Today’s trigger of sadness is remembering the so-called ‘close friend’ of mine who recently accused me of fabricating/exaggerating my depression, because it doesn’t resemble her experience with anorexia.
Let me explain: a month before the end of my final year at uni I was advised by numerous docs to take some time out, as I was self-harming/overdosing/suicidal etc, so I agreed with uni that I would drop out for a few months and rejoin this January to repeat the last part of the year. Once I had left uni, my GP and tutors then encouraged me to take on some flexible academic work to distract me from my depression and keep my brain ticking, and about a month later I became a research assistant with a very casual three month contract. I still can’t believe how lucky I was with that – I could pick my hours, and it didn’t matter at all if I did nothing for days on end.
This good friend of mine, ‘Jane’, had been very supportive of me right up until this point, when we lost contact for a while. I assumed she was busy and didn’t want to bother her, but a couple of months later a mutual friend expressed surprise when I asked how Jane was doing. He said he was surprised I cared because Jane had told him we’d had a falling out, which was news to me. I had a really bad feeling about this, and with some encouragement from my therapist I sent her a message asking if we were okay.
I was stunned to receive the following in reply (edited for anonymity):
Hi…I don’t really see how you can drop out for medical reasons, and then do paid work. If you’re too ill to study, then you are too ill to work. As someone who has had to take time out myself for mental illness, I have a dim view of the concept that you get out of your exams, then be working and getting paid for it a few months later. When I was ill there was no way I was fit to work.
I don’t understand how you dropping out, and then doing a paid job in the time gap, fit together. It’s partly the university’s fault for allowing this to happen, and you are entitled to do what you like, but I don’t really want anything to do with it when there are people like X, who was seriously ill last year and still did her exams, and people like Y, who genuinely needed to drop out for serious reasons. Whilst you might come back at me stating that you are seriously ill, this cannot be true if you are working and being paid for it.
Excuse me? This message hurt me in so, so many ways. I’ve underlined the worst offenders for the bits of that message that upset me, but to be honest I could underline the whole thing. It had me crying more than I’d cried in months, and has left me in a situation now where I can’t stand the idea of going into university in case I see her. I have a feeling she has shared her thoughts with the people around her, and the paranoid part of my brain has me avoiding everyone I know who is connected to her. I don’t even feel comfortable going to see tutors in case I bump into Jane.
I don’t think she has any idea how serious my condition was when I left – my doctors were scared. For all I know, they saved my life by having me drop out. Medical professionals advised me to leave university, and then advised me to get a job. Jane doesn’t know how flexible my work was, and she never asked. I would like to be able to forgive her ignorance, but I can’t because I am outraged by what she has said. My therapist said it’s essentially slander. Anyway,at the end of the day I know that she’s wrong and full of bullsh*t, but what still hurts me is that this attack came from a friend. Like I said, I thought Jane was a good friend of mine. I can’t believe she didn’t trust me to the point that she could accuse me of effectively fabricating illness to cheat my way out of exams. I still don’t know where that came from. The upshot is that I feel pain almost like someone has died – I’m mourning the loss of a friend.
I was advised not to reply to Jane’s message, but I felt I had to; otherwise she might take my silence as some kind of admission that she was right. Plus I needed to send some anger her way. This is what I sent her:
I have to say, I’m really surprised at what you’ve written here as you’ve been very judgemental with very little idea of what has happened to me. I’m not going to go into details; quite honestly if you were even half the friend I thought you were I shouldn’t have to. And then to imply that my situation isn’t genuine by making improper comparisons with other people is frankly horrible. But thank you for clearing up where we stand.
We haven’t communicated since. Unfortunately what I sent her didn’t give me closure, as I’m still carrying about an awful lot of anger about this. What I can say now though is that I’m learning a new lesson about ignorance: when it comes to mental health, people with personal experience of mental illness can be just as ignorant as those without that experience. Maybe that shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose depression or EDs etc don’t guarantee a better understanding of illnesses, or an open mind. Either way, it’s a sad truth to learn.