Learning to Be a Good Friend (from my Friends)

Over these last few months, I’ve had the blessing to reflect on a lot of things both internally and externally. One thing that has stood out for me that I never expected to notice, was the impact that my friends have on my quality of life.

Growing up as not just an introvert, but a shy, reclusive introvert, I didn’t think it was possible for me to gain true friendships. Not only that, but due to some of the “friendships” that I did cultivate, I thought that as a part of my chronic issues with my depression and anxiety, that I could only gain a certain type of friend. You know–the ones who make you feel worse than before you first spoke to them.

It’s not until you start crawling out of yourself, do you finally notice the number of hands that have been reaching out to you all along.

I can’t make up for how poor of a friend I might have been in the past, but I want to be a better friend to those who are with me in the present. To do this, I’m making a conscious effort to remember the following lessons that all of my dearest friends (and a few former ones) have shown me.

Friendship is a Two-Way Street

The first lesson should be fairly obvious, but–yeah, well, what can you do?

I have one friend who is always on the ball at finding things to do around Atlanta, and she is always happy to invite me to go with her. Seriously, I don’t know how she does it. Sometimes I lovingly refer to her as my connection to the outside world.

That being said, her on-the-point invitations made me realize how much I sucked at asking my friends to hang out.

Like, I have no excuses. I suck at it. I would always wait for my friends, however close they were to text, invite, even just say hi. It literally never crossed my mind to say hi first.

And that…is a problem on my part.

If I want to see my friends, shouldn’t I–oh, I don’t know–make plans to see my friends?

Yeah, Captain Obvious and First Mate Common Sense to the bridge, amiright?

(On a side note…I think I might copyright that last line. 😌)

It’s not as if I don’t know how it feels to be on the other side. I’ve had people in my past where I’ve been told to give them a call or text them; they’re always free!

And then…they’re not.

Or, worse: no matter how the conversations went–even if they initiated it–they’d still wait for me to reach out again…and again…and again.

Which begs the question: why do I feel like I’m chasing them down?

A true friendship is balanced–both parties enjoy each other too much to worry about keeping tabs on who is “ahead.” When it becomes blatantly obvious that one friend seems to be chasing the other (or, the other friend seems to enjoy leading the other friend on), it may not be the type of friendship worth cultivating.

And I certainly don’t want my friends to feel like I feel that way about them.

Being Selfish Can Be Selfless

I mentioned once my thoughts on my own giving love languages (see shameless plug below), and why my order of them differed so dramatically from my receiving love languages.

See “Why Don’t My Giving Love Languages Match my Receiving Love Language?, Theory 1: Self-confidence” 😑

Due to my wobbly self-esteem, I often assumed that I as a person was a very expendable friend, and that anyone else was a better choice to hang out with:

  • Oh, he’s brighter.
  • Oh, they have more in common.
  • Oh, they’re sitting closer together.
  • Oh, she tells better jokes/wears more skirts/looks more mature/wanted to be a neurosurgeon. Why would anyone want to talk with me when they’ve got her around???

And so on, and so forth.

I assumed I was doing my friends favors when I bowed out of some activities. Imagine my shock when one friend just outright told me, “But B, I really want you to be there.”

I stared at her, temporarily dumbfounded. “You…do?” Understanding suddenly struck me. “Oh, you need me to help set up, or be a designated driver, or something.”

But she waved that off. “I don’t really care what you do. I just want you to be there.”

Really? “Really?” I asked her.

“Yes,” she blurted. “This means a lot to me, and you’re one of my closest friends!”

I…am? “I…am?”

She looked ready to swat me. “Yes!”

To which I responded in eloquent, pure B fashion. “…Oh.”

That interaction showed me how my lack of self-esteem had made me handle the friendship poorly yet again. While I thought I was being selfless by keeping my “boring self” away from my friends, my friend–through her “selfish” wish to have me at her event–showed me that my self, “boring” or no, was very much wanted. I appreciated that. And I thank goodness for friends who aren’t afraid to tell me exactly what they want from me–because I can be that dense.

It’s Okay to Be Vulnerable

While I’ve dabbled in the realm of roommates and part-time lovers over the last decade or so, I’ve remained independent most of my adult life. I don’t use the term “super introvert” lightly; I enjoy my alone time and relish in my ability to make decisions about my life without having to consult with anyone else.

Because I’m so used to relying on myself, I often don’t like to spend a lot of time worrying about my emotions or physical ailments. Just take a deep breath and keep going until what needs to get done gets done.

And yet.

There I was, on the phone for the first time in my life, terrified and panicked–and admitting openly to someone else that I needed help.

On the other end of the line was someone whom I hadn’t been good friends with for that long. However, he was kind and considerate and had reached out barely a month before to get to know me better. I had been amazed at our ability to chat openly, to laugh and connect creatively about almost everything.

At the time of my panic attack (which I’d never had before), I hadn’t known who to call. This was just another annoying obstacle, something I needed to just “walk off,” like I’d always done.

But he had called for other reasons…and I’d picked up. He’d just happened to get me at a really bad time.

