Updated: Nov 24, 2021
On the on hand we need friends to help us through the dark days when the only relief from the depression is the thought of ending it all.
On the other hand, we don’t want to share our misery with our friends for fear they’ll judge us and/or run away.
Good friends want us to be happy and they want to help us be happy. They don’t like us sad and depressed.
But, they may not be the best people to help us. Let’s weigh up the options.
How Depression Affects Friendships In A Negative Way
Depression can be cruel and play nasty. It makes us hide away – isolate – wear a mask of defiance – or helplessness – shut our mouth up, tight.
We want help from friends but we have no idea how to reach out. Asking for help when we're in a deep depression is like asking someone to find us when we’re hiding in a black hole and hard to reach.
When our friends find us it’s bittersweet. Yes, we definitely need help in getting out of our dark place but friends often need a little explanation of why and how we got there go like:
“Why don’t you come out with us today?”
“I just don’t feel like it. Don’t want to do anything.”
“Why not what’s wrong?”
“I’m really down man, just wanted to be alone.”
“Yeh but that won’t help, you know, being on your own. Just make things worse. Gotta get you out with mates.”
“Cheers but can’t face it.”
“Why what’s the matter?”
“Dunno but I just want to stay in and be by myself.”
Both sides are trying their best but it’s never going to work when neither friend can see where the other one’s coming from.
As long as the one who’s depressed can’t accept their friend’s help and the friend can’t really understand where their depressed friend is at, there’s no real way forward.
I wrote an article called: 10 Tips To Help Depressed Children and the interesting thing is, when we're depressed, we often act in a child like way so this article may have some meaning for you if you're trying to help a depressed friend.
How Depression Affects Friendships In A Positive Way
In my experience the friends who’ve stayed with me when I was at my rock bottom were people who had been in similar situations to mine.
Knowing that someone else is going through a similar thing can mean the difference between life and death – literally. Knowing that we’re not the only person in the whole world who feels like this can be a lifesaver.
Having said that, there is an ‘opening up’ that has to take place for the engagement to happen and it involves being vulnerable. And this is the one thing we hate when we’re depressed!
Vulnerability, It’s A Tough One
Being vulnerable isn’t a weakness yet many of us were raised to believe that it is.
Vulnerability is actually the cornerstone of being well. Opening up to someone and being accepted for who we are gives us the confidence to be who are even more.
Making that call to someone when we feel suicidal is one of the hardest shit storms life throws at us. But what happens when the person at the other end says,
“I can’t fix this for you but I’ll walk alongside you and hold your hand while you're going through the pain.”
This is friend magic, the thing that happens when two planets align in perfect unison. It’s the best of each person coming together and creating a bigger story.
So How Do We Find These Friends To Share Our Pain With?
There are people everywhere and possibly in the places we don’t even look.
I found a soulmate, Nicky, behind a garden tree, during a Sunday a BBQ lunch party, trying to hide her cigarette from her husband. It was the last place I thought I’d meet someone special.
It was her awkwardness and vulnerability that I was drawn to. We immediately became friends and have held each other’s hand through many painful life situations.
Nicky has recently moved abroad and although we speak, it’s not the same and I wouldn’t call her if I was depressed because the consistency of our conversations has lessened and I need consistency to feel vulnerable.
To feel to share feelings it’s good to start by sharing just a little something with someone and then check the response.
If we feel heard and not judged, and they support us, we may go back to them. Someone who doesn’t try to jump in and fix us when we share our feelings is a good indicator of someone who might be able to really listen to us.
Once we begin to trust others with our feelings, amazing things begin to happen.
One word from someone else can make the difference between feeling totally isolated and feeling completely ‘normal’! It can be liberating to know we’re not alone.
Before these friends appear, you may feel isolated. Here's an article on How To Recover From Depression Without Support which you may find useful in the short term.
The Risk of Sharing our Feelings
Sharing feelings is risky. But it’s worth it for the rewards, which are magnificent. Sharing with others brings us on an equal level with people with gifts.
We no longer have to depend on their approval or manipulate them for their attention. We may have been hiding our feelings from other people for fear of being judged. We come out of the darkness and experience all of our feelings truthfully and share them honestly.
The next challenge we face is accepting loving support and praise from others. If we’ve been depressed we probably have a praise deficiency. We tend to dismiss it.
It is important to accept the praise and good stuff from others because depression survives in isolation but heals with friendship and acceptance.
The Core Truth About Why Depression Affects Friendships
A main driver of depression is shame.
Shame comes as part of the package of depression. Some experts would suggest that shame is at the root of all depression.
What’s Shame? Is it the Same as Guilt?
Let's start by differentiating between shame and guilt: guilt is a feeling we get when we think that we did something bad. Shame is a feeling we get that we simply are a just a bad person regardless of anything we did and that nothing can be done about it.
Essentially shame is when we feel brutally bad about the person we are. It's when we feel the agony of acute self-consciousness. We feel so ashamed about ourselves that we have to hide it from everyone, which makes us ashamed about our shame. We have to keep it a secret and because our shame is so toxic, we spend the whole time running away from it!
It stands to reason, if we suffer from deep shame then the very act of opening up to a friend goes against what shame stands for. Shame hides in a dark corner but by shining a light on it, we begin to expose it and shame does not like being exposed.
Breaking Through The Shame Wall
There is a ‘shame wall’, which every one of us has to break through to connect with others. It's painful and counter intuitive. But, the act of exposing the shame heals us and the secret to healing is to expose the shame.
Here’s how it goes…
1. Acknowledge the shame to ourselves.
I had a situation where I accused my son of losing some money and later discovered he didn’t. I’d never felt more ashamed of jumping to conclusions before I had the facts. I spent a whole afternoon telling myself what a terrible mother I was and how I deserved to be dead. Really. The shame was so strong it wanted me killed.
2. Reset our interface
Then I finally got a grip and recognized that I made a mistake. I’d jumped on my son and accused him of something he didn’t do. I reset my interface, talking to myself with more gentleness as if I was talking to someone I loved rather than hated.
3. Share it
So, so important to speak out about the shame because this is what dissolves it. Like shining a torch in the dark corner; shame cannot survive the brightness.
I spoke to my good friend Martin who listened, murmured and nodded. He said he’s had a recent, similar experience and he talked about how ashamed he’d felt.
Sharing that with Martin felt amazing. This was the best way how depression affects friendships.
I was able to apologize to my son and it was wonderful. It was a win-win for love.
Depression affects friendships in different ways. The key to ensure keeping a friend whilst going through depression is to talk and be open and to being open to break the shame wall.
If we have a friend who judges us for suffering from depression, time to walk.