Detoxing From The Toxic

10 signs your "friend" is toxic, and how to save yourself

Detoxing From The Toxic
One of my own shots when I first started with photography, on an enlightening trip through British Columbia.

When they talk about postpartum depression, they talk solely about it being as a result of new motherhood, or the overwhelming emotions and stresses caused thereby. They don't stop and ask, "What kind of support network do you have? How do your parents treat you? How do your friends respond when you need help, or ask for advice? What do you think about leaving baby with someone else? What do you think about YOU? Are you still able to make time for yourself and the things you want? Aside from being a mother, and all the other things you already were?"

How would you answer those questions? If they hadn't crossed your mind before, they'll definitely be stuck there all day today. This is why writing in a journal can be so helpful. You can identify your emotions and all the triggers a lot more efficiently when you have the time to sit down and write exactly what's on your mind.

Depression was starting to sink its roots deep in my body when my dear friend came and pulled me out of the boiling pot I found myself stuck in, several months ago. I was in a state of mind that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. I felt unloved, worthless, and entirely out of hope that there was anything good laying in wait for me. I felt like I made no difference in anyone's life, except for my son, and sometimes I wondered if I was dragging him down too, just by having me as a mother rather than someone "better" or "more qualified".

Ironically, when my son was first born, I could not have felt more ready to have a child. I could not have spent more time imagining the life-defining moments that I would get to sit, holding him and nuzzling him while I would rock silently in my chair. I knew I wasn't perfect. I knew my home would not be perfect. But I knew I wanted my child, and I knew I would be the best mom I could be for him - whether I knew nothing about parenting, or everything. And I specifically, knew absolutely nothing.

But there he was. The sweet, helpless little soul I had lived my entire lifetime to bring into this world, was finally here and I could finally live my joy as I had always imagined it. I held him, I nursed him within half hour of his birth, and I had a quick nap while the nurses tended to him.

Daniel was everything I asked for and more. I couldn't wait to do more with him.

But at that particular time, inexperience and anxiety gripped me by my throat and the next thing I knew, I had family members and friends all stepping over my toes telling me what to do and how to do it, and then shaming me behind my back for being so uneducated about child-rearing. They all think I have no idea. They all think that talking in a small town doesn't circulate back to the person you talked about. But even I learnt the hard way - if you say something hurtful about someone, there is a one hundred percent chance that they will know exactly what was said and who said it - even if they never confront you about it.

I stayed at the hospital for four days before finally feeling comfortable and confident enough to take our son home and start life there with him. My husband and I agreed that I was ready to spend my first day alone with Daniel while he went off to work. I felt nervous, sure, but I also felt ready for some time away from the steady visitors who had floated through the hospital, including my own parents and siblings, and many many friends. Of course the visits were appreciated - but I was exhausted! I hadn't even gotten to form any idea of what to do or how to do it, in regards to handling my newborn son!

Well I still didn't catch a break. Within hours of starting my very first day alone with my son, my own sister insisted on visiting despite my assurances that I was fine on my own. She stopped in, shocked that I had not in fact lit the wood stoves yet since it was so cold outside. Something my mom and dad had commented on countless times in preparation of Daniel's arrival. "Make sure you guys gather up lots of wood and keep both wood stoves and the furnaces going in this house - it's too big to keep a warm temperature with one furnace running alone, and it will be way too cold for a little baby when he gets here!"

Our home is a mobile home attached to a half-building of a home, with the original intention being that the mobile home was to eventually be removed and replaced with the other half of a house, but so far the time and money has not been present to enable this to happen, so we live in a seven bedroom home with two furnaces and two wood stoves, but for the longest time, the furnace in the new half was not operational (I don't know why) and our intention was to have it up and running before Daniel was born, but we hadn't quite gotten that far yet.

