Sometimes I think I’m the worst friend there is. Not because I’m a bad person or mean-spirited or narcissistic, but because when the going gets tough, I get going. I go into a hole, hide under a rock, and wait for the storm to pass. I ignore texts, phone calls, Facebook messages, smoke signals — the whole nine.
I hide because it’s my coping mechanism. I hide because sometimes the chaos of life becomes too loud for me to hear the caring people around me. I hide because sometimes I just need a quiet place in my soul to rest while I sort out the junk that’s going on around me.
My habitual hiding has caused more than one rift in my friendships over the years. People reach out to me again and again, and again and again I ignore them. Or they feel like I’m ignoring them. In reality, I’m just in a state of self-preservation, but if they give up on me before I emerge from emotional hibernation, then there’s no way for me to explain where I’ve been. I’m saddened to recount the friends I’ve lost touch with over the years simply because I hide when my world gets dark.
We all have different coping mechanisms when life gets a little out of control. Some go on spending sprees or Netflix binges, some tell everyone from their mom to the mailman about their problems, and some, like me, turn into a recluse that rivals Shrek. People are different and weird, and we all handle the shit life throws at us in our own way.
I plead with you not to give up on your friends who go into hiding. If a friend of yours stops answering or returning your calls, please keep trying. If they seem to have fallen off the proverbial edge of social media, don’t think they’re ignoring you. They may have suddenly become distant, but it’s not personal. They still need your friendship, and they may need it more than ever when they decide to reemerge.
Life is really shitty sometimes. Mental illnesses like anxiety and depression can give those you love a warped sense of their value and meaning, and while they struggle to find their footing and stability, they may not have any more mental energy to devote toward their friends. Sometimes marriage takes a nasty turn, and they don’t want to talk about it — even with their closest friends. Family problems, huge life events, schedule changes, parenting challenges, transitions — life doesn’t always happen in a straight line, and when some people (like me) approach a bend in the road, we roll our windows up and just focus on taking it one day at a time.
It’s not you. It’s them. And they need you in their life. They need you to continue reaching out to them so they know they’re not alone, even if they don’t have the strength to tell you themselves. They need to know that when the sun starts shining again, they have someone in their corner who’s been waiting patiently for them to return. They need to know that unconditional love exists even when they feel they don’t deserve it.
Real friends stand by each other regardless of whether they’re talking every day or they haven’t talked in a month. If you love someone and they love you, stay by their side even if they’re avoiding eye contact. They appreciate that you’re reaching out, that you’re available, and that you’ll have an open ear when they’re ready.
For those of us who pull away when life gets difficult, the knowledge of never-ending friendship gives us strength that we can persevere through those hard times, and we thank you for not giving up on us.