Why is Socializing Particular Hard For Depressed Folk?

[Disclaimer: this is based on my own personal experience, and may not represent you or anyone else, for that matter.]

[content warning: suicidal ideation, self-harm, vomiting, cockroaches]

I recently rejoined Facebook, mainly because I had reasons that seemed to surpass the emotional risk of rejoining.  But I’m sure there’s an element of curiosity and/or masochism in there. Then again, how trite is this? Everyone complains about Facebook.  Looking at photos of an ex makes everyone feel some feelings.  

But it has recently come to my attention that other people keep up with friends from prior stages of their lives.  Seeing a photo of three close friends from high school, blithely enjoying life and smiling at a camera, isn’t supposed to trigger a multi-hour sobbing fest.  

Ahh, the joy that is living with this brain.  

Facebook & Depression - Siamese Cat With Tongue Out In Front of Astros Flag

In some ways, this is a welcome confirmation that there truly is something wrong with how my brain modulates emotions, that I’m not just (well, not just) a lazy sack of shit.  

But.  

But there’s also plenty sad about not really retaining connections from one stage of life to the next, about not keeping up with high school friends… or college friends… my doing better with grad school friends means I have two current phone numbers from people I knew then.  Ahh, the wisdom that comes with age–or the luck of finding others who struggle with their brains, from time to time, as well. 

So.  

My sister asked me why it’s so hard for me to keep up with people.  This requires more than just crying in response to a photo, but shaking off (or just plowing through and eventually finishing with) the tears and trying to figure out why, exactly, I’m sad.  

I reckon this experience to shining a flashlight into dark corners of a nasty room, revealing cockroaches as they actively scitter away from recognition.  In this analogy, my skull is the nasty room, and my emotional responses are cockroaches. Yes, this took years of therapy to come up with.  

[The sister didn’t just ask, but did so in a way that complimented my explanatory writing skills for some of my experiences with depression.  Flattery? How dare she? So how could I not write an essay to answer the question?] 

So, again.  

Why, in my mind, is burning social bridges better than keeping up, even blandly, with old friends?

The easiest answer is Spoon Theory.  Spoon Theory is a brilliant explanation for all sorts of disability and personal limitations, and is something you should probably know about, whatever your connection to disability.

But maintaining a facebook friendship really shouldn’t cost many spoons, especially since one can choose not to log in.  There’s more going on. And as is so often with depression, big parts of this boil down to guilt and loss.  

A FEW SPECIFIC PEOPLE  

At least one significant person in my life was cut loose, specifically, so that when I killed myself it would be less painful to them.  Yeah, that’s depression-logic for you, but that was my thought process at that time/age/stage of mental health. Another specific person told me that my disappearing (metaphorically, but also literally, as I left town) was painful enough that they didn’t want to maintain a friendship with me.  

Speaking of, there are plenty of people who were in my life when I had a major depressive crash–at least twice so far I’ve wound up inpatient to prevent self-harm–who I just never looked up again.  “Hey–sorry I didn’t finish the school year, but at least I didn’t kill myself!” is, to everyone’s surprise, not a popular conversation starter.  

GUILT

I think a big part of this is feeling like a massive failure as a friend, as a coworker, as a person.  Good friends always keep up, respond to wedding invitations, send periodic well-wishing, and generally have some idea what’s going on in each other’s lives.  Unless you are a blood relative, I probably missed your wedding–and even then, the odds aren’t great for blood relatives.  

I probably haven’t been a great friend to you, and even if you understand and are compassionate about it–if you’re a good friend–that’ll just make me feel all the guiltier that I’m not the high-quality friend you deserve.  

LOSS

But, as with so much of depression, there’s more behind the curtain.  

I’ve gone to some decent schools.  I’ve hung out with capable people. Former classmates of mine have started their own companies, gotten doctorates–most of my medical class should be finishing their residencies now, give or take a year–done some generally kick ass things.  

And here, I’m facing applying for disability, admitting–finally–that full time work just might not be compatible with maintaining mental health.  

People without depression, without mental illness or chronic disability, are out there maintaining jobs and getting more degrees and doing all sorts of cool things, and I compare myself to them, and fall up short.  I feel a sense of loss over what I could’ve accomplished without a mental illness.  

I’m not the quality of friend this person deserves.  They are out there doing kickass stuff, while my latest achievement is staying out of inpatient treatment during my latest mood crash.  That’s actually a great achievement, and something to be proud–no, it isn’t. It’s a shitty achievement, and you’re shitty.

[Proceed to cry.]  

Here’s a cat to cheer you, and this discussion, up.  

Siamese cat

So I start to feel all this more than think any of it, and it overwhelms my emotional processing units, and I cry.  And if it gets bad enough, I vomit. It’s a real party.  

So on the one hand, it seems like the answer is simple: stay off Facebook, stay off most social media, even Twitter sometimes you have to steel yourself for beforehand.  

But this is actually a lot like lifting weights: a repeated, predictable load of stress can help us learn to tolerate greater stress.  If I ever want to get comfortable seeing high school classmates on Facebook and medical school classmates on Twitter (weird split, but that’s my social reality), I should measure out tiny, tolerable portions of stress.  And repeat.  

And unless and until Facebook starts helping my blog metrics, I’m going to resent the platform.  

But at least, now, I understand why I resent the platform.  Thanks for asking the question, Sister.  

2 thoughts on “Why is Socializing Particular Hard For Depressed Folk?”

  1. Wow what a great article and explanation, thank you for this. This definitely resonates with me, although I do think there’s a bit of a misconception that “functioning” people are free from depression. You are not alone! ESPECIALLY in feeling bad when you look at former friends current social media life. Depression is a spectrum , thank you SO MUCH for explaining your slice of it

    1. I think depression, as with a lot of mental illness, is healthy behaviors, taken to an unhealthy extreme. We all compare ourselves to a theoretical “successful” alternate universe self, but some of us feel bad for a bit and move on, and some of us sob for hours. It’s very much a spectrum.

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