When I say socialising with depression I don’t mean going for a drink with your mate who happens to be called depression. It means leaving the house with an overshadowing feeling of guilt and pain.
Attempting to socialise when you can barely live with yourself is incredibly hard. Being able to put a smile on your face and tell everyone that everything is ok can be difficult or a normal part of your day. You’ve been doing it for so long that it becomes the norm.
I found that not socialising or even going out was right for me at the early stages of my depression. I didn’t want to go out. Mixing with other people – even complete strangers in supermarkets, felt personal and imposing. It’s crazy to think it but you feel people are judging you without knowing what you are going through. In fact it’s hard work to act ‘normal’.
Part of my recovery came in slow steps and still is. On reflection I can see how it developed. I was encouraged to attend counselling (see blog on talking) which stimulated my need to get out of bed and leave the house. From there I was further encouraged to attend the gym. Now see this from my point, firstly, as I have previously stated, I was never one for talking (as I saw myself as a pillar of masculinity – see blog on why men and depression..) and secondly, I was never one for the gym (not with my white chicken legs). But this created a routine that has been crucial to my recovery.
Don’t get me wrong, I went out occasionally between trips of routine. I might have a coffee in a café but I was happy to sit in a corner and people watch (which is enjoyable in itself). But I felt this was something I should be doing as opposed to something I wanted to do.
Work face and home face
We all have different persona’s for different social situations and to overlap these can be both personal and encroaching. At work I was expected to be strong and supportive for other people – perhaps this was my own standard. But hiding my pains and difficulties became a normal act. At home and inwardly, I was a mess and I didn’t want people of whom (I suspected) respected me for the characteristics I was willing to share publicly. Letting work colleagues see the other side of my character was a personal difficulty.
Before all this happened, I had been invited out to a work mates leaving do. This had been planned for a while. Whilst with my ex I was often discouraged from going out with my work colleagues or socialising without her presence.
I found it both hard and hurtful to think of excuses why I couldn’t go whilst protecting my ex from her own stupidity and maintaining my socialising standards amongst my friends. But I was really looking forward to seeing my work mates after a reasonable period of time not seeing them.
At least for a day or so prior to the leaving do I started to consider not going.
- I wouldn’t be missed if I wasn’t there
- I was too tired to attend
- It would feel awkward seeing people who would assume negative reasons for not being at work
- I felt a sense of same about my depression
I was finally encouraged to go by close friends. It came as the 11th hour to pick myself up and break with the routine of not going out to the pub or out in the evening.
I purposely arrived an hour later than the invitation time set. A few people were already there but what instantly struck me was how pleased those few people were to see me. The smiles felt genuine, but what is important to state is that no one asked or put pressure on me to say why I had not been around. I will stress that because of the shifts and work patterns of my job, it is not unusual to go for a period of time without crossing other people’s paths. Of course, one or two people there knew why I was off but they made me comfortable, didn’t judge and actually made me smile.
I left earlier than everyone else but that was because I was tired. Socialising when suffering with depression is hard work and, I will admit, it left me shattered.
From the outset I was not going to hide the fact that I was suffering with depression and PTSD. I was adamant that if anyone asked I was going to tell them.
It transpired that many other people there had either been a sufferer previously or knew someone that was. This was refreshing and I felt it very supportive to think that other people were both ok with it and it almost seem normal to have such a condition.
The following day I received a text from an ex boss who attended the social event. He stated that he was pleased to see me and was glad that I was there. It was nice that he took the time to send the message but it was also nice to consider that my presence was valued.
A short step for normality, a massive step for recovery
Furthermore, breaking away from a controlling relationship still leaves scars of guilt when you do things beyond the norm (see choosing my own clothes). I initially felt twangs of guilt for going out alone and still considered asking for receipts for drinks (see financial blog).
What I’m trying to say
Recovery is long and hard. But you must socialise with the people you care about as soon as you feel fit. Furthermore, don’t be ashamed of depression. It’s not a badge of honour,. We should all feel proud that we have survived what is an extremely difficult time.