How has bipolar affected friendships throughout your lives? What was it like when you first discussed your illness with friends? How long did it take for you to feel comfortable being open with friends about your illness?
“Give me one friend, just one, who meets the needs of all my varying moods.” – Esther M. Clark
In my life, I’ve been privileged enough to have MORE than just on friend that has put up with my moods. Two of which have been around the longest. (NOT that my more recent friends aren’t equally as awesome!!!) But these two friends have been through all my ups and oh so many downs since high school. They may or may not deserve big fat trophies for tolerating the crazies! (oooh title for my next book!)
To be honest, friendship has always come quite easily for me. I meet people, I charm them with my dashing good looks … ok well probably more with my personality or something … and the world smiles on us. Just like that (sorta) I’ve got a new friend. HOWEVER, I’m horrible at maintaining and keeping friends.
When I was young, friendships were difficult. I just never felt like I fit in. Either I was too short, not part of someone’s family, or just couldn’t find people who could grasp the concepts my mind concocted. I specifically remember being in the forth grade and spending a crap ton of time in the hallway with my teacher and friends trying to explain how it was possible that although over all I thought they were friends, at that minute I did not like them even a tiny bit. Apparently, at the time, I was the only 10 yr old who understood the concept of, “I can love you, but I don’t have to like you right now.” And with my moods, I experienced that concept often.
For the most part I tried to keep to myself or else hang out with people outside my own school or grade. People who didn’t deal with me every day and see my crazy outbursts or emotional break downs. It was much easier to keep them around. And at the time, I had no clue what the problem was. I didn’t understand why I was so emotional and easily offended. Or why other people’s parents thought I was manipulative when number one I had no idea what the word meant and number two I had no clue how the heck I was doing it.
I made friends, but rarely kept them. And when I hit high school it didn’t get much better. I’d make friends, but my mood swings would irritate them and I would either unintentionally offend them or they would slowly back away from our friendships. I felt like a loser. Like somehow all these people were better than me. I stayed friendly with everyone, but I also stayed distant.
Sophomore year I met Tree (We like nick names on this blog!) and we bonded over Yellow Fuzzy Balls (Tennis). She introduced me to Spiff and through the years the three of us have grown very close (then apart, then close again, then apart, then close….and so on and so forth) We had a lot of falling-outs, usually over boys. But for the most part, they stuck around through my mood swings. I think they knew something was wrong, even suggested it at times.
My senior year I was diagnosed with depression. I went through MANY ups and downs with my friends. I could be wrong, but I think they got irritated with my many MANY mood swings. I would do stupid things or get pissed off about stupid things (usually boys….ah teenage angst) and we’d go months without talking. But for the most part, they were always there with open arms when I came back.
After school I suffered from even more ups and downs. It was hard to maintain even the best of friendships because no one ever understood what I was going through, how I felt or why I made the poor decisions that I did. I was always having money troubles, I got pregnant and married young, my marriage itself was an emotional roller coaster. Pretty much I was just a ticking time bomb that would explode over and over again.
These were the moments in my life where friendships were almost impossible. When I was at my worst, I was usually friendless, and not necessarily because they didn’t want to be around, but mainly because I didn’t want to be around anyone at all. It was hard for me to decipher if they just didn’t want to be there for me through the hard times, or if I had actually pushed them away. I can only imagine how hard it was for them to deal with all of this.
In 2007, I lost and/or gave up almost everything that was important to me. My house, my job, my credit and worst of all, my friends. I was falling deeper and deeper into the worst depression of my life and I hated them all for not noticing. How could they not notice? We’d been friends for years. How dare they be caught up in their own lives. When I drove myself to the hospital I made a decision that I was done with everything. Done with trying to make people understand, done with trying to be the things I just couldn’t be, and done with trying all together.
I pushed my friends far away, blaming them for everything. Forgetting, that friendships take two people and that although they were probably not 100% not at fault, neither was I. I had hurt them all just as much if not more than they had hurt me, but what was worse was, they had no clue WHY I had done these things. And that was the way I preferred it.
I surrounded myself with people who didn’t know me. I was careful about who I became close to, always holding my friends at a great distance. Never telling them much about me, never letting them really see me for who I was. If I was down, I was a ghost. I stayed far away and wallowed alone. I had a couple friends I confided in and I love them for sticking by me, but I couldn’t even keep those friendships up.
I was the illusive friend. And those who tried to get close to me, I pretty much sabotaged the friendship. Some on purpose, some not, but I just couldn’t keep it together. I was on meds and going to counseling but I still wasn’t healed. I was making horrible life choices, considering divorce and I had finally hit rock bottom.
That was the point where I started talking to Spiff again. I told her what had happened with my other friends, about the poor choices I was making, and I pretty much confessed to her everything, thinking she’d probably run and think I had totally fallen off the deep end. Instead, she reached out her hand and held me up from banging my head against the bottom. She empathized with everything I’d been through and told me how so much of our friendship now made sense after knowing my diagnosis.
When I found out my friend Tree was pregnant, my heart ached. I was supposed to be the one throwing her a baby shower, giving her pregnancy advice, sympathizing with her over morning sickness, but I was still so hurt and I knew she was too, so I just couldn’t go back. It wasn’t until after she had her baby that I finally found the cahones to send her an email apologizing for everything I’d done and explaining why I had done those things. Slowly we rebuilt our broken friendship.
Regaining their friendships, as well as gaining new ones and repairing some other old ones, has made all the difference in my recovery. I have people that, although they may not understand, they support me. (Even when I’m flipping out about nothing…and believe me, I do it!!!) I’m finally comfortable with who I am and that I just happen to have an illness that sometimes makes me a pain in the ass, and I’m not afraid to talk about it. I’m not afraid to warn my friends that I’m difficult. I no longer blame them for my shortcomings. And I no longer push my friends away. I do sometimes withdraw, as that is just who I am, but I usually let them know why I’m doing that as well.
I refuse to hide behind my disorder. I am who I am, and those who love me understand that, and keep me around despite it.
In essence, this is a BIG THANK YOU to all my friends, past and present. Even if I haven’t mentioned you in this post (I just happen to be abundantly blessed in the friendship department these days) I DID think of you and mention you without names. I love you guys so much you have no idea.
So to all my favorite people past, present, and future (and you KNOW who you are, *cough* Mindy, Sara, Amanda, Crystal, Holly, Chantal, Susan, Linda, my AMAZING sisters, Linnaea, Ellie, Becca, Krista, Tori, Audra, Becky, Dorothy, Amy, Cammy, Brianne, Kristina, my kick ass cousin Adrienne, and OMG if I forgot your name it’s because I’m a little overwhelmed by this ridiculously long list at the moment *cough*) THANK YOU for being there.
You all hold a huge place in my heart!