There are at least six of you. That’s the number I have settled on.
I am talking about those of you I retreated from quickly, without explanation — even at a time when our friendship was robust and fulfilling for both of us. That’s right. I ghosted you.
I know this doesn’t make sense. But it also offers a clue to my mental state each time. Here’s what I have learned about my depression.
First of all, I can become self-absorbed. Typically, I am a caring, empathetic person. When depression comes into play, I stop thinking about you and begin thinking only of me. I worry about having something to add to our conversation and that you’ll judge me when I pause and stumble over my words (since a stutter is an early sign that I am getting sick). I am mad that this is happening to me and I obsess about what what will happen if I dip further. I start hearing your complaints and struggles as trivial compared to mine. I start to wish my life were so simple and predictable.
Next, I start to shrivel. You walk down the street with ease. You read books and are able to concentrate. You make eye contact and you are witty. You can find joy in a tennis game or a movie or gardening or a hug. Your normalcy becomes painful for me. And your triumphs? They kill me, and I’m embarrassed by this fact. I used to be like you and now I’m not. And because I am starting to feel hopeless, I don’t think I’ll be able to spring back to my typical self. I begin to hate the fragment of a human I feel like.
Finally, I isolate. I know you can’t understand my mental health. I don’t want to go to parties or for coffee or discuss books. I can only think of curling up in a silent, distant ball on the couch and binging on “Girls” episodes. You will probably grow tired of me canceling plans, because really, how often can a person have a migraine or stomach flu? I want to be left alone, but I desperately don’t want to be left alone. This is when I stop returning your calls and texts and Facebook messages. I am the first to pull away, because you leaving me would be unbearable.
If you search “effects of ghosting a friend,” you will find many, many internet hits. Jennice Vilhauer, in Psychology Today, writes, “One of the most insidious aspects of ghosting is that it doesn’t just cause you to question the validity of the relationship you had, it causes you to question yourself. Why didn’t I see this coming? How could I have been such a poor judge of character? What did I do to cause this? How do I protect myself from this ever happening again?”
Strangely, I try to have a smidgeon of sympathy for my depressed self, because I was injured too. I know I missed out on laughter and camaraderie. And to be honest, I have lost so many dear friends to my “pathological ghosting” that I feel lonely too much of the time.
Regarding you, I can try to rectify these abandonments with explanations and apologies. Sincerely, I am sorry I acted this way. I feel selfish and callous. My actions might have been the product of a sick mind, but I sometimes feel they were cowardly and shouldn’t have been an option. I’ll never have an excuse for my behavior, just a reason.
However, no matter how hard I try, I feel I will again exit your life, or someone else’s, inexplicably. And, again, it will be my fault. When this undoubtedly happens, try to remember one thing: It’s not you, it’s me.
Originally published in The Mighty