I had the thought this morning that every school day morning with my children ages me two mornings, which means I will die twice as fast. With that thought in mind, I figure I better get some words out there before I meet my demise.
The last several days have been a whole mix of emotions, anxiety and stress being the most prevalent.
To start, I spent the weekend with my in-laws. In my house. This situation does not ever go well for me. I try to approach each time with an open mind and a new plan for communication, but I always end with hurt, anger, confusion, and just plain incredulity. It’s not that my in-laws are bad people. They aren’t. They have good qualities, but their way of communicating does not work for me, as I’m sure my way of communicating doesn’t work for them. They show no interest in us or what we care about but talk a lot about how we need to be interested in them and what they care about, and that makes me so angry I have a hard time letting go. The way they interact with my children has a similar affect on me. But that part is on me. I can only change myself and my reactions. But I can also take action and reduce these interactions as much as possible, because my often fragile mental health depends on it.
This is the same lesson I keep learning with friendships. I keep asking myself, “Jesus, can I just not have friends anymore? What is wrong with me?” Which is of course my mental illness talking, but has been a question I’ve asked myself many times in the last few years.
The reality, though, is that I’m only just now realizing that I have the option to let go of friendships. I have the option to move on from relationships that trigger my mental illness, and that are not supportive in the way I need them to be. It’s self-preservation, which has become more important to me, probably because I have children and I’d like to be around for them as long as possible.
Until recently, I thought I was setting a pretty low bar for my needs from a friend. I thought all I really needed was for my friends to be loving and supportive, and I do have a lot of that to give in return. What has become clear to me though, is that there is another piece I need from a friend (or any loved one). I need people who are willing to take responsibility as part of working through conflict. Don’t misunderstand me: I am not saying I need friends who take on all blame and that I don’t have responsibility. Quite the opposite.
I am very susceptible to feeling like a piece of shit. I am very susceptible to taking on blame, whether it belongs to me or not. When conflict happens with a friend, I find that I spend days spiraling and looking inward and trying to identify my part in the conflict. I end up over-reacting and I am usually then the one who ends up reaching out to apologize for my part. What I cannot do anymore in my life is spend all this time spiraling and apologizing and worrying and receive no apology or responsibility taken in return. I can’t do it, and I won’t do it anymore.
I have a friendship that I’m walking away from because of what I would call the “final straw” for me. This is a friend I love and care about. This is a friend who has been supportive and loving at times, particularly about my struggles with my son, and who gives good warm hugs and whom I’ve laughed a lot with. I was a supportive presence for her throughout the school year last year, which was very hard on her and her family. I thought I had always been there to listen to her, but in her mind I haven’t been there for her in the way she needs me to be. That is obviously valid too, and a perfect example of the ways we do not understand each other.
We are both good and loving people trying to make our way through the world, and unfortunately the last 6 months have been a down hill slide between us that I have repeatedly tried to climb back up from and have finally decided that I am not getting back up that hill. And it’s OK.
I will not go into all the details of the situation because it would be unfair and one-sided, but I will say that on this end of things, I have felt like shit many times over because of interactions we’ve had. I have felt shamed for who I am, and I’ve been deeply hurt several times now. I have tried a few times to express this hurt, and the response I have gotten is “I hate drama,” and “Jen, stop” as if I’m creating drama by expressing hurt, as if my feelings have no validity and my having them is the problem. I’ve done my best to take my responsibility in these situations and I’ve gotten no apology, ever, in return. This is because this friend doesn’t think she has any responsibility, and that’s fine. I can’t change how she feels. It’s not about who’s right and who’s wrong. I don’t even give a shit about that. What I do give a shit about is how I feel with my friends.
