Last November, just after the election, I lost two friends. Not lost them as in they died, but lost them as in they completely cut me out of their lives. Friend A had been one of my very closest friends for a couple years, and friend B was/is friend A’s “bestie,” whom I liked a great deal and had become friends with through friend A. I loved Friend A very much, and she mattered to me a great deal, but we had been growing apart for some time. I won’t bore you with all the details of that, but the final straw was that I canceled dinner plans with A and B that I had initiated.
This being just after Donald-fucking-Trump was elected, I, like all people with an ounce of compassion, was reeling. I hadn’t planned to cancel our dinner plans, even though I was not especially looking forward to being a third wheel (which was how I had grown to feel when alone with the besties). But an event came up in my community that I felt I needed to attend. It was a post-election community organizing event with speakers from different media organizations in Seattle. I sent an email to A and B, telling them that I needed to go to this event for the sake of my mental health because getting involved was the only way I was keeping my head above water. I canceled a few days in advance, and invited them to come with me. Friend A then sent me a text that said, “Jen, you ask us to hang out and then cancel because you found something better to do?” This felt like a punch in the gut, but I responded and explained again that I had not found something “better” to do, but that it was something I needed to do for the sake of my mental health. I apologized again and reminded her that I struggle with severe, chronic depression and anxiety and sometimes I have to cancel plans to take care of myself. I also reminded her that she was welcome to come with me. She responded by telling me that she didn’t think I understood how rude this was. She also pointed out a few other times I had canceled or rescheduled, which was understandable. I told her I was sorry I had hurt her, that I felt shitty for canceling (I really did, and always do), and that I understood how frustrating and rude it felt. I also asked her to try to understand where I was coming from. That did not happen.
Friend B, in an act of bestie solidarity, also told me she found it rude and hurtful that I canceled, so I apologized to her as well, and after a brief exchange of messages she decided it was “too difficult” for us to be friends. I let her know I would always be there for her if she changed her mind, she ignored me, and that was that. End of friendship with Friend B. (The rest of this is only about friend A.)
The problem is that I still cannot let it go. I think about it every single day. I worry about it, I stress about it, I feel sad and angry about it. On my good days I try to be grateful for what the friendship was. It mattered to me, and perhaps we just don’t work as longterm friends. Since we “broke up” (this whole thing makes me feel like I’m in middle school), I have reached out to her several times. I wrote one long letter, but the other times have just been short notes, offering love and letting her know I’m thinking of her. She hasn’t responded a single time. The last time I wrote to her I specifically asked her to respond, and explained that it’s not that I want to be friends again, I just needed to hear that she has some love left in her heart for me and doesn’t hate me. I felt pathetic writing it, but I have had so much trouble moving on that I thought I’d try. I even told her that my uncle had recently committed suicide and that I see a lot of his struggles in me. I was checking in because of the level of anxiety and worry this was all causing me. I thought, surely she could spend a couple seconds to just say to an ex-close friend, “I don’t hate you.” But that was too much to ask, and again, she didn’t respond. This felt like outright cruelty to me. I don’t understand this kind of cruelty. I can’t wrap my head around it. I don’t cut people out of my life that way. If a friend I once loved and was once close to wrote to me telling me they were struggling and needed to hear from me, I would fucking respond. But I guess that’s the point: We’re different people. It’s not that I’m right and she’s wrong, and I try to keep that in mind through my hurt. For her, this was a “falling out” with a friend she didn’t want to deal with anymore. She drew her boundary, she made up her mind, and that’s how she lives in the world. It took being ignored several times, but I now understand that I need to respect her boundary. I don’t function in black and white like that, so this has been difficult for me.
I am a clinically, chronically depressed and anxious person. This friend is not. That fact matters here. While this may just be a tale of two ultimately incompatible people, I can’t separate my mental health issues from this break up. This friend, like most people in the world, thinks she is compassionate. And she can be. She is not a bad person. But she ultimately unfriended me because of my mental illness. I get that canceling is rude, but trust me, the small inconvenience my canceling causes you is nothing compared to what goes on in my brain. She has the luxury of labeling me toxic because I don’t respond to things the way she does. She has the luxury of labeling me rude because I cancel plans. She has the luxury of shutting me out of her life and sticking with the people who fit her definition of what a person should be, while continuing to think she is compassionate. Compassion is not real compassion if you only extend it when it’s comfortable for you. If you are reading this and thinking she is right to label me toxic and rude for canceling plans or being a “flake,” (and I know there are a lot of people out there who have decided flaky people should be shunned and don’t deserve friends) and that this whole essay is just me making excuses, I would ask you to consider what other people struggle with that you may not. I’m not asking anyone to change their feelings, but to end a friendship and cut off all contact is a drastic move, especially when the friend has explicitly told you their mental health is in a fragile state. If you are reading this and you are not a person who is depressed or anxious but you’re thinking, “I am so accepting” and that you would never respond this way, I would also ask you to remain conscious. Everybody thinks they’re understanding until something happens that inconveniences them. It’s easy to be compassionate in the abstract. It takes true compassion to be understanding when someone is struggling and it affects your dinner plans.
I don’t know how to let it go. I don’t know how to move on. I don’t know how to not think about it. I don’t understand. I don’t understand loving someone and then completely shutting them out. I worry, is this part of my mental illness? Obsessing and not being able to let things go? And of course it is. My depression and anxiety lead me to obsess and worry and feel like shit. I get angry and frustrated with myself, which leads to me thinking, “no wonder she doesn’t want to be friends with you.” And people saying “Let it go, you’re better off without her, she wasn’t a real friend anyway” doesn’t do the trick, even though I sincerely appreciate the support and love.
At the most fundamental, deepest level, I know I can’t let go because she has confirmed my greatest fear. I have a hard time getting close to people, I have a hard time with real intimacy, because I am afraid I am actually unworthy of love. I am afraid that if people get to know me very well, they will discover how broken I am inside, and will decide I’m not worth the time or energy. Which is exactly what this person I thought was a lifelong friend did. In the last message she wrote to me, she told me she just wasn’t able to be the kind of friend I needed. But the only thing I had asked for was love and at least an attempt at understanding. Why am I so difficult to love?
I’ve certainly been annoyed by people canceling plans. Everyone has been on that side of this. It’s a relatable emotion, but I find it troubling how quickly people are to label other people rude or inconsiderate or selfish without even a thought for what might be going on with that person. I’m asking you to think about that. Feel your feelings, express your feelings, be honest with your friend if they hurt you, and then be open to hearing what’s going on with them. If you are a real friend, this is not that much to ask.
On the positive side, this has made me realize two things: 1.) I’m clearly better off without this friend (or will be if I ever move on from the grief and hurt), not because she’s a bad person but because she has no room for me, and 2.) It makes me extra conscious of how I treat people, and I will never treat people this way. I will probably continue to cancel plans when my mental health is at stake, and I may lose more friends, but I will never shut someone out of my life for struggling. I have extra empathy and flexibility to offer, which is perhaps the “silver lining” of the pain I often live with. I happen to know that people struggling with depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues need friends more than anyone, and we don’t always ask for what we need.
On the less positive side, she has decided I’m unworthy of her love, time, or any level of energy at all, and I know the reason I can’t let it go, in spite of telling myself the opposite, is because I think she has discovered the truth about me. It’s because, in the darkest corner of myself, I think she’s right.
*Image from Pixabay.