a bunch of text-flirts and buddies and acquaintances whose company I genuinely enjoy who I’m unable to respond to in a timely fashion…
…and they’re slowly backing off from me. The social network I have is fraying. And when I eventually recover from this sudden depression – if I do – then some people I’ll start texting again and they’ll just be happy to hear from me. Others, I’ll restart up with, with a permanently damaged friendship: they now know that I can drop out of sight, and as such they won’t trust me with too much of their affection.
Still others I’ll lose entirely. We’ll be friendly when we see each other, but that potential for a deeper relationship will have been lost in this absence, where they shrug and figure they’ll hug me and say hello when we’re in the area, but now quietly vow to make absolutely no effort to get in touch.
I can’t say I blame any of them. I’ve got my own issues. This is how my issues affect theirs. And they have to move to protect themselves in the way they see fit.
I just wish I was a little less broken inside. But this isn’t my fault; it’s bad chemistry, some rogue DNA producing a toxic chemical stew that triggers stress reactions.
It’s not my fault. But I still have to live with the consequences.

1 Comment

  1. Skennedy
    Aug 18, 2015

    Perhaps, when you are on the upswing, it might make sense to think of strategies for helping others cope, such as pasteable or clickable auto responses like, “I’m having a rough day/week/month, please contact me another time.”
    It’s true that you can’t enrich casual relationships without putting in the time, but nonetheless, I think there are (potentially) plenty of people who are understanding enough to accept that you’re available when you’re available and not when you aren’t.
    I strongly believe in guilt and obligation being awful things that one should avoid except when absolutely necessary – in my case, when I ask, say, my friend M if she’s available, I don’t want and don’t ask for excuses if she isn’t. The other day I was in MI and she said she just felt like a nap and hoped that was okay.
    It was okay. It is okay.
    When someone gives me excuses, I want to try to solve them – I know I _much_ prefer “Sorry, I’ll have to pass,” it saves me the trouble.
    I guess what I’m saying is that (in my opinion, naturally) relationships, even ones that aren’t Besties, CAN be resilient, with a little preparation and communication (even if that communication has to happen “when you can handle it”).
    Good luck on breaking through soon.

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