I couldn’t survive without my friends. I don’t say this to be dramatic but because it’s true. There are a handful of people who have been in my life at different times--some from middle school and high school, some from college, some from graduate school, and some from my post-grad life--who have made up my tribe. Without them, I wouldn’t be here.
It’s not that my tribe makes me who I am or even that I rely on a single one of them to be everything for me. But, together, with a group of two or three of them, magic starts to happen. I feel loved and valued. I’m heard and understood. They call me out when I’m overthinking things and give me the hugs I need when I feel like I’m in a deep hole. They know who I really am and are willing to wait out spells of depression and anxiety. They’re my tribe.
Notice that I didn’t say my tribe has stayed the same all these years. It’s changed--and that’s totally okay. Your tribe can ebb and flow, people moving in and out of it. The point is to have at least a couple friends at any given time who are your ride or die bitches.
Now, let’s talk about how they can support your mental health.
They reflect your worth back to you
My graduate school experience was a special kind of hell. Depression and anxiety were at the forefront and feeling of self-worth or confidence were left behind. My boyfriend lived in a different city and was busy at his job, my essays were being torn about in my writing workshops, and my roommate wouldn’t talk to me.
Enter Mary. She was in another writing program but the same general field. She was soft-spoken and uniquely talented and gentle. We met at the Writing Center where we both worked and clicked right away. We both felt alienated in our programs and unsure graduate school was the right fit for us. We talked for hours about our fears, made dinner together (okay, she made dinner and I supervised), practiced yoga. She left me friend notes in my bicycle basket and called me on Valentine’s Day to tell me she loved me and appreciated our friendship. She showed up for me, valued my friendship, and showed me that I was worth spending time. I was worth the effort.
They allow you to be part of a community
When I was in middle school and high school, I was a tomboy. No, that’s wrong. I dressed like a boy, but I wasn’t good at sports. I was a nerd. No, that’s not right either. I was smart but I wasn’t good at every subject. I was a loner. No, that didn’t stick. I was alone, but my heart craved friends to each lunch with and hang out with during recess.
Enter Brita and Jessy. The three of us became inseparable. You rarely saw one of us without the other two. No one else at school understood us. They thought we were weird. We didn’t fit into any of their boxes. But, it didn’t matter anymore, because we were weird together. They understood me like no one else did--thought the same high school rituals were pointless, still liked having sleepovers, and didn’t think we needed to fit in to be happy. I was theirs and they were mine.
They call you on your bullshit
It’s not all warm and fuzzy in here. Sometimes you need a friend who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings and tell you when you’re being bananas and making a problem worse than it is, or better yet, creating a problem that isn’t there in the first place.
Enter Jane. She has been that friend for me since we met through a friend of a friend in college. She knows me well enough to know sometimes I’m being self-indulgent in my anxiety and need a metaphorical slap in the face. When I’m going down a rabbit hole of worries, she’s there to stop me.
They can pick you up when you’re feeling down
Post-graduation I have settled into some neurotic thinking. This thinking doesn’t play by the rules, laughs at reason, and is persistent. I’m in the most stable place in my life--engaged, good group of friends, at a job that I love for over three years, own my own townhome, have pets. But, anxiety doesn’t care much about stability.
Enter Jayla Rae. She’s always there--even though she’s far away. Jayla Rae and I met in graduate school and she’s since moved all over the globe, currently living in Guatemala. But, her love is ever-present. We FaceTime, she sends me Galentine’s Day cards and surprise gifts in the mail, she checks in on me over What’s App. She’s always there to put a smile on my face and remind me what’s going on will pass. We use the cat kissy emojis like they’re going out of style.
They know the real you--and will stand by you
My greatest memory of college is studying abroad in Bulgaria my junior year. One of my worst memories of college is laying in my twin bed, watching How I Met Your Mother reruns on my laptop, and looking out the window of my dorm room, wishing I had the energy to go outside and be with my friends who were playing guitar and laughing in the yard--during my study abroad trip in Bulgaria.
Enter Kelli. Kelli was my roommate during study abroad. We had actually both come from Colorado State University and knew each other before we left--but we weren’t all that close before we left. She didn’t know about my big secret yet: my depression.
She saw me at one of my lowest points during those 5 months. Not motivated to go out. Sleeping in late. Avoiding my friends. Hopeless. She stuck around. She invited me out and didn’t bug me when I didn’t want to come. She let me sleep and filled me in on what happened later. She went out with our friends and then always came back to me. She let me be sad. But, she never left. She knew I’d come back around, and she was patient enough to wait for me.
Who's in your tribe? If you don't have one, don't worry! I want you to join MY internet tribe over on Facebook. We're here to support you and be your cheerleader.