Relationships can be really tricky. Humans are complex, and creating and sustaining a positive relationship can be hard work. Relationships change over time, with close bonding moments, disagreements, hurt, disappointment, fun, and distance. Relationships come to an end, and friendships grow apart for a multitude of reasons, most of which don’t have any reflection upon you. Try not to let the fear of hurt and loss deter you from investing in friendships that could bring great joy and connection.
If you struggle with a mental illness such as anxiety or depression, maintaining relationships can be particularly challenging. The first thing is to check in with your healthcare provider, usually a GP or psychologist, and ensure that you are adequately managing the illness. Optimised treatment of the illness is going to give you the best starting place for forming and maintaining friendships. Other things you may find helpful include:
- Support groups – either in person or online. They’re not for everyone, but they can help to both form relationships, and to discuss these issues and share tips.
- Look for events that involve an activity. If you attend a book club, a sporting group, or a craft gathering, then there is less pressure to actively socialise all of the time. Lulls in conversation are expected and are filled by participating in the activity, rather than awkward silences. It is also beneficial that everyone present has an interest in that activity, providing common ground and a starting point for connection and conversation.
- Attend a group meet-up (preferably organised by someone else, enabling you to cancel attendance at the last minute if needed). Often people who struggle with mental illness hesitate to make plans for fear that their fluctuating symptoms will result in the need to cancel. They worry they will ‘let people down’. If this does happen, and you feel comfortable, try to be open about why you have had to cancel. Often people are very understanding when they have an explanation rather than a mystery, and it can be a good opportunity to spread awareness of how you and others are affected by mental illness in their day to day lives.
- Sometimes there is a concern that you don’t have much to offer as a friend. Maybe you think you are uninteresting, not fun enough, or they just won’t like you. It can be helpful to approach it, instead, by thinking about how you can make the other person feel. Try to remember their name. Look for things you can genuinely compliment them about. Listen closely to what they are saying, not on what you are going to say next. Ask them lots of questions about themselves. When they answer, instead of moving onto the next topic, ask for more and more detail, really trying to get to know about their lives and thoughts.
- Remember that it is normal to not become friends with everyone. Some people you will click with, and some you won’t. Give yourself the best chance of finding a great friend by being yourself, not what you think others expect you to be.
As always, make sure to talk to your doctor or therapist about an individualised approach, tailored to your specific history and circumstances.