My best friend who is bipolar recently moved away. Before she left, she thanked me for helping get her through a difficult year, and both of us were pretty choked up and sad that we wouldn’t get to see each other for several months.
I have known her for about a year and a half and periodically, she would push me away, coming up with various reasons why we couldn’t be friends. I would call her out on it, and we would resolve things, but I was always uneasy knowing that it would happen again.
She asked me to keep her in check by making sure she was taking her meds and keeping out of trouble in general (her doctors told her not to drink, and that became a point of frustration for her). She asked me to call her out on her bad behavior, but when I did, she would react angrily. She would always remind me, though, that the people who are closest to her unfortunately bear the brunt of her mood swings.
She had stopped drinking and smoking and was taking her meds. This all helped to greatly improve her overall mood. Things were going well. Then she blew up at me out of nowhere. It turned out that she wanted to drink, she she skipped her meds to do so. Then she decided that one of her drugs wasn’t working, so she stopped it. I told her to schedule an appointment with her therapist and get back on the right drugs and she did.
Before she moved back home, she visited friends and began drinking with them again. Since she has moved home, she has posted about being drunk several times on Facebook – this is the only form of communication we have at this point. She blows me off when I text to ask how she is doing. She has ignored emails. I haven’t even tried calling her because it hurts too much to be treated as if she never knew me.
She moved in with a friend whose husband recently committed suicide. She had told me in the past that this friend was someone she avoided because she was a bad influence – now she lives with her and drinks with her nightly. I told her before that I thought it wasn’t a good situation for her. She told me she would take my opinion into consideration, but moved in with her anyway.
I can’t give up on my friend, but I feel like if I push too hard (I haven’t told her how I really feel: used, hurt, betrayed, etc.) it will backfire. I don’t want to lose my friend, but I can’t stand watching her crash and burn. How can I get through to her?
Sorry it was so long, I wanted to be as detailed as possible.
Wow. Reading this really hit home on a lot of levels. I have been in a similar situation, where I really cared about a friend (who also had bipolar) and when I saw self destructive behaviors taking place, I would try to help and intervene. In no way did I want to seem like “rain on the parade” crew, or the “nagging mom,” but I could see the things she was doing were not helping her, but hurting her instead. As a friend, I definitely did not want to see my friend doing that to herself. Through the beginning of our friendship, I would go above and beyond to try and help her in hopes that I could be someone who could help “fix” her. I always wanted to make things better for everybody. I listened to her and when I would notice things going awry, I would worry to no end and try to talk to her about them. As a result, I mostly received avoidance or anger, which was never my intent. I just wanted to help my friend get better. Eventually, we separated when she sought treatment and then she subsequently moved away.
So, how does this apply to your situation? Well, at the time that I was trying my hardest to help her and making myself a wreck by watching her self-destruct, she was in a place where she either wasn’t ready to get better and let go of those maladaptive behaviors, or she didn’t want to. She was resisting getting better for some reason only she knows. Your friend seems like she may be in that similar place, the place where she is not wanting to get better or maybe isn’t ready to. It’s not that she isn’t listening to what you are saying. She clearly tells you that she will take into consideration your suggestion about not moving in with her friend that was a bad influence, but to her, right now, in the state that she is or was in, the right thing may not necessarily be top on her list. Her list might be driven by a variety of things, of which we don’t know, but it seems that her self-destructive behaviors are the ones she is choosing.
Why might she prefer self-destructive behaviors instead of listening to your suggestions after she specifically asked you to keep her in check? She might be trying to make herself feel better because of some deeper issues. She might be upset about the move and have some feelings that she would rather not deal with and is choosing to turn to alcohol as her way of suppressing those feelings. Sometimes alcohol can be a quick fix for the emotions we don’t want to deal with, but in the long run just do more damage because it affects the medications we are taking. This could be why your friend believes her one medication is not working. After you found this out, she did make an appointment with her therapist when you suggested she do so. It appears that your friend, when she does communicate with you, is listening to your suggestions. While she may not be acting on all of them, she is listening.
The other thing I learned from the situation with my friend, as well as from a few other non-related recent situations, is that sometimes, no matter how much I mean well, when I talk with people and check up on them or inquire on how situations are going, I sometimes give off the impression of the person who is trying to tell everyone what to do. After a few conversations like that, even if they had requested I do that, they begin to distance themselves from me and become quite selective when returning phone calls, emails, or texts. My intentions are clearly to help and be a good friend by honoring their request, but sometimes, when those of us who have bipolar are in a place where we don’t believe we are being self-destructive, or just don’t want to hear (or feel nagged as we view it) about it, we will avoid communications from those people wanting to steer us back to the right path. I’m not saying that it is right by any means, it just seems to be a pattern. In the situation with my friend, she recognized the help I was trying to give and how good of a friend I was trying to be, but it wasn’t until much later. After she had gotten herself better and stabilized, she reached out to me again and told me. I know that I have also done the same things to my friends and loved ones when I have been in that same mental state. When finally snapping back to reality, you realize how skewed your views were and that those people were only looking out for your best interest. Your friend might do the same.
I understand that you don’t want to push too much, but you are feeling hurt and used. I know that you want to be a good friend and you are genuinely concerned about her and her well-being. Sometimes though, the only thing that you can do is to step back for a little bit. If you keep calling and trying to communicate your concerns, she might continue to pull away. If your previous communications were unsuccessful, I’m sure its only frustrating you more and could end up pushing your friend away. I know it seems ridiculous to say step back when you are worried about someone in this type of situation, but too much and trying too hard can end up pushing a person farther away because they can start to feel like they are being nagged, which is not the impression you want them to receive either. They usually don’t want another person to feel accountable to or have to explain themselves to when they are doing things they know aren’t right or things that the person on the other end of the line wouldn’t approve of. Helping her may be just giving her space and letting her be the one to contact you and reach out to you. I would send an occasional text or phone call, maybe an email, every now and then to make sure she is ok, but in those communications, don’t make them all about how she is doing and if she is taking her meds, seeing her doc, etc. Use the email to talk about everyday things and make it a normal email or phone call that you would have with any of your other friends. Then maybe at the end, you could casually ask about her meds and doctor. Try not to keep them centered around her and her illness. That’s not appealing to talk about usually. I know that when I talk to my friends and family, that’s the last thing I want to talk about. Those types of communications will let her know that you are still her friend and still want to be her friend and that may be just what she needs during these times.
Eventually, my friend and I began talking again. We both have been stabilized, for the most part, for a while now. We talk and can send emails and texts and chat on Facebook like none of the bad stuff happened. We both understand that we were at points in our lives where we were unable to handle the kind of friendships that each other offers. We didn’t want the concern or the help at that time, so the avoidance and self-destruction continued. Now, we listen to each other a little more and notice when we aren’t doing well and will inquire, but not really pester or nag. I believe that your friendship is very important to you and your friends health is also a priority. However, your friend has to believe her health is a priority too. If she isn’t in that place, than your efforts will not be responded to in a positive way. To keep the friendship alive, you may have to put mentions of her health on the shelf for right now and just get her talking with you friend to friend on everyday things. She might even open up more to you that way.
Not only is having bipolar disorder a roller coaster, but it’s a roller coaster for our friends and family as well. We truly value the friends we have and those that care about us, unfortunately at times, we just aren’t able to see that clearly. I hope this helps a little bit and hope that you can work things out with your friend.