I need friends who can hear me express hurt and respond with compassion and understanding. I need friends who will say, “I am so sorry I was hurtful. Here is what I meant…” or whatever, so that we can talk through things and come out the other side of the situation stronger. I am so incredibly grateful for the relationships in my life in which people have responded this way, or in which I’ve responded this way to them. We are closer, and we know our relationship can survive difficult conversations. We are only human and humans hurt each other. I once had the unpleasant experience of expressing hurt to my brother and sister-in-law, and I’m very close to both of them. I was terrified of how they would respond. I was terrified that our relationship would be damaged forever, and I would lose these people who are so important to me. I was absolutely stunned when I read their responses, which were both exceedingly compassionate and loving. They apologized profusely for being hurtful, however unintentionally, and they were introspective about how I could have been hurt by the situation. Then, after I cried tears of relief, we talked through it and our relationship is so much stronger because of it. And they know I would respond this way to them if they expressed something similar.
I had an experience like this with another friend recently as well, and what I was hurt by was SO silly I was embarrassed to share it. But I am a person who needs to express things sometimes so they don’t turn into larger, festering things inside, so I expressed my silly hurt to her. Once again, I was shocked by her compassionate response.
These are the bars that have been set in my life, and I will no longer take less. I also will not give less, and that is equally important.
This is a very high bar, and that is what I have realized in recent years. I keep thinking, “What is wrong with me? I guess I just can’t have friends because I’m so damaged,” but the truth is that I can only have a choice few friends, and that’s OK. That isn’t anyone else’s fault. It’s just a part of me learning to accept what I need. Not all people need the same things. Lots of people are not easily hurt. I know I am a particularly sensitive person and I am easily hurt, and that can make me difficult to be friends with. I have chronic and severe depression and anxiety, and I don’t expect everyone to be able to deal with that. Part of my illness is that I worry and worry and sometimes need to check in with people. Some people are cool with that and some people aren’t. It’s OK. I’m not for everyone.
The friend I’m walking away from today has been hurtful several times. A lot of this has probably been due to miscommunication and I don’t think she has intended to be hurtful, but the intention doesn’t matter after several times. When someone expresses that you’ve hurt them, you take some responsibility, period. Or you don’t, and that’s fine too, but we will not be friends.
It’s important to mention also that this friend feels like I haven’t prioritized her. I have a lot to say about that, but the bottom line is that this is how she feels, and her feelings matter. She went through something difficult this week, and I tried to be a good friend but fell short for her. I’m truly sorry I’ve made her feel that way. Just as she is not the friend I need right now, I am not the friend she needs. I’m sad and sorry about that, but it’s OK.
I keep saying it’s OK because it really is OK. I love this person and I will keep love in my heart for her. I simply can’t be in friendships that aren’t about lifting each other up. I can’t. It’s not her fault, it’s just a boundary I need to set in my life. If I feel torn down, and especially if I feel torn down repeatedly, try to express it and have the finger pointed back at me (which is how it feels to me, obviously her feelings are different), I can’t keep going back to that. And this is not to say that she hasn’t lifted me up at times. She has, and I am so thankful to her for that.
When a friend cut me out of her life a while back, I grieved for a very long time. I can now see that she needed to cut ties with me, and even though it still hurts (but A LOT less), and even though I still think she was cruel about it (because of the way she just disappeared and refused to ever respond to me, which I will not do because that is not how I deal with situations), it was her choice because we are all trying to find our way through this world, and everyone has the right to surround themselves with the people who make them feel seen and loved. I became a person in her life who wasn’t that for her.
That friend was a very good friend for a period of time, and I have not forgotten that time. I think of it fondly and I think of it with love in my heart.
It is the same with my friend now. Nothing that is happening now negates all the positive things she has brought to my life. I will keep that love in my heart. People come into our lives at different times. Some become lifelong friends, and some don’t. AND IT’S OK. I am going to try to breathe love into the world today. I send love to my friend and appreciate her and the relationship we’ve had. I send apologies that I couldn’t be the friend she needed, and I send love to the people who are the friends she needs.
Today I will work to let go of hurt and anger and confusion and focus on love and appreciation. I will see this friendship much the way I see life–fleeting, often beautiful, often painful. I will embrace it for exactly what it was.