I feel like there’s so many mixed message being shared around social media these days. With one opposing message counteracting all the positive shifts the other has created. Self Care has been such a huge topic of conversation in the last few years as the focus on mental health has been magnified, but at the same times there’s definitely been a rise in all those quotes and ‘life lesson’ type tweets making comments on what makes a good friend or someone you should keep in your life. Here’s a few….
Of course their general message can and should be utilised in conjunction with some all-round rather shitty people you have in your life, the ones that make you constantly feel bad about yourself, abuse your trust, or who are just generally toxic, but we should be careful not to apply this to the people that are probably trying their best in their given situation.
This week I had to send a few belated happy birthday messages via Instagram DM, which I felt bad about. A year or two ago I made the decision that Facebook was not helping my mood or general well-being. I’m not sure why but Facebook but seems to be the platform where people like to have rants about very personal matters, usually involving someone else your friends with on Facebook which makes you feel uncomfortable (and sometimes puts you in a very awkward postion). Either that or there will be someone posting a lengthy description of something wonderful they’ve done or something they’re proud of achieving. Of course there’s nothing wrong with being proud of yourself, and it should be lovely to share your personal highs with your Facebook friends, but there is a knock-on effect to those who scroll and see one after the other. In real life, before the social media age, we’d hear these things via a gossipy friend or neighbour, or just when we caught up with that person. Being presented, like we are today, with a never-ending daily conveyer belt of extremes – the very low, bitter or angry, or the big and sometimes unrelateable highs, gives us a somewhat unbalanced view of what all our friends (and contacts that aren’t really friends) lives are like. Inevitably it makes us feel something potentially unhelpful as a result. If you’re going through a bit of a tough time yourself, it can be incredibly challenging to see post after post of someone gushing about how great everything is for them. Equally you may not feel like it’s very wise to take on that many people’s miseries too.
That’s just one of the reasons I took a step back. However my blog Facebook looks very active because my Instagram automatically posts, so I’m sure some people are clueless to my active neglect of the platform.
Facebook is how I and a lot of people keep track of people’s birthdays and find out how to take part in the celebrations of. Although there are those super organised types with organisers and filo faxes, with colour coding and perfectly curtated bullet diaries, the majority of us rely on this tech to remind us of when we need to wish someone best wishes or be a ‘good mate’.
Since my decision to not visit the site regaulrly, I’ve missed hundreds if not thousands of opportunities to wish a happy birthday (punctually, if at all) as well as being aware of and saying yes to lots of real life get togethers. People have been miffed as a result, or at least it feels that way. I’ve noticed less people have wished me happy birthday since my lack of well-wishing, because many only like to offer kindness if they feel it’s reciprocated, and are probably put out when people like I appear to forget/dismiss the celebration of the entry into the world.
I understand it. It’s not nice when someone you deem a good friend forgets to celebrate the one day of the year that’s about you, but before we go down that thought process of thinking they’re a crap mate, or they don’t care, why aren’t we considering whether they’re simply looking after their mental health?
We often advice others to step back from social media if we see that they’re finding it hard to deal with all that comes with being present on it. But of course that will have a knock on effect to other things, that may also impact your relationship with them.
I’ve seen people tweet that they’re upset that certain people have checked in with having revealed posted some big or sad news online. Saying they expected better of them and now are questioning whether they qualify as a good friend anymore. You’ve seen the tweets about noticing your friends who aren’t your cheerleaders when you have successes, or the ones about people not being there for them when they’ve needed them. We have to allow for the for the fact that if they’re taking time out of social media or scrolling, they may well have not seen what you’ve posted, or flicked through speedily without digesting the vital info.
They may also know that right now they may not be able to be the friend they know you need right now, for whatever reason. Perhaps the reason you want them to be there for you, may be the exact reason while they feel they can’t.
Someone I know tweeted about something that I’ve gone through myself. Part of me desperately wanted to reach out and be that support to her, but I also knew that in the fragile state I was/am in that it would be potentially dangerous for me to do so. It would likely bring up some old feelings and memories that I’ve managed to put to the back of my mind – the only thing I could do to carry on every day. I know, it’s not good to just banish these things, but if I’m going to try and work through it again, I know I’d personally be better off doing that in the company of a professional, and not be forced to deal with it on my own as a result of being a support for someone else facing a similar battle.
I’ve been having really great and open conversations with friend who also struggle regularly with their mental health, and we’ve shared our experiences in terms of other people’s reactions to us. We all acknowledge that we’re not always the easiest or most fun to be around, but we’re also unified by agreeing how far a bit of thought, patience and kindness can go in terms of making things better, or at the very least not making things worse.
Sometimes the thoughts will be so consuming we will lose a handle on reality. We may react in a way you think is way over the top, even ridiculous. We might retaliate when our vulnerable state feels treatened by further feelings of guilt (when you say something that makes us feel we’re a burden or a bad friend/partner), and we may constantly flake out on plans just because we can’t face being around people and attempting a brave face. Please help us, and don’t instantly think we’re behaving this way because we don’t care about you or your feelings.
