January 1st is a nothing day. We spend so much energy making sure the last day of December is a story to tell, that the first day of the new year is generally wasted in bed eating melted cheese on anything you can melt cheese onto. At least, that’s what it was like for me.
Someone once told me that how you spend your New Years sets the tone for the rest of your year. If January is any indication, then they were not wrong. I did eat a lot of melted cheese. But I also spent a lot of time with my friends and a lot of time thinking about friendship – about what it means to be a friend, about what kind of friend I can be, about what kind of friend I need and deserve.
I think that I’ve always been a good friend because I have always had good mental health. I think that I could always be enthusiastically there for my friends in every sense of the word – always down for a boogie, always ready to laugh at a joke, always willing to hear about a heartbreak or anxiety, always able to check in and encourage and hold. It’s something I am proud of, it’s something that has rewarded me with wonderful, fulfilling friendships I can learn and grow from. But this month was perhaps the true first time I have really experienced poor mental health, so I could not be a good friend to all.
It’s difficult to realise at first when you’re not feeling mentally well. At least it was for me. The first thing to go was energy – not even physical energy (although I was feeling more lethargic than usual – like I said, a lot of melted cheese in bed) but more so, emotional energy. I found replying to simple texts tiresome, I found arranging coffee dates a burden and worst of all, I found my family (who I ordinarily treasure) irritating. I say found, but as I’m writing this, I’m still here. I’m still stuck in this thing that I can’t put my finger on, a somewhere space that feels too bright – like everything demanding my attention is screaming at me all at once. I’m okay and I’m not okay in the sense that if you ask me if I’m okay, I can honestly say yes but if I ask myself if I’m okay, I might just cry. Kind of like how if you stub your toe in front of friends you can laugh it off and then it really doesn’t hurt that much, but if you stub your toe alone in your dark room, you can’t imagine a worser pain. Of course there are worse pains. But something about having no one around to confirm nor deny your situation let’s your mind run wild with the prompt.
In January, many of my friends asked me to support them. But this month, I had stubbed my toe in the dark.
I don’t know if it was a coincidence or if it was that strange rule of the universe where, as soon as you start thinking about something for the first time, you see it everywhere. But the minute I started thinking about the friendships in my life and which ones make me feel good and bad and confused, my friends started demanding a similar conversation. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a friend tell you they aren’t happy with your friendship. I don’t know if you’ve ever told a friend you aren’t happy with their friendship. But in January, I had both conversations.
It’s strange to me that at 22, this is the first time I’ve had this kind of conversation. You would think that after two decades of being a friend and being friended means I would have spoken to another person about what we want from each other. It seems so basic to me now but the fact is, people don’t really draw up a contract when they decide to befriend one another. The unspoken deal is that you’re going to be there for each other, you’re going to hang out together, maybe that you’re going to get drunk together. What’s clear to me, and probably to anyone else, is that you actually end up having different friends for different reasons. You end up with one friend you gossip with, one friend you get drunk with, one friend you cry to – and the difficult part is figuring out if you’re both getting what you need from each other.
It feels strange to say that in January, I learned how to have friends. What I mean is, I spent a lot of the month learning how to ask for friendship – how to ask for space, to ask for help, to ask for what you actually need from another person. And it seems strange that this is something I am still learning at 22, but I don’t think that friendships get any easier the longer you do them and I hope I keep learning.
Photos: Caleb – @calebjtriscari