Image (with slight adjustments by Exposure) by Jake Parkinson from Pixabay
Kerrie Portman recounts how experiencing toxic relationships helped her grow stronger
It felt exhausting that I was never enough for the people I considered my closest friends. I was constantly tired that summer we were all friends, though I didn’t understand why.
Maybe I understood at a subconscious level though, as there were times the truth glared through a crack. There were the times when I’d hold back showing them something I was working on so I could feel proud of it before I asked their opinion. There were times when I fantasised to myself about moving away so I could meet new people, so I could move on without burning the bridges back home.
Maybe they understood better than I did because the second I moved, crossed that bridge, they burnt it behind me. Instead of being happy for my success, they had a massive fight with me on one of the biggest days of my life. Ultimately, they left me on a day that ought to have been reserved for celebration and victory.
It was fairly dramatic, the whole thing. Lots of crying and sides forming on the battlefield as friendships fell to the ground and grand declarations of never wanting to speak again. There was even a bit of bloodshed. Slightly disappointingly, it all happened digitally without a face-to-face and there really is only so sharp you can carve pixels.
Friends should be happy when a friend succeeds and friends should be there in solidarity when things are hard
It was also rather arbitrary and entirely unnecessary. Perhaps all matters of the heart can be considered so but I very quickly identified that I was only hurt because I cared. That didn’t stop me from caring, but it did frame the whole thing. It did provide a good starting point for indignation; I was there for my friends, especially so when I felt they needed me. They were not there for me when I outright told them I needed them. Even if they had not done anything, not said anything, it would have been better than starting the war.
Friends should be there for each other. Friends should be happy when a friend succeeds and friends should be there in solidarity when things are hard. Friends should not be the reason things are hard and then exclude, segregate and isolate the hardship.
Maybe I never really was friends with these people, given how they treated me. We’re certainly not friends now. I don’t know exactly when each individual friendship ended, though I do know when I realised it had. Maybe that date is enough to engrave on the tombstones. I don’t know what I’d list the cause of death as. Can you plant a grave for something that potentially only ever existed as a phantom? Were we ever friends? Did they ever care?
I learnt that I value apologies, not only in themselves but in the effort, respect and self-awareness they represent
As cliché as it is, it was on that battlefield when I learnt who my real friends were by looking around and seeing who was there. It was also when I learnt who I’d thought were my friends; when I found out who I missed and who I forgot; whose voice could make me cry three months after the fact; whose photo inspired me to pick my weapons back up for; whose name made me keep my armour on and sleep with one eye open.
I learnt about myself as well. I learnt that, to a certain extent, I will believe and internalise the blame people assign me. I also learnt the point at which I won’t internalise that anymore, I learnt my breaking point and that there is a point I will start standing up for myself, even if that may be after more permanent war wounds than ideal.
I learnt that I value apologies, not only in themselves but in the effort, respect and self-awareness they represent. I learnt that I want to be able to look back on the situation and feel proud I apologised for my part. I learnt to put in the effort to grow but also to be able to look back and be proud that I stood up for my beliefs, not accept blame and responsibility that doesn’t belong to me. I want to be able to look back at the situation and know that I did the best I could and was as strong as I could be and that I’d rather be alone than bullied and infected with poison.
It wasn’t until the winter after I stopped being friends with them that I understood why it was so tiring being friends with people I once considered my closest friends. It wasn’t until winter that I learnt that real friends will celebrate your wins with you and not be the reasons for your losses, the reason you need to draw your sword.
Friends can be there for you and be an important source of mental health support. But sometimes, you might find that you aren’t getting along, or you no longer feel comfortable in your friendship group. Mental health charity, Young Minds has tips and advice that can help.