By Rachel Stroecker
They say that you need to hit rock bottom before you can even begin to fight your way back.
I hit rock bottom my freshman year of college.
I’ve struggled with social anxiety in some form for as long as I can remember, but it reached an insurmountable point during my first year away from home. It started small – being afraid to talk to the other girls in my hall, hating the public bathroom we shared and snapping at my (then) best friend because we shared a room and I therefore had no alone time. This, however inconvenient, was not where it stopped. No, after a few months, it turned into skipping classes, refusing to go out with that aforementioned best friend and, ultimately, nearly flunking out of school.
I was, to say the least, miserable.
Anxiety was, as terrible as this sounds, something that I was used to; it was an old friend, in a way, and I’d come to accept it as a part of my life.
Depression was a new animal.
I found myself unable to get out of bed most mornings and unmotivated to do just about anything – from homework, to having a social life. That lack of motivation combined with my heightened anxiety led to my refusing to go to the grocery store when I needed to. I lived off of chicken nuggets and subs from the dorm convenience store and dropped almost twenty pounds, between the lack of food and the very large sets of steps between the dorms and the classrooms – think Rocky on crack.
Anyway, I passed that year by the skin of my teeth and transferred somewhere closer to home. This, I thought, would be enough to fix all of my problems… but I was wrong.
My anxiety seemed to improve, but the depression, surprisingly, worsened. I moved into an apartment with that same best friend (who also transferred) and another really good friend from high school. We were assigned another random roommate, and I thought everything was just going to get better.
Did I mention I was wrong? Because I was wrong.
My friends made new friends who turned into boyfriends, and I’ll admit that I wasn’t the most fun roommate in the world. I hid behind my computer, my writing and, most notably, my bedroom door. When they invited me out with them, I turned them down; campus activities like the ones they were attending just weren’t my thing at the time – too many strangers, not enough blankets.
After about two months, they stopped inviting me. After a semester, they all but stopped talking to me and even started storing their food in one of their bedrooms. At the end of the year, they sat me down and said they didn’t want to live with me anymore because we were “too different.”
“We go out all the time and you don’t,” one of them told me. “I come home and you’re where I left you on the couch and it just makes me feel bad. I shouldn’t feel bad for going out.”
I told them that my anxiety was stopping me from going out with them and that I thought I was depressed, but despite them saying, “We’ll help you get help!” they never spoke to me again, following move-out the next month.
That summer, none of of our mutual friends contacted me either.
I was completely alone that summer and I won’t go into details, but I will say that things got much, much worse before I sought help and I got better.
Once I did get better and I spoke with others who struggled with depression, I learned that this type of attitude is a very common thing. There are many people out there who, instead of trying to help, head for the hills as soon as their friends stop being a joy to be around. It took me two years to crawl out of that pit and see that there were a million things those girls could have done differently – and would have done differently if they really were my friends.
Never once did they ask if I was okay, or if there was a reason I never wanted to go out. They didn’t try to encourage me to come out with them and – worse – they gave up on even trying to invite me all together, after a very short amount of time.
Yet, they had no problem telling our mutual friend that I was “boring,” when she asked why they didn’t invite me, or that they straight-up didn’t want me around.
In the years since, I’ve come to accept that those people simply weren’t able to handle me at my worst. As Marilyn Monroe would say, that means they don’t deserve me now, at my best. It’s been a long road of coping, counseling and, to be frank, finding better friends, but I can now look back and accept that my “best friends” weren’t deserving of the title; they weren’t even good friends, much less the “best.”
I’ll explain it here the way my first therapist did to me, three years ago: after a while, you learn that friends are an awful lot like shoes. Some people have an entire closet full of them; some have only a few pairs. Either way, each pair comes with a purpose – you have the shoes that you wear when you go out for the night, and others you wear on a quick Target run. You have the pair that’s your absolute favorite to wear to the movies, or the pair that’s comfortable and yet fashionable enough to go shopping in. Yet, you have very, very few that you can slip on after a hard day and wear around your house, the ones that you bring with you to make tea in the kitchen and maybe even match perfectly with your favorite pajamas. These are your slippers, the shoes that see you at your most exhausted, your most vulnerable.
In life, we will have many different kinds of friends that we carry with us. Many of them will see us through various stages of our lives, no matter their role – just like those boots I bought to wear to my first Fall Out Boy concert and have had a proud place in my closet ever since. There are very few, though, that will see our most intimate moments and choose to support us. There will be more who will see us vulnerable and take the next available exit because they’re just not equipped for that kind of responsibility. This will hurt, but it’s okay.
All we can do is make sure we know which pair we’re slipping on.
If you’re struggling with depression, please know that you are not alone and that there are people out there who will love you as you deserve to be loved. If someone you know is struggling, another one of our writers recently submitted a beautiful piece about how to support a loved one struggling with illness and you can read that here.