This article mentions self-harm and eating disorders.
We always want to think that we’re a good person, a good friend. So when we hear tales of someone’s toxic friends or watch Tiktoks about how they got screwed over by their supposed best friend, we’re horrified, but we’re also a bit smug, because we know that we’d never do that.
At our core, humans are egocentric, and so we paint ourselves to be a good friend. Of course, this narrative can be budged at times: when we feel the guilt of cancelling last-minute or doing something despite our friend’s best interests. But aside from those minor mishaps, we get to go through life believing that we’re a good friend.
I can’t help but wonder whether these supposedly toxic friends know what they are, or if they’re blissfully unaware of their effects. And if that’s the case, could we be the toxic friend without even realising it?
Intentionally, no, I wouldn’t think that I’m a toxic friend. I have Borderline Personality Disorder, and part of that makes me absolutely terrified of abandonment. This means that I go out of my way for my friends in order to keep them. It feels like I’m starting several steps behind them, that I have to work twice as hard as they do just to earn them.
I am the friend that messages first. I am the friend that never arrives empty-handed. I am the friend that celebrates your successes louder than my own. These things stem from a place of insecurity, but also one of love. My friends are my chosen family; I put a lot into these relationships because I know I can be challenging to deal with and understand what it’s like to feel alone.
So I try to be a really good friend, and I obtain a sense of self-worth from it. I will happily hurt myself or screw myself over, but doing that to a friend feels out of bounds. I try to be a good friend; I claim that my most significant trait is my loyalty, and for some years, I could believe it.
Until I stopped one day and allowed the truth to enter my mind, I allowed myself to consider whether my mental illness has resulted in me being a toxic friend to everyone around me.
Let’s start with that fear of abandonment. Whilst this fear makes me check in more with friends and go the extra mile, it also makes me very needy. Any message left on read fills me with utter dread. So I message them more, and they probably feel inclined to reply, even if they’re busy, even if they don’t feel like it. Because they know what I’m like, because they know the depths my mind goes to in these moments. A message left on read should make me think someone is busy, but instead, my first thought is what I’ve done wrong, how I’ve hurt them, how I can earn back their affection. So my friends may feel backed into a corner, forced to converse even when it doesn’t suit them.
I spent years starving myself and going to extremes to get thin, as I looked in the mirror and saw a twisted version of reality. In this time, I was probably terrifying to be around, terrifying to look at. Anyone who knew the truth, who realised that I wasn’t just ‘into exercise’, was perhaps faced with the struggle of how to proceed. Even now, as I strive to develop a healthy relationship with food and exercise, one that includes days on the couch or a tub of ice cream, the remains of that time linger. Because I can still remember the feeling of my knees digging into the cold tiles of the bathroom floor, I will always know how many calories are in a banana and the euphoria that follows a day of not eating.
I don’t want to ever return to that place, but its lessons cover my mind and body, and so it remains an aspect of my life each and every day. I fear that I become toxic to others through this. When I struggle with skipping my morning run or being too embarrassed to wear that crop top, I make those around me second guess themselves. My focus on food and calories causes others to feel uncomfortable around me.
I have a history of self-harm, and it’s probably something I’ll always be internally battling with, even when I’m doing well. It’s easy to feel like hurting yourself is something that only involves you, but it affects the people who love you as well. The people who have to worry about whether you’ll do it again. The people who subtly look down to check if you’ve done it again. I don’t often wear bikinis or shorts, as I still struggle with my body image. But when I do, it’s with the knowledge that my scars are present, and my scars have the potential to make people uncomfortable or trigger them. Even though the act wasn’t done with that intention, the effect remains, and so in that, I could potentially be toxic to someone else.
The burden of my care falls on others, even when it shouldn’t. The burden of my stability falls on others, even when it is so far out of their control or even my own. I am on a path to healing, and it’s a tightrope I will always have to tread with care. I walk the line between sharing things so that people understand me, and to unburden them from my chest, yet knowing that it’s also a selfish act to do so.
Maybe I was a toxic friend when I was at my worst; I barely remember that time, so I can’t say for sure, but the shame of it still permeates my mind. Maybe I am still a toxic friend now, when I stumble, no matter how many times I get back up. Maybe my mental illness does make me a toxic friend to others, or perhaps that’s what it is trying to convince me of in this ongoing battle with my own mind.
I can’t remove my mental illness. I can’t separate my personality disorder from my personality. If I could, it would’ve been done so many years ago, and I would be living a lighter life. All I can do is acknowledge its effects without removing the blame from myself, merely explaining it. All I can do is try my best, the way everyone else does, to recognise my moments of toxicity and attempt to limit them.
Maybe my mental illness is my own toxic friend.
Welcome to Symptoms of Living! A place where I like to relieve myself of the barrage of thoughts and ideas filling my mind. Here I'll take a look at various topics, from books to BPD, series to self-harm, there's nothing that we can't, and shouldn't, talk about.
Having struggled with mental illness since the age of 15, one of the hardest parts was how alone I felt in it. While mental illness is beginning to be discussed more openly, and featured in the media, I still think there is room for improvement. So whether it is mental illness or merely mental health, a bad day or a bad year, let's make this a place to approach it and strip it back. Everyone has their own symptoms of living, and you certainly won't be the only one with it.
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