On emotional walls.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

I don’t have a lot of friends these days. This is partly because of, well, life (I’ve moved so often since starting university that it’s made it difficult for me to make and maintain friendships) and partly my own doing. I don’t talk too much about my mental health on my blog or social media because, frankly, I never feel like I have much of a right to. The struggles I deal with are so minute in comparison to real mental health struggles, that I don’t always feel right using my own voice instead of amplifying others’. Nevertheless, I’ve come to realise that my mental health has played a huge role in my ability to make lasting, fulfilling friendships, and not in the way you’d expect.

I’ve had a few shitty friendships. You know the type; the one-sided ones that drain you of all of your emotional energy, and give you nothing in return. I learned how to read people and whether or not they actual value and respect me as a person and a friend after a while, and my talent at judging others’ characters and my apparently distinctly INFJ distaste for acquaintance-ships and pleasantries have allowed me to swiftly navigate myself away from other potential disasters or unfulfilling relationships. Running in tandem with these experiences though, has been the evolution of my mental health issues, and I knew early on that toxic relationships that take and take and take do not mesh well them.

I’ve had some huge ups and downs with my mental health, and have gone from being utterly terrified of meeting new people to putting myself in situations that I never would’ve thought myself capable of. I’ve pulled myself up from the deepest lows I’ve experienced yet, to being confident, comfortable and steadfast in who I am and what I can do. And yet, you never really ‘recover’ from certain types of mental health issue. You can make improvements, you can manage it, you can live your life sometimes forgetting that it even exists… but it doesn’t mean that you don’t slip up and it doesn’t rear its ugly head again every now and again and send you plunging back into that dark place you thought you’d long escaped.

I realised only recently that this reality has played a huge role in my relationships since I got a firmer grasp on my mental health. To put it simply, I’m selfish. I not only disengage with people that I don’t feel are a good match for me, but I disengage with those who are, but who carry too much baggage or are too dependant on me, too. There is a very tiny, tiny number of people for whom I will happily volunteer to help bear their mental and emotional burdens, while I subconsciously keep the others at arm’s length.

At first, I thought I was just being a cold, distant bitch. Maybe I am – I’m sure it probably comes across that way to whoever’s reading this. But it’s more than that; it’s a defence mechanism.

I’m sadly the type of person who just naturally absorbs other peoples’ issues. Without even meaning for it to happen, their sadness becomes my sadness, their stress becomes my stress, their dark days become my dark days. I willingly transform myself into their therapists or confidants and spend my time apart worrying about them, thinking about them. And, even when the problems are more superficial than that, I find that I have a finite amount of emotional energy that eventually gets sucked dry if the person in question doesn’t deposit as much into the Bank of Emotional Investment as they withdraw.

I’ve worked so, so hard to get myself to the point that I’m at now where I’m happy and self-assured and no longer battle daily with the same demons I used to, and I know from experience how fragile this state of mind is. I’ve slipped before, and it doesn’t feel good. So, I cling to that, and whether I realise it at the time or not, I steer myself away from situations and relationships that might be detrimental to it – needy colleagues with emotional issues, acquaintances that regularly need shoulders to cry on, those friends who always seek advice about the same problems but never actually listen. I might reply, but I don’t fully engage or encourage, because I’m not prepared to be that emotional baggage handler again. I’m not prepared to put my own mental health on the line in order for someone else to lean on me anymore. I’m not prepared to be the person that’s always there for someone, but gets little to no support in return again.

It’s pure and simple selfishness, but it’s self-preservation. When your emotional and mental state, however stable it might appear at the time, is ultimately like walking a tightrope, you can’t afford to keep inviting other people in and shouldering their problems. Take on even a little bit too much, and you risk everything you’ve built coming crumbling down. Of course I try to be there in a crisis and when I’m desperately needed, but I’m unwilling to be privy to every issue or drama or emotional trauma going on in the lives of those I know (save for that select few) when I know all it will do is weigh and drag me down until I ultimately snap and I’m back to square one again.

I’m a bad friend, a bad colleague, a bad family member. I’m absolutely selfish. But, when the consequences of taking on someone else’s emotional baggage or negativity or drama is absorbing all of it and losing your grip on your own mental health and happiness, distancing yourself is more than not having the time or the patience or just not caring about the person. It’s not that I don’t care; it’s simply that I’ve learned through trial and error that I have to pick my battles and decide whether or not I have to prioritise caring for myself instead.

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