It did not take long before a whole troop came marching into my home without warning later that day - my mom and dad, and my sister and all her kids. The wood stoves were not lit. One furnace was on and the other was not. I hadn't concerned myself with it because our resting temperature inside our home was still a decent twenty degrees Celsius, and my husband had assured me it was fine enough as it was, until he could get home from work and tend to starting fires and getting the second furnace up and running. My goal that day was one thing - be with my new baby, and cope with some emotions of my own while resting and taking everything one minute at a time.

Instead, while their intentions were no doubt good ones, my family invaded my house without permission, surrounded my sleeping baby, and then proceeded to express frustration with me for not listening to them (my father specifically) and having the stoves lit and both furnaces going. I was abruptly told not to be surprised if my son might end up sick or dying from the cold circumstances of our home as a result. Tears flooded my eyes and I attempted to speak, but stumbled instead in the face of my father's demanding stare, and I simply argued we had not had time. When instead I should have demanded they all leave, and called them later on to apologize and explain that they did not have the right to enter my home uninvited or to make me feel the way they had. He huffed angrily anyway, and took the troops and stormed out of my home. I sat on the couch and cried, the first day I had been solely responsible for my son, and felt doomed to be a failure of a mother. The memory of that day will always haunt me, and it is always the go-to for my negative inner voice on days that I'm hard on myself. It's taken a lot of work mentally, but I'm slowly letting it go. I don't hold a resentment toward my family for it anymore, since I don't believe that they meant to make me feel so poorly.

The devastation continued even beyond my family mistakenly making me feel like a bad mother. The next thing to come my way was the words of wisdom - the always contradicting words of wisdom, from all of our friends. One friend telling me to bathe my son this way - the next telling me to bathe him completely the opposite. One friend suggesting one solution to a pooping problem, and the other suggesting several.

I didn't mind the advice, from anyone. But I didn't always follow it. Sometimes I simply did what I thought was best. Even with inexperience - Daniel is my son and I know him better than anyone else, so in certain situations, I do know better than anyone else what will work for him and what won't.

It wasn't until I heard the whispers come back to me. Friends who I trusted, sharing details of my motherhood experience with coworkers and other friends, and berating me for a lack of experience and genuinely having no clue how to handle certain aspects of motherhood, like it was something they felt ashamed for, for me. Well it's okay to be new at things the last I checked, isn't it? And it's okay to ask for help, isn't it? I'm not ashamed of my experience. I learn lots every single day, raising my son. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Some friends just aren't your friends, no matter how many chances you give them, or how good you treat them. Sometimes people are toxic for you, and it's hard to see what's really going on. So let's get to the point, and I'll show you the ten signs I look for with friends (AND family, don't worry!) to identify whether they are toxic for me or not, and I'll explain how I have proceeded to handle my relationships with them, and whether I am willing or unwilling to continue associating with them period.

1. So my NUMBER ONE identifier of a toxic person? They're gossipy. They can talk and talk and talk your ear off, only about one thing - other people. Whoever is not in the room at that time always gets a turn on the chopping table, including you. It's not hard to catch on - a gossiper never talks about anything positive - they only ever want to dish out the latest dirt they got on someone, and they make it their mission to be the first one to know anything about you.

2. They live in a soap opera. Everything about them - every waking moment of their life is drama, drama, drama. There's never a dull moment and there's always something happening - someone up to no good, that they have to tell you about. And you better react - show some empathy, for goodness' sake! (That's me being sarcastic, in case you didn't guess.)

3. They are critical, and don't hesitate to discredit you. Honesty, meet asshole-ness. You know all those quotes about how the better person is always the truthful one, blah blah blah? Yeah, um. It's okay to look at your drunk friend at the bar and say, "Okay Jackie, you've had a few too many, it's time to go home before you feed yourself to wolf-eyes over there and have more than a hangover to explain to your husband tomorrow." It's not okay, however, to look at someone and say, "You wouldn't be in this situation with your husband if you had just treated him better - just being honest." Nope. You're being a jerk, and not only criticizing, but also hurting someone you call a friend. Yup, you're toxic!

