Well maybe it’s a little harsh to say too much friendship can be a bad thing. But lately I’ve found myself investing way more time and energy in my friends than in myself. At the end of the school year, it’s not uncommon for everybody to get stressed out. And a lot of my closest friends struggle with mental illness that only gets worse in times of high anxiety. But even those of my friends who are normally pretty carefree were stressing. As I mentioned in my previous post, I graduated from college this year. Some of my friends were also graduating. And the ones who weren’t were still upset about the fact that I was leaving. Between finals, graduating, separation, and other issues, like sometimes having to go home to troublesome family lives, it suddenly seemed like everyone in my life was breaking down all at once. And I was trying to be calm and steady, and supportive of all of my friends.
Everything was going alright for a bit, but it got to be too much for me. I wanted to be there for everyone all the time, but it just wasn’t possible. I hardly got to study at all for one of my more difficult final exams because I had spent the entire day and most of the night leading up to the exam consoling two of my friends who were really upset about their respective issues. When I sat down at the desk, pencil in hand, I felt like crying. I always study—probably more than necessary in some cases—and yet I felt so unprepared for my FINAL EXAM, which was worth a big chunk of my grade in that class! Something had to change.
I’ve always been a people-pleaser, and it’s very, very difficult for me to do something if I think it could disappoint anyone. I have always put my friends before myself. But even I realized that it had gone too far.
So what do you do? What happens when you can’t be there for someone you love? Or multiple people at once, for that matter! It’s a really difficult situation. Bu I realized that I would never be able to really help my friends if I started getting lost in my own stress and worries. I kept coming really close to having my own emotional breakdowns, and I am usually able to stay quite calm.
One of my friends in particular had been really hurting me. Every time we got together, she started an argument, and I always left feeling awful about myself. I felt like she and I were hurting each other. And so while I still loved her and valued our friendship, I knew that I really needed distance from her in particular. So, as difficult as it was to say no, when she asked if I wanted to get ice cream a few days before graduation, I declined. I knew that I didn’t have the energy for another fight. And the arguments couldn’t have been healthy for her either.
With a few other friends, I explained that I loved them but needed to take care of myself. I assured them that I would still be there if they really needed me, but I just couldn’t be quite so involved. I started to limit the time that I spent with each individual friend, and I allotted quite a bit of time for myself and my rest and my studies. I just refused to hang out with people past a certain point at night or earlier than a certain point in the morning if it was going to significantly interfere with getting my optimal amount of sleep. I also stepped back from a few of my responsibilities for a couple weeks (hence the absence from blogging for a bit!).
My friendships did not end because I stepped back. In fact, I think it was healthy for some of my friends to have to find support from somewhere other than me. When they stopped leaning on me, some were surprised to find that they could stand on their own anyway. And I did not abandon my friends completely. I was careful about who was around and how much. Nobody said they hated me or thought I was being a bad friend. And I definitely felt a weight lifted from my shoulders.
I love my friends dearly, and I would do just about anything for them. But you really have to help yourself before you can help anyone else. I’m realizing that more and more all the time. And if a friendship is unhealthy, there is no shame in trying to adjust how it works, or—in an extreme case—possibly eliminating or taking a break from a particular friend for a while. If they love you too, they’ll still be there when you recollect yourself. I have a tendency to be ruled by my relationships… which I used to think was a good thing. I thought putting everyone else first made me a good person. But I know now that it’s super important to look after your own needs. Taking care of yourself doesn’t make you selfish or arrogant—honestly, it makes you smart and responsible!