High-Functioning Depression Puts Me Into Social Isolation
People-pleaser. Needy. Clingy. The obnoxious one who always wants to be there to help — yep, that’s me. And I feel terrible about it.
Late last year I decided that I will stop being a people-pleaser for good. That I will focus on people who want me for myself and not for the favours or help I can do for them. I realised — when I cut ties with a lot of people who I believed were taking advantage of me and my kindness — that I feel empty. I feel lonely and I feel useless.
I used to help out friends, take on side-projects for free, go out of my ways to solve others’ problems. And I hated myself for that, because as they say, by tolerating a lot of bullshit and exploitation, I am teaching others how to behave and how to treat me.
And being a people pleaser will only take you so far. It won’t help you or the others, it won’t help you drawing clear boundaries.
So, I did what I was supposed to do. I broke up with my friends who never contacted me and when I messaged them they always waited a few days to reply to my messages. I firmly said no to a few incoming projects, knowing they won’t ever pay me for it, or they just want my initial advice and then they will carry on what I have started for them. I said no to social events where no one really cared about my presence and if I didn’t start conversations no one bothered to talk to me.
And then it hit me hard. When I didn’t contact people, no one contacted me for days. Now that I am not taking the initiative — as in trying to keep my boundaries, I am lonelier than I have ever been.
Is it because I taught people that it is okay not to reach out because I will anyway? Is it because I saw it correctly and they were really just using me instead of enjoying my company? Is it because I chose the wrong people all along?
Whatever it is about, I have to admit, that it sucks.
It’s like I condemned myself to some kind of self-imposed sentence, where I refrain from contacting people first — hoping they will reach out wanting to be with the real me. Not just the person who goes out her way to ask them if they feel okay; if they need any help; if they need to vent — but the person who needs to be asked if she is okay; if she needs any help; if she needs to vent.
It seems that if I don’t start the conversation, I don’t have friends. If I don’t ask, then no one asks me. If I don’t care, no one cares.
And I didn’t just lose conversations. I lost my sense of usefulness too. Before I believed that I was useful, that people needed me, that they had me and they relied on me. It was a thought that gave me purpose.
Being there for others and helping them without anything but expecting their company in return turned out to be a terrible strategy.
I ended up lending money to so-called friends, who after they gave the loan back, not only stopped treating me as a friend and stopped talking to me altogether.
I helped out friends who we were very close until they needed me to talk about their careers and relationships and they disappeared when it started to look brighter for them. When they didn’t need me anymore, they just stopped replying to my messages.
I was there for people who I liked and valued, but who abandoned me overnight — without explaining their reasons. This happened in friendships, work relationships, romantic relationships. I don’t even understand how can I tolerate to be ghosted this much.
And all I can do is question myself if I did anything wrong. If I was wrong to expect them to care about me as well — just as I cared about them. Was it an error of judgment when I expected the same behaviour from them that I had shown them? Am I this bad at judging people or is it my people-pleasing character that makes people leave me eventually.
You can call me a people-pleaser, but I care about my friends. And if I care about someone I will show them. I will message them. I will ask them about their days. I will suggest to meet up. And if they are in need, I will help them — mentally, emotionally and yes, even financially if I can afford it.
Social isolation is one of the worst things that can happen, and even if I understand that the nature of friendships changed over the past 5–10 years — and we stay in contact with our friends and family more and more in the digital universe — not being able to reach out to real-life friends can feel frustrating and downright detrimental for your mental health.
I am a single mum of three daughters of different age groups. I have a number of regular freelancing clients that give me enough tasks to call it a 9–5 job. I am pursuing a writing career, publishing 1 or 2 articles a day. And these are all lonely tasks. I am working alone, I am raising my kids alone, I am writing alone.
Besides that, I am suffering from high-functioning depression, that is a terrible beast — as I have the symptoms but I am capable of hiding them fully and for the outside world, I look perfectly okay.
I am an overachiever and I am quite disciplined too. If you met me, you would never guess that I have gone through hell and back or that I am suffering from anxiety and depression regularly. Because I am managing it — in a way that it never raises red flags for anyone.
I seemingly don’t need attention, because I have it all together. I don’t need help, because I of all people am capable of helping myself. I don’t need anyone to ask me how I feel, because it is obvious that I should feel great — for I have everything.
Yet mental issues are not this straightforward. They are not linked to reality. They are not visible and their reasons are invisible too.
When I am down — and my depression makes it difficult to pretend that I am okay — I am hiding. I stay at home, I stay away from people, I am trying not to be the clingy friend, who is always complaining.
When I am okay, that’s when I think I should pay forward and be grateful that I am fine — this is when I am reaching out to others to make sure they are okay.
But I can’t help but notice that when I am down, I really become invisible. For it seems that if I don’t reach out, my friends won’t notice that I am not there. After all, they must think, she must be okay, for she is always okay.
Maybe I need better friends. Maybe I need to choose people around me more carefully. Maybe I need to express more that I also need people and it’s not just them who can need me.
But reaching out and not getting an answer when you are depressed is actually worse than not reaching out at all. When I feel depressed, I don’t need to add another layer of self-loathing that follows rejection or being ignored.
Maybe I should go back to be a people pleaser, to beg my way back to my so-called friends, to ask them how I could be there for them — even if they haven’t asked me this question in the past 3 months. Maybe this is how I could get back my sense of usefulness. This is tough — I don’t want to go back to being used, not even by my friends.
Or I need to build new relationships with different people, looking for the signs of reliability and trustworthiness. This is equally tough — as it needs a lot of time, and time is something I don’t really have lately. The emotional investment is also a risk. I got burnt before, will I get burnt now again with someone new?
I guess my only way out of this is to finally get into a relationship with someone who really cares about me — because no matter how risky a romantic relationship can be with the possibility of getting your heart broken, I already experienced being ghosted and left by friends as well, without getting my share of the positive feelings. But this is also difficult. Dating is difficult in itself, let alone with three kids and a whole list of bad experiences shaping my expectations.
I don’t know what to do really. I know that this is not what I want. But I don’t really see the way out just yet.
But here’s what I know. Any relationship has to be a two-way street. You cannot sit back and expect the other to carry all the emotional weight or to do all the work. You need to reach out. You need to initiate. You need to be there. And you need to express your feelings — and you need to feel safe enough with them to tell them if you are in pain or in need of company or anything.
Reach out to your friends. Make today the day when you surprise them with an unexpected message or a coffee-date suggestion. Don’t let life carry you away from them — you have no idea who might need you today.