4. They're unhappy. You never hear them speak in a positive light. There's always something wrong, somewhere, somehow, and the world seems out to get them. How do they cope with this? By complaining about their plight while putting others down through gossip as a desperate means to feel better about themselves. Just an FYI - it doesn't work. Stop talking about everyone else, and your crappy situation, and actually go DO something about it to make yourself happy.

5. They're extremely judgmental. Ever talk to someone, and they begin talking about that miserable married couple down the block, with striking lifestyle similarities to your own? And the comments they make about his lifestyle before he married her, and what her intentions must be with him, and how poorly everyone in town really thinks of them - and you're thinking, "Wow, Jessica, it's like you're telling me to my face just what garbage you really think I am, but in a completely indirect way!" And have you ever tried to offer your own, contradictory opinion in these situations? I bet you were quickly interrupted so that Jessica could continue on her judgmental rampage after making sure you understood that while she has no problem dishing it, she will not take it. Hypocrite alert! Hypocrite alert!

6. They lack empathy. You're feeling ready to jump off a bridge? They will drive you to the bridge to watch you jump, but they won't step in to stop you, or say "Hey man, I've been there. I can relate. Let's figure this out in a better way. I'm here for you."

7. They're jealous. Have you ever had something so incredible happen to you that you just want to share it with your friends and share the happiness - but then there's that one friend who backs away and ducks into the shadows, either avoiding you or giving you a simple, empty, clap for congratulations? Or even the one who immediately reaches for the pessimistic reasoning. They identify all the things wrong with your achievement, and the future repercussions you might face if you let the happiness get to your head. That's a blood-sucking vampire, out to drain your joy from you so you can join them in their dark depths of misery, where they feel you belong as long as they didn't get the same things you just did.

8. You can't trust them. You care about them, but deep down you know very well that anything you say to them can and will be used against you at every beneficial opportunity for them.

9. They're stubborn, and controlling. Things have to go as they dictate or things don't go well at all. Sometimes you find they even sabotage situations to prove that if you would have done it their way, you wouldn't have had this problem.

10. They hold a mean grudge. Did you do something to displease them? You're not going to continue the friendship and get away with it, believe me. You will be put through all sorts of Hell first, and make no mistake - you will learn never to mistreat them again, or else!

So in my lifetime, I regret to say that most of the people who have come and gone were toxic rather than healthy for me. It's taken an incredibly long time, and a lot of self reflection and work to be a better, healthier person myself, to realize what kind of people are right for me and what ones are not. My situation is unique, just like everyone else has their own life and circumstances they have lived and continue to live now. But whether you want to continue living with toxicity in your life is ultimately your choice.

I can relate to those of you who immediately think, "Well So-and-so is toxic, but I can't just cut them out of my life because (insert any of a number of reasons why, here.)" And absolutely - some people just cannot be cut off. Thankfully for my situation, I have drawn the line and cut all contact with a multitude of toxic individuals, and I do hope I can keep it that way.

But, inevitably, there are several people in my life who I have to continue associating with. So my method is simple. No one-on-one. I will no longer answer text messages or phone calls from certain people, and I will only ever speak to them or associate with them if it is in the presence of others, or a casual bump into one another at the grocery store. I will not divulge personal details of my life or my activities, and I will not ask this of them. I will simply carry on polite, respectful conversation as long as the toxic party is able to hold up, or I will change the topic of conversation if they cannot. The last resort for me will be to end the conversation with a white-lie excuse if they cannot resist prying at my life or trying to gossip about someone we both know. "Sorry to cut this short - the baby sitter is expecting me in five minutes and I can't be late! It was nice seeing you, I'll talk to you later!"

It's simple and it's effective, and it is saving my mental health for the first time in a long time. I'm not enabling the abusive behaviour any longer. And I hope if you read this that you have come away with a trick or two to help yourself as well.

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

advice
Read next: 'Chocolate Kisses'
Rhea Bombay
See all posts by Rhea Bombay