Depression made me a crummy friend - but I'm working on it

Once the dust of depression has settled, it's clear just how much damage has been done.
Once the dust of depression has settled, it's clear just how much damage has been done. Photo: Getty Images

Suffering from postnatal depression and psychosis after my son was born changed some of my friendships. And today, as I reflect on that time, I feel a little sad.

It took me four years to recover properly: two hospital stays, tapering on and off different medications, a psychiatrist who kept me anchored to reality when I was psychotic, and time. It took a long, long time.

Getting well, falling in love with my son and being able to function again has been a feeling words simply can't do justice.  But I didn't expect it to be a little heartbreaking, too.

You see, once the dust of depression has settled, once the smiles – the real ones – have returned, and you're sleeping and eating and getting dressed every day, it's also clear just how much damage has been left in depression's wake.

There are the usual clichés that come with the narrative of recovery – and they're clichés because they're true, of course. I'm a steelier, more insightful, more empathic person after what I went through. I know my heart and my mind now in vivid detail. I understand, more clearly, how to support a friend with depression, how not to take their withdrawal personally. I tell whomever will listen about the importance of speaking up – and I'll always be an advocate for perinatal mental health.

I'm proud of all these things – and many more.

But the sad truth is that depression made me a crummy friend. And consequently, some of my friendships won't ever be the same.

I've made new friends since – people who came into my life through mothers' group and day care, work and Twitter. 

I even forged a new friendship with a woman I met as an inpatient on the mum and baby psych ward, where we'd been admitted at the same time. An experience like that binds you. We helped one another through those few surreal weeks, and have supported each other in the four years since. But while depression gave me a new friend – one I'm grateful for everyday – it changed the nature of many of my other friendships, too.

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When you're depressed it becomes harder to see people. Talking on the phone is far too draining, and getting dressed to leave the house seems like an impossible task.

Depression tells you that you're boring, that no one wants to be around someone who's sad all the time. 

And cognitively, my brain was shot. I stumbled over my words, an inarticulate mess. This version of me was an embarrassment, I decided. I didn't want anyone to see the raw, hurting, vulnerable person I'd become. It was better for everyone that way. Or so I thought.

I stopped answering text messages. I no longer accepted invitations, even for a simple coffee or a visit to my home. I stopped believing I had a place in the world, and in my friends' worlds, too.

My friends tried so hard. They really did. They didn't give up on me; I gave up on them. They couldn't have tried any harder. The sad thing is that I don't think I could have either.

The little energy I did have I gave to my son. He ate up the smiles I was able to muster, and the nursery rhymes I sang with a quivering voice. As I bunkered down and focused on my family, venturing out to see my psychiatrist once a week, the world continued without me. And while I was treading mud in a present I thought would never end, my friends – understandably – were moving on with their lives.

Women often talk about losing friends when you become a mother. It's hard enough to maintain friendships when you're knee-deep in nappies and sleep deprivation – and even harder when you're a new mum and you're severely depressed.

I know that the friendships are not irreparable. Rebuilding them, however, after long lapses, will take time and effort. And grace.

I feel the pain of milestones I missed when depression kept me housebound. The birthdays I didn't make and the babies I didn't visit when they were squishy, delicious newborns. I can't change the past, but I can look to the future.

And that's exactly what I'm going to do.