“B?” He’d immediately picked up on the agony in my voice. “Are you okay?”

I couldn’t talk. I could barely think. Not since my college years had I asked for someone to help me with anything. The last time I had, I’d been told to “figure it out myself.” So, I’d taken that philosophy to heart and learned to care for myself–or at least cope.

But there, in the midst of my pain, with my new friend waiting on the other end of the line, I couldn’t hold in my self-preservation. I opened my mouth…and I croaked out the truth. “I’m…sorry. I’m not doing too well right now. Can you just, maybe…stay on the phone for a while?”

I waited for his sigh of disgust. I waited for impatience to fill my ear. I waited for the sounds of awkwardness, of confusion, of not understanding what my freakin problem was, and why was I wasting his time.

Instead, I heard without hesitation, “Of course, B. I’m so sorry you’re in pain. What’s wrong? What do you need? Do you need me to come over? I can come over right now. I can sit with you.”

My next words caught in my throat. Or maybe it was a gasp. That someone would take the time to come to me–especially in the horrors that was Thursday night traffic–just to sit with me during what was one of the darkest down days I’d ever experienced, shattered me into speechlessness.

But he didn’t rush to hang up. He didn’t make excuses or make me feel low or pathetic. He made me feel like it was okay to show my most shameful side, the side I’d tried to hide from everyone, family included. He did the one thing that I’d never expected someone to do when my “true” self was revealed.

He stayed.

At last, I managed to respond. “Just…please. Stay on the phone with me for a little while longer?”

His compassion flooded me as he spoke again, his tenderness palpable and warm. Under his words and the weight of my cell phone, I began to cry without restraint. “Of course, B. I’ll stay on for as long as you need.”

When to Hold Tight, and When to Let Go

It is always a painful moment to realize that your perception of a friendship may not be the same as how they see it. It’s especially hard when the friendship is with someone you admire greatly.

But then, if you do feel a sort of distance growing between you, you have to ask yourself two questions:

Are you holding onto the friendship because you really like hanging out with this person…

Or…are you simply holding on because that’s “the way things always were”?

Are you using more of your energy to save something that, for the benefit of both of you, may be healthier to release?

The nice thing about friendship is the same thing about life: there is no definite path on how things are “supposed” to go. We cannot–nor should we–control their strength or longevity. Just as we can’t stand in the middle of a river and push the current in the opposite direction, we can’t force a friendship to always remain as it was. It must grow, expand, evolve, redirect, or…perhaps, for a while…taper off.

Good friendships are organic and rich. Before you know it, you’re chatting for eight hours straight in the middle of nowhere and wondering why the sun is rising. You can sneak up on them from behind and literally see their eyes light up when they realize it’s you. Twenty years can pass–and when you meet again, it’s as if you’re still children, tripping over each other in the excitement and pure joy of being together once more.

I’ve got a long way before I feel like I am a “good” friend to my friends. But with all that I’ve seen and experienced from them, I hope that I can show them how much I appreciate their selflessness, their kindness, and their love.

Not for my own conscience, but because, dagnabbit–they deserve it.

3 types of friends:  for a reason, a season, and a lifetime.

Good Days and How to Appreciate Them

It’s a fascinating revelation as a person who is clinically depressed, anxious, or just naturally pessimistic, to realize that they are having a good day.  To wake up smiling and thinking back on recent events with love and joy is…well, a novelty.  While others may not give a second thought on how well a day went, this kind of person will sit, reflect, and even marvel a little at how it is even possible to feel this way.

That it is still possible to feel this way.

Last Sunday was the annual live Dragon*Con performance of The Blood Crow Stories cast and crew as they presented episode 1 of their upcoming Season 3, “The Neon Lodge.”  Earlier this year, through whirlwind circumstances I may divulge at a later date, I won the lead role for Season 3.  The hero of the season, Kesha Charles, is strong, resourceful, and confident, and doesnt take crap from anybody.

And I was terrified out of my mind on how, exactly, I was supposed to play her.

However, yesterday’s live performance went off smoothly.  The audience was engaged and really seemed to enjoy themselves.  By the time it was over, all I remembered were the grins of the cast and crew, the pride and excitement of my friends who came to watch (all seven of them!!  I have seven friends!! :O), and a strange, comforting calm as I (*gasp*) interacted with strangers.

Rewind to The Down Days

Last weekend was not a good day.

In fact, I would term last weekend as what I call “down days“–days that take you to the very bottom of yourself and sap your strength, your motivation, your emotions, and…in worst cases, your will.

Last Sunday was a day that I didn’t want to speak to anybody.  I didn’t want to leave my house, or post a blog entry, or work on my novel, or clean or text or care.

Yet at the same time, I wanted to talk to someone.  I wanted someone to sit quietly with me.  I wanted–needed–someone to hold me.  I needed that human contact to help remind me that I was a human being, and I existed. I wanted to shout and scream and expel all of the negative energy into the universe.

But I didn’t want to burden anyone with my stress.  So I called no one.  I ran the few errands I could make myself do.  And I told no one how much I didn’t want be alone.

