Pals on Pedestals
My name is Tia, and I have depression. This weekly column will discuss the little bumps in the road, the lows, the highs, and the mundane existence of living with depression. ‘Insane in the Membrane’ will not pretend to have all, if any, answers to mental health. But it will use real situations that I have experienced in the attempt to chip away at the stigma of mental illness. Or, at least, the stigma that I see.
Something I find myself doing a lot, is assigning my pals to pedestals. This, of course, had little to do with them or their behaviour but was more a reflection on how I viewed myself. It started when I was in secondary school. I struggled to fulfil unrealistic aspirations I had set for myself. Whilst others built up their friendships, dated and rebelled, all I did was work. It was dull and my lack of socialising perpetuated a cycle of insecurity and frustration. And then there were the the friends that seemed to be on top of everything; I’m sure everyone has that one friend for whom everything seems to come easily. I had a few of those – friends that I still cherish, but at times have struggled to be around. Excelling in both coursework and exams, juggling a thriving social life, yet always having time for their close friends. Envy couldn’t cover it.
During school, there were acute moments of loneliness where I actively chose to whittle the hours away by myself instead of joining my friends, because I thought the time spent with them would make me feel worse. It probably would have had the opposite effect, but I let friendships fall by the wayside during a time of incessant work and self-admonishment. An unfortunate side effect of this crisis was the lack of enthusiasm I put into those school friendships. At times of doubt I still wonder how some have stuck by me. When everything feels as though it is going wrong, it’s hard to be a good friend to anyone, let alone to yourself. The constant comparison had transformed me into a selfish and self-absorbed friend.
But what is it that constitutes a good friend? Each friendship is different, yes, but there are some core values that are applicable to all my close friendships; mutual respect, trust, and a desire to see the other person happy. At school I ended up spending so much time pretending to my friends that I was ok, that it affected the trust connection that I treasure so much. And although sometimes I was envious of people having “it” together, what I believe I was really searching for was a piece of mind and confidence that had evaded me during my formative years. It’s been a while since school and while my self-confidence has grown, insecurity still persists. But envy was never the right word. It insinuated a maliciousness that was not there.
The saying that the ‘grass is always greener on the other side’ is bandied around interminably but the essence behind it is true. The grass can appear to be greener on the other side, but only if you neglect to take care of your lawn. Everyone has complications, in varying degrees, but, if you place your friends too high on their pedestals, then it’s easy to forget that we are all actually humans with flaws (check out Tilda’s articles on proverbs to read more into making unnecessary comparisons).
At university I met a wonderful human who, in a moment of drunken confidence, confessed that she thought I was “cool” when we first met. There’s a time and a place for self-deprecation, but this is not that – I am acutely not cool. Yet, this person, who I was in semi-awe of, thought that I was. It was bizarre to think that I was the pal on a pedestal for her, for however short amount of time. That illustrious title, where previously only lofty otherworldly beings had deserved to reside.
I think the main point I am trying to make is that putting friends on pedestals is highly detrimental, no matter how close they are – both to your self-esteem and to your friendships. By all means, admire your friends, be proud and in awe of them, but don’t raise them to lofty heights. We’re always going to compare ourselves to someone, that’s just part of the human condition, but there are ways to healthily compare without negatively affecting your sense of self-worth. Building each other up, setting challenges for yourself and your friends is important and worthwhile.
Support groups are talked about a lot. But they were, and are, essential to understanding my depression. They can manifest in the form of online communities, confidantes in families or friends, or a stranger on the phone. My support group is built up of a close group of friends of strong women and thoughtful men. I know that no matter what time of day, if I call one of them, they will answer. Or they will come to you as soon as they can. Those are the ones you can rely on through whatever crisis happens upon your way. If you find some, never let them go.
Unfortunately, not everyone is as lucky as I am regarding support groups. It can feel like the loneliest thing in the world. Online communities and peer support can be easily found here and Friends In Need offers judgement-free support with others suffering from depression. If you just want to talk, the Samaritans are always there to listen on 116 123 (free phone) or check out Befrienders Worldwide to find a helpline for your country.
Mental health always needs more support, socially and fiscally. Mind, Heads Together and Rethink offer easy ways to get involved/fundraise/donate/campaign. The Arch2Arch run, London Marathon and Tough Mudder can all be done in the name of mental health. Or, if you’re like me and not a natural athlete, you can use easy ways to recycle to raise awareness and donations alike. Petitions like Time to Change and the Survey of Mental Illness in the Workplace are a click away from de-stigmatising mental illness.
Sofa Activism is easy ways to give, and possibly the easiest of them is Savoo Search, just use it as your default search engine and it’ll donate 1p every time you search something to the charity of your choice (I would recommend through Rethink).
SAMH and Action Mental Health are aimed at Scotland and Northern Ireland respectively, targeting mental health stigma on a more regional scale. Mind Cymru and Mental Health Wales focus on Welsh Mental Health.