At 19 years old, I hit rock bottom. The dysfunctional relationships, the partying, the pleasure-driven life had gone on long enough and I was a mess. I had struggled with depression and self-harm off and on for a few years by that point, and when I rounded out my third semester of college sitting in the office of the Dean of Students, I knew something had to change.
I moved home and was determined to turn over a new leaf. For an entire year I did everything I knew a good girl should: I stopped partying, went to church almost every Sunday, and had no form of physical relationship with anyone for the first time since practically puberty. I was sure that if I did these things, I would finally get my act together. Unfortunately, I eventually found that wasn’t enough. I was still battling depression, still feeling completely out of place in the world. And no wonder. In my fear of failure, I had essentially isolated myself from any and all social interaction. What I got in return wasn’t happiness; it was a deeper loneliness than I had ever known.
One night I was at a coffee shop with my dad (because remember, I had no friends) when a girl my age approached us; an acquaintance of my dad. We talked politely for a few minutes when suddenly she invited me to hang out with her small group of friends. Assuming she was taking pity on me, I racked my brain for reasons to say no but came up with none. It wasn’t like there was anything on my social calendar. I would have to go.
I’ll never forget the day that I pulled up to the address she had given me, about a week later. Just like it was yesterday, I remember sitting in my car, still thinking about the possibility of turning and driving away. I could make up some excuse. But there was something inside me that told me I needed this. I pulled the key from the ignition and went inside.
Did I feel incredibly different afterwards? Nope. But I just kept showing up to things, and people kept calling to invite me to things, until one day I realized these people had become true friends. Not friends because we got drunk together, not friends because we messed around with each other, not friends because we’re all self-medicating. We were friends because we cared about each other’s feelings, our families, our struggles, our triumphs, our spiritual lives, our work, our school, our daily monotony. It certainly wasn’t perfect or without times of tension, but it was still pretty awesome. And slowly, and then not so slowly, the cloud of depression stopped hovering so close to my head.
At one point, about a year after hanging out with this community, an ex boyfriend of mine started calling again. Normally it would have taken almost no time at all to fall back into my old patterns, but this time was different. I realized that I still cared about him as a person and even invited him to hang out with my friends, but going back to that old chaotic lifestyle was no longer tempting in the least. I was happy and leading a happy, drama-free life and wasn’t interested in giving that up. My friends, both girls and guys, were incredibly supportive of my choice and strengthened me in my resolve to keep moving forward without looking back.
This is just me, just my story. But the way my story goes, community saved me from depression. What “straightening up” could never do for me, real human beings could. It turns out there’s a lot more power in friendship than I thought.