Losing friends is always hard. It’s even harder when they leave because of your mental health.
“Sorry, but we just can’t be friends until you’re cured of this. Good luck!”
“Your mental illness makes me afraid to talk to you.”
As horrible as these sound, especially from people claiming to be friends, I’d wager anyone with a mental health issue has heard something similar.
It’s 2016 and I’m feeling great. My depression has finally been under a doctor’s supervision for a year and a half now. I’m more even-keeled and, for the first time, enjoying life.
My group of friends, although relatively new, has grown close to me quickly; we feel like family. We spend entire weekends together, after work on Friday all the way until racing into the office Monday morning, laughing raucously until we lose our voices, snuggling with dogs on plush couches in our ridiculous fleece footie pajamas, keeping the neighbors up splashing around all night with far too many people in the hot tub.
I’m so lucky, I often think. These are truly my people; I’ve finally found a place where I’m completely accepted, quirks and all.
Almost immediately, I’m comfortable enough to share about my depression. It’s the first group of people I’ve told so freely, the first group to know about it from the get-go. It doesn’t feel like a confession when I disclose it. It feels like I’m sharing any other fact about myself: I’m originally from Chicago, or I had braces for five years, or I have this skin thing that visibly shows when I’m stressed by creating white spots all over.
Others in the group have mental illnesses, I learn, and we laugh while commiserating, bonding over our struggles and our chosen methods of treatment. I feel seen.
And one day it falls apart. By “it falls apart”, I mean “I fall apart”. My medication just stops working. Without warning, suddenly, completely.
In a trying time like this, you’d probably expect my friends to rally fiercely behind me with support and empathy. Unfortunately, that’s not what happens.
My then-husband privately confides in one person, a nurse, asking for her perspective and medical advice. Without permission, she promptly shares my situation with the Mother-Hen-type in our group. Mother Hen in turn shares her third-hand knowledge with everyone else. Unbeknownst to me, my struggle and my health take center stage in a drama that rivals any reality show.
In all the chaos of my breakdown, the inexplicable downward spiral of my health, I suddenly have another stressor: gossip, including the prospect of losing the whole group along with my sanity. Within a matter of a few days, several friends walk away, leaving me tearful, shocked, and confused.
Though it’s been an extremely painful process, accepting the end of these friendships has brought me some wisdom on how to move on.
- Show Restraint
Especially in the thick of the excruciating loss compounded by my brain’s chemical changes, I felt tempted to rant. I wanted these people to hurt, to know the full impact of their behavior and the abandonment I felt. Ideas crossed my mind, some simply unhelpful, like long passionate emails, and some downright foolish, such as showing up at their home and refusing to leave until they’d repented.
But I didn’t do any of that. Instead, I focused internally, forcing my energy toward every method for coping and healing. I sent only one final text in response, calmly stating my disappointment. That was it. While I’ve since felt drawn to confront the ex-friends, I’ve continually chosen not to.
Choosing restraint has allowed me reassurance that I did nothing wrong, that I wasn’t a bad friend myself. I remained calm (at least outwardly) in the face of their frenzy. I was able to see that the drama was theirs, not mine.
- Be Grateful
Without this breakdown, I may have never realized how selfish and disrespectful these former friends could be. As much as it hurt, I’m grateful I saw these attributes so quickly, rather than years down the line when extricating myself would have hurt more. Though it wasn’t by choice initially, I’m happy I let them go early. Neurotypical people may not have such divisive opportunities to evaluate friendships.
The other place I find gratitude is with my true friends, the ones who did rally fiercely behind me in my most desperate and difficult time. The good models of friendship in such stark contrast to these betrayals make me value my friends even more than I did before this hardship.
I make sure to express this gratitude and love often towards those who support me. This appreciation also has a secondary benefit: it releases positive chemicals for me, too!
- Find Forgiveness
Let me be clear: forgiveness does not mean dismissing actions or releasing responsibility. There is no excuse for this kind of behavior.
Forgiveness also doesn’t require an apology; in fact, I haven’t received one. I don’t expect to. However, forgiveness has been necessary for me. My bitterness and anger didn’t affect anyone but me, and I have no room for such negative thoughts.
My brilliant therapist pointed out this method to achieve forgiveness: pity. Those who respond to mental illness by excommunicating others are stuck with their own ignorance, unless they work hard to change. I can also feel bad for them because they’re missing out on a rainbow in their lives: me!
With pity, it’s easier to leave resentment behind and move into forgiveness. I can refrain from spewing negativity about others when I don’t believe they’re bad people, just that they’re not my kind of people, unable to handle the type of friendship I cherish.
I also learned to forgive myself. I did nothing to deserve this treatment. This illness is not my fault, and it’s not my fault that the medication stopped working. I forgive myself for entrusting unreliable people, for pouring out love when it wasn’t reciprocated, for not being a perfect judge of character.
Interestingly, it’s the self-forgiveness that I have to keep reaffirming.
- Improve Yourself
Frank Sinatra had it right: “The best revenge is massive success.” Although I despaired when told I was too unhealthy for friendship, I soon after took pride in my progress, healing, and growth; these started far before the lost friendships. Every good day I have is a personal victory over their claims about me.
I may always struggle. My mental health journey may always be two steps forward and one step back. I accept that I will never, ever be perfect.
But I am proud of my internal work and external success. I continue to share my condition with new people in my life, and in fact now share it publicly, because I am passionate about normalizing mental health issues and releasing stigma. I haven’t allowed this loss to silence me.
- Be Picky
I deserve great friends because I am a great friend. I may disappear off the communication map sometimes; I may be terrible at returning phone calls, text messages, and emails; I may be opinionated and obstinate. But I care deeply for the people in my life. I’m a great listener, enough so that even complete strangers come to me for advice. I’m a good party hostess, an adventurous partner in crime, and a world-class hugger.
Likewise, you deserve great friends. Let me say that again: you deserve great friends. No matter how many friends you may lose over a condition you were likely born with, you deserve only the best. You can’t fill every moment in your calendar with friends, and this is your opportunity to be picky about whom you give your time to.
Choose people who truly deserve your companionship.
The more you take advantage of your mental illness by using it as a litmus test for good friends, the less you’ll miss those who have left, and the more you’ll look forward as you leave the others behind.
Morgan Meredith writes about mental health, travel, and tech, based on her own experiences. Morgan left her job at a tech startup in 2017 to travel the world, and hasn’t stopped! She’s passionate about making travel as accessible for people with mental health challenges as it is for those who are neurotypical. She is also an outspoken advocate for destigmatizing mental health, utilizing her position a staff writer for Living a Blissful Life atto focus on healing. Morgan received an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis, and a BFA and BA at Bradley University. Hire Morgan for your project or speaking engagement at .