What to realize when someone “leaves you” due to your mental illness.
This article was originally published for the The Odyssey on March 6, 2017.
We’ve all seen that picture that circulates the internet with a few words written on a photograph that reads, “Please don’t leave,” or “Please don’t leave me.” I’ve heard many people relay those same words to me as they beg me not to ‘leave them behind’ due to their mental illness. I wish they would realize that I’m not leaving them behind; I’m simply taking a breather. When someone ‘leaves’ you for reasons surrounding your mental illness, understand that they’re not giving up on you; they’re simply taking a step back.
Mental illness can be a very powerful and draining thing. Enduring it alone is difficult and many people believe they cannot survive without the support of others. This is true in some cases. The problem is that there will almost always be someone who ‘leaves’ due to the circumstances surrounding your mental illness, and you can’t give up just because that person is no longer around.
I don’t really like to use the word ‘leave’ or ‘leaves’ because I think that usually correlates with someone disappearing. Generally, you leave a place, not a person. You are not an object. You are not an island and your mental illness isn’t shark infested waters. A better word for your situation is likely ‘step back’ or ‘give in’. Giving up and leaving are generally not what a person does when they can no longer bear the weight of your mental illness.
Your demons are dark, no matter what kind they are and no matter where they originate from. They are dark and heavy on your soul. They try to eat you alive. That’s what creates depression, anxiety, and other types of mental illness. When a friend or family member that was once close to you decides to remove themselves from your life due to a circumstance surrounding your mental illness, it is not your fault. Let me repeat that: it is not your responsibility to keep someone from taking a step back.
Friendship is fluid. Family can even be fluid, though many don’t think so. Demons are scary and powerful. They will try to drag anyone and everything down with them into the pits of darkness. They are incredibly toxic. When someone close to you forfeits their relationship with you, it’s because they’re trying to get as far away from those evil demons as they can.
Many of us shoulder our own demons, and if someone takes a step back from their relationship with you, it’s likely due to the fact that they cannot handle both your demons and their own.
It feels personal, but I promise, in a real friendship or a real, genuine relationship, it isn’t. Friends are not generally equipped to handle those types of things. They aren’t registered therapists or psychiatrists, and no matter how many times they lend you an ear, they simply aren’t trained to help you in the way you require.
Understand that those who can no longer face your demons are not giving up, they’re taking a step back. In the bargain that is their mental health and your relationship, they will and should put their mental health first. Just as you aren’t to blame for your mental illness, you’re not to blame for your friends departing.
As long as you have not hurt those friends or family members on purpose, or manipulated them in any way to get what you wanted, you are not the problem. If you genuinely did not hurt someone and they step back, it is not personal. Know that, however, if there was manipulation and ill-feelings involved, that your relationship may not return, and sometimes that’s for the better. It is not someone else’s job to fix you. It is their job to hold your hand while you fix yourself.
Think of your relationships as one of those bridges that lifts up its ends to allow the ships to pass through. The ships represent time. You and that person are just lifting up your sides of the bridge. It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to, the bridges cannot pass through if you do not lift your side up. Many ships will pass through. Sometimes, even after the ships have passed, your friend may not wish to put their side of the bridge back down. That’s okay, too. Sometimes it’s not meant to be.
After realizing the reason for your relationship’s hiatus, you have to remember that you are not alone, no matter how lonely you feel. Everyone has to put their mental health first, but that doesn’t mean that yours no longer matters. Your mental health and mental illness are just as important as anyone else’s. Know that you cannot give up just because someone you care about took a step back. You have to take a stand up for yourself and fight tooth and nail for your life. If life was meant to be easy, we’d all live forever.
You have to learn to be your own anchor. You have to prop yourself up and fight against all the negativity coming at you. Be your own ray of sunshine, and perhaps you’ll be a ray of sunshine for others too. You are meant to be here. You have a purpose even if you haven’t realized it just yet. If you weren’t meant to be on this Earth, the Universe would have picked you off long ago.
You are meant to be here to change the world, even if it’s someone’s world. Realizing that will help you in your process of healing. Know that even if someone important to you does depart, that they may return. If they don’t, however, know that you’ll be just fine because you can stand on your own two feet. You are strong. You will always be strong. Continue to be strong, if not for anyone but yourself. No one can drag you down but you, remember that. You are your own anchor.