A post from Deborah Malcom, author of Meh.
Disclaimer – I am not a mental health professional. This blog is based on personal experience, and not to be taken as medical advice.
This week is Mental Health Awareness Week, with this year’s theme focusing on relationships. I decided I would write about my own thoughts and experience building and maintaining relationships between friends whilst suffering from long-term poor mental health.
For as long as I can remember I have suffered from social anxiety. This has made it difficult for me to make and maintain strong friendships. There is a constant fear in my mind that friends that I make will soon realise how “boring” and “stupid” I am, and will do everything in their power to avoid me. Even after socialising with friends I will quickly convince myself that I said something wrong, or acted awkwardly, and that those friends (who were more than happy to be in my presence) now despise me.
Since I can’t rely on believing that just being myself is enough to retain friendships, I sometimes buy small gifts for them. I understand that material goods are not the way to making and keeping friends, but when your mind tells you that you need to if you want people to like you, then you do it. (If you have ever received random gifts from me, it’s my way of saying I really like you and enjoy your company!). Of course, the positive feeling from random acts of kindness can only go so far if you don’t treat yourself as kindly as you do others.
This anxiety grows, and I begin to believe that sending a short text message or a message on social media will be an inconvenience to them; that I’ll appear desperate for their attention. So more often than not, I leave it to them to initiate conversation. You can probably imagine how well that decision goes…
Every relationship is a two-way commitment. Most of the time it’s fairly straightforward, but when one or both of them have issues with their mental health it becomes a daily struggle. Talking about how you feel is incredibly difficult, especially if you feel that revealing your problems will only burden those you care for. However in my experience it is far better to try than to keep your worries to yourself. You don’t have to announce it to the world, just to those you feel you can trust. In turn they may come to you when they are in need of someone to talk to, showing their trust in you.
Although I can’t provide any advice on how to maintain healthy relationships, I can make a “resolution” on what I feel may improve my own. My Relationships Resolution is to build on my current friendships by initiating conversations, arranging days to socialise and not to shy away when I’m invited out by others.
What’s your Relationship Resolution? You can make your “pledge” on the Mental Health Foundation website.