Most down days last, as the name entails, a day.  This one stretched on through Wednesday.  More than anything, I wanted to avoid people and work and anything that prompted thinking or moving.  I had a chronic headache, shaking limbs and general exhaustion.

The last “down day” I had was five years ago.  If I made it through then, I knew I could now.  I had to.

And slowly but steadily…I did.

How You Know You’re Having a Good Day

But enough about the down days.  Considering that today is a marketable 180-degree difference from last week means that progress is being made.  Not only that, but I recognize that I am happy, that I enjoyed myself this last weekend.  And I know that I want more of that.

For those who also want to remember the good days as they come, here are a few signs that you are in the middle of one–that you are enjoying it to its highest potential.

1. You wake up smiling

Ever have those days when the world just feels like it’s in Technicolor?

Don’t know what Technicolor is?

Me, neither.

But, I know that Looney Tunes switched to Technicolor when re-releasing shorts, and classic Looney Tunes shorts are epic.

When you wake up on a good day, the world seems visually quieter, slower.  The sun is bright.

And you remember that you are alive.  You can do things.  And there are many things in this world that are still beautiful.

The beauty and vibrancy of nature.

2. You turn into a silly, happy fool

Oh, you know what you do when you’re happy.  You can’t explain it or help it–you just feel good.  And it’s been so long since you have.  Happiness erases years and makes you feel like a carefree child.

You play your favorites songs or involuntarily hum to the songs you hear on the radio.  You find the remnants of your favorite hobbies and think, “Ima start these up again!”  And then you actually do.

You call loved ones on the phone and chat in a way that makes them think in pleasant surprise, “WTF is she on?”

Or, you dance like this–and dang it if you don’t commit:

Arin Hanson Dances
Thanks, Arin Hanson–you know what I’m sayin’.

3.  Social media doesn’t terrify you

The term itself says it all.  Social media.

Present that term to a super introvert with social anxiety issues.

Even though I have FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram, I use them both rarely and poorly.  Even when I do take pictures of something I like, I lament silently on whether they’re public-postable.  Then, I overwhelm myself with questions on whether I’m impinging on someone else’s rights to post a pic of them in it, and is my pic too blurry, and nobody will like it anyway–

Aaaaaand then I freak myself out and don’t post it.

On a good day, the thoughts don’t go as long.  Either I post it cuz I wanna, or I don’t cuz I don’t wanna.  Mind you, it still takes me about 5 – 10 minutes to write the caption under the pic–but I do post it, dagnabbit.  And that’s what matters.

4.  You rejoin the world

Three years ago to this day, attending DragonCon was a far-blown pipe dream.  I never, ever could have imagined that not only would I attend it, but I would also cosplay in it and perform at a panel.  Just typing that sentence leaves me staggered, humbled, and absolutely ecstatic.

That being said…I think this vid sums it up a little better than I can.

Dragon*Con 2018, baby!!!

5.  You want to give, give, give

One of the main reasons anxiety and depression suck is because of how selfish it makes you.  You think thoughts like, “I am stupid.  Nobody likes me.  I can’t do anything right.  I don’t want to talk to anyone.”  Me, me, me.

The cruelest part of it all is, you can see yourself being this way, but you can’t just pull yourself out of it.  You want to–you want to so badly–but it doesn’t work like that.

If you do manage to pull yourself out, however–the welling of love and understanding is almost overwhelming.  The shadowy silhouettes that fluttered in and out of your life become actual people.

Friends.  Family.  People who love you.  Who like you.  Who want to help you.  Who want to see you succeed.

You finally recognize how long they’ve stuck around, despite your crappy moods.  And more than anything, you want to express to them that you know–that you appreciate it more than they can possibly know.  You love them, too!  And you just want them to please–please stay in your life.

Despite the times you can be an emotionless mess, canceling plans because you can’t find the energy to support them, or snapping at them when they’re asking if you’re alright for the fifth time, you love them and they mean so much to you.  And you will help them however you can, so just tell you want they need, so you can do it!

And most times, you want to do it all before the next wave of depression and anxiety returns.

Because, believe me–it does return.

When the Good Days Go

The bad news is, there is no immediate, one-time cure for depression or anxiety, social or regular.  Even if there is medication to help reduce the symptoms, medicine alone can’t fix it.  Finding the right combo of medicine, therapy, and inner strength are the best ways to maintain control of your life and keeping the good days coming.  It is hard work and long work, but it does reap rewards if you stay with it.  The frequency and the duration of the down days reduce, and if you can just make it through each one, you’ll start to acknowledge them less and less.

Another way?

Remember that today, you are in a good day.

Remember how good it feels.

Remember that, if the down days return, you always have the chance to bring the good days back.

Down Days and How To Deal with Them

It goes without saying. I hate down days. What are down days? Down days are those times when you get into your own head over something trivial and stupid.  Maybe you forgot something at the grocery store, and now you’re going to be late to a party.  Or maybe a friend didn’t call you when you felt you needed their opinion the most.  Or maybe you’ve driven in Atlanta traffic too many days in a row, and you just want to get home. If left to fester, this little spark can ignite a flame that can kill your motivation to…