I mentioned this in previous blog post, but before you retweet that line that sounds logical and like a good rule of thumb in terms of friendship, ask yourself how people who may see that message as a result of your share might feel as a result. Before you tweet to your mass audience, one that will cover all manner of moods, lifestyle situations, and mental health issues, take that moment to consider what it really means and it’s possible implications to those that may take it differently. Maybe apply it to yourself first and how you may have behaved in the past, or behave currently. Would you say 100% that you have been able to been there for everyone, every time they may have needed you? When you think of those time you hadn’t been there for someone as much as you or they would have liked, did you feel that you had a reason that felt valid or legitimate for not being able to? Then think about a person who has a lot on their plate and the possible reasons it may be hard for them to be that mate that instantly replies, that always sends a card or message on time, that can drop everything to make sure they’re friend in need is prioritised in that moment.
I think in this time where we are more aware of non physical health (although lets face is some of the symptoms of it can be very physical) and where we are talking more open and honestly about what we are all dealing with on a daily basis, we have to explore the concept of friendship and the expectation we put on people we believe have earned that ‘friend’ status. If seems to me that people have more pressures on them than ever before. We’re more stressed, but with less time to deal with the impact it has on us. We have less time to do everything in fact, including nurturing existing friendships or strengthening new ones. And if we’re sending a message that we should allocate more time to look after ourselves, that potentially may mean even less time to keep other people in our lives feeling cared for, looked after. That’s just maths.
So we’re in an era that really calls on us to take a hard look at how we use our time, what we prioritise, and making adjustments according to our findings. But that will be a somewhat gradual thing as we go through periods of trial, and probably a lot of error. If the way we have been communicating for the last few years has been found to be damaging and potentially harmful to us and we’re constantly being told to take a step back from it for our wellbeing, collectively we may, as a society, have to really come together to discuss new ways to create strong and mutually beneficial and kind relationships with each other, that factor our different abilities to cope with modern technology and the general pressures of existing in 2018. Do we need to start just focusing on just a small number of friends and making sure those are full of love and support, rather than constantly stressing ourselves out and disappointing people when we cannot fulfil that time and energy intensive role for lots of friends. But then the process of deciding who makes that cut brings presents so many obstacles and upset too. One thing I know I’ll start doing is keeping physical diaries, with addresses, birthdays, anniversaries etc so at least I can try and keep on top of that stuff without forcing myself to go on the platforms that have the potential to ruin my day.
A few months ago when I was feeling blue, midnight blue it was so dark, I felt really resentment towards some friends I felt weren’t making an effort to make sure I was doing ok and check in with. But now I’m out of the other side of it, with my rational a bit more prominent, as well as the awareness of my own behaviour in terms of being there for others, I realise now it wasn’t them being bad mates. Not at all. So many of us need reassurance and comfort, and if you have a lot of mates it’s simply impossible to be able to deliver that as much as we’d like or they need, all of the time, whatever time they need it.
So again, I reiterate that I think the key here is not thinking the worst of people all the time. There are those people I referred to earlier that perhaps wish you harm or tend to bring you harm that you perhaps should stopping channelling energy into. But ask yourself what you know of that person you chose to be friends with. Do they generally have a good heart? Do you believe they want the best for you? Is there a chance they may be going through a tough time or bogged down with something that feels very overwhelming to them?
When people are dealing with depression guilt is usually already a factor, it’s one of my most consistent feelings. You worry you’re a burden, a vibe-killer, hard to live with, hard to be with,. You feel guilty about not being up to going to social events and not being that perfect and reliable plus one. The last thing you need to feel is another layer of guilt that you’ve not be a good mate to someone. Particularly when you made the decision to step back, with their interests partially at heart. Of course you’ve made that call primarily to avoid things that you know make you feel worse, simply so you can feel more okay, but for me sometimes it’s also with the goal to get well enough so I can be a better friend moving forward. The fact that you don’t want to be an unhelpful presence in their life surely proves your a considerate friend.
Some people will call you a crap mate because you’ve decided alcohol is not good for you, and you refuse to drown sorrows with them when they’ve been dumped. Some will say your habit for going quiet on WhatsApp even though you’ve read their message means you don’t care. Other’s will think because you haven’t sent them a card when they’e announced an engagement that you’re not happy for them. I suggest that moving forward when we are in a place where we can chat and communicate freely, that we make a point of telling the friends we care and reminding them of the many reasons why things might go quiet every now and them, or why we may become distant at times – almost pre-empting any future feelings that may harm their perceptions of your qualities as a mate.
As is the case with most of my mental health themed posts it’s all about open conversation, being prepared to listen to things that may be inconvenient and perhaps even non sensical (to you/them). Understanding people’s different coping mechanisms and mental health management is key to us being able to maintain these relationships, that despite appearance at times, are very really VERY important to us.
Photos by Justine Trickett