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Friendship Exhaustion?

Christi Huff

Recently, I took a huge nose dive in the roller coaster I like to call, My Illness. I thought I had everything under control, but by “under control” I really meant “hidden under the surface festering and stockpiling for the perfect moment to burst and destroy.” Boy did it destroy. I found myself out of work under the Family Medical Leave Act and facing the end of my marriage. I was stuck in the depression hole and barely coasting along with my only grasp on reality being my friends.

After a while, I began to wonder if being my friend, or a friend to someone who has bipolar disorder, was too exhausting or taxing because of the bipolar disorder, or if friends just accept it as part of who we are and don’t see the mood swings as an issue on the relationship as friends. Since I know that if I asked my friends directly, they would definitely not respond honestly, I used Survey Monkey (which allows you to ask the questions and gather the responses anonymously) so all participants would be assured that I would not discover who they were. I posted the survey on my Facebook page and encouraged others in various Facebook groups for those with bipolar disorder, to share the survey link with their friends. Of course this is by no means scientific, but I did get over 20 responses to the question: “What is it like to be friends with me (or your friend with bipolar), or to have been friends with me (or your friend with bipolar), because we have bipolar?”

Before I read the responses I braced myself for the worst. I was prepared to see a whole string of responses that read something along the lines of “I just can’t handle being friends anymore because it is so emotionally draining trying to pull them up,” or “Why can’t they just be happy and stop wallowing. I’m sick of it.” After reading the responses I was actually surprised. Almost half of the responses said that being friends with someone who has bipolar is either no different than any other friendship, or that even though it has its ups and downs, it’s not hard being friends with someone who has bipolar. That actually made me feel a lot better when it came to my own views on how my friends were feeling when I looked at my own situation (although, I could have probably sucked it up and just asked them).

However, there were still a lot of responses that had negative opinions. There were friends who were admitting to being scared of our lows because they don’t know what to do or say because of some of the things we say or do when in our various states, such as withdrawl or talks of suicide. One response even said that we were selfish and we use our illness as an excuse to be ignorant of the world around us. It went on to say that we were self-centered and created a fantasy drama world in our heads, we were impossible to deal with and they wanted to throw in the towel. I understand that sometimes dealing with someone who has bipolar disorder can be exhausting (the whole reason I wanted to investigate this to begin with) so, I can understand someone responding to the question in this manner as well. It appears that not everyone can handle being friends with someone who has bipolar and it could be for a variety of reasons. Maybe they have their own overwhelming situations or maybe they don’t fully understand bipolar disorder so they don’t know how to handle it and just need education. I could list a plethora of reasons why someone could respond like this, but the fact is that not everyone is equipped to handle a friendship with someone who has bipolar disorder.

When looking for positive support systems, the friends you choose are important. They are the ones who are going to be there when you take the nose dive into the depression hole and the ones who are going to be there to help you in your quest to pull yourself out. Being aware of which friends can handle being there for you in the bad as well as the good is an essential part of your recovery. Relying on those individuals that are not capable of handling you when you are at your low will only cause more strain because you are each trying to give something you don’t have. It doesn’t help either of you. We all don’t need to do surveys to determine who can handle us when we are at our worst, we can simply chat with our friends about it. Many of our friends might be glad that we asked how our episodes make them feel and they may be glad to share with us the ways they can be there for us, which, will benefit both of us in the end! ?



A new found friend that is bipolar and a very stricted religion back ground. I still don't fully understand myself. Being blown off on meetings at the last minute is overly stressful to me. But it always comes with a lie. Why cant she just say I'm not in the mood or I don't feel up to it. I'm trying to understand. Thanks for the post. Helpful

I understand this must be so frustrating for you. As a bipolar sufferer I totally understand why she makes other excuses. I hate to have my illness at the forefront of my mind and I try to use 'it' as little as I can to justify my behaviour because we (bipolar sufferers) are constantly judged if we use it or hide behind it. Also, because we seemingly may not have any external stressors / triggers at the time, if we use how we feel aka our mood as the reason for things, people often don't understand because they can't see 'why'. I found that this happens more and more as time goes by, almost like the further away from your diagnosis, the less people remember you have it, or maybe they just think it was a temporary illness that surely must now be cured. I'm not saying whether these things are all true to your friend and it doesn't make it any less frustrating for you. But it might shed some light. Perhaps ask her?

My friend has recently been diagnosed after a manic episode that has landed her in the psych ward. So many things are coming out of the woodwork- she has been covering up her illness or been misdiagnosed for so many years- her family and friends are learning of a huge intricate web of very hurtful lies and behaviors that we have all been told are related to this disease. I want to support her but I can't do it at the expense of myself. I am willing to start fresh with her as she is now actually being treated for the right illness but when do you know to draw a line between behavior that is unacceptable in anyone else who is your friend and supporting them through their illness?

My friend is bipolar and I'm on the verge of unfriending him... my mental health is suffering. ..I'm so down at the moment... apparently I don't click yes on enough of his Facebook stuff... he wants to know every thought and everything about what I'm up and if I don't tell him it's because I'm not a good friend... I know it's partly his illness but Ive been through a bit myself these last few years and he's made some of those bad times even worse... I just don't know where to turn :( x

I see your question was posed in July and it is now October... I hope things have improved between yourself and your friend. I myself am bipolar, and I am going to tell you something that I have a very hard time verbalizing - so much so that I have tears in my eyes as I type: You are correct, you cannot be this person's friend at the expense of yourself. If he/she is toxic to you, you need to, as gently as possible, make yourself unavailable to this person. It's hard for me to be this kind of honest with you, because I myself have done the same thing to a few of my friends as your friend has done to you. And therefore, I have lost some friendships that meant a lot to me. Once bitten, twice shy - even though losing those friendships was entirely my fault, I now fear pursuing new friendships because I am afraid of repeating my mistakes.
Those who have bipolar disorder often do not realize when they are being so obsessive. Seems impossible, but it is true. I say all that to say you need to put space between you, and if you feel you must address the issue with your friend, really think about how you will "let them down". Try to stay away from blaming, and make it about you. "I am not emotionally strong enough to be a good friend to you..." and go from there. It will be VERY painful for your friend, but avoiding the blame game will help. I hope this helps.

Jenny, thank you so much for posting this reply. I'm in a very tough situation with my friend who carries a bipolar I diagnosis. I give so much of myself to our friendship, yet receive nothing in return. I have been considering, for a few weeks now, that for my own mental health, I have to leave this friendship. I recently went through a horrid break-up, a loved one passed away, and am currently battling cancer (amongst a million other little life things, but hey life is life). She has yet to reach out to me regarding any of the above. The other day she called wanting to vent about her marriage. When I explained I could not speak with her at the time because of the items above, she said "Ok" and ended the call. This is a friend who I have extended the most of myself to try and help. I feel like pieces of me have been chipped away trying to help her through the lows and now there is nothing left for me to give. I have been harboring a massive amount of guilt for thinking that I have to get out of this friendship, knowing that she will not have anyone else, but your response has now given me the courage and strength I need to acknowledge that I cannot continue to give myself to her anymore.

I love a friend who knows he is bipolar, has been treated with medication but quit them. I can only say that in our friendship, I try to focus on his intelligence, interests and I listen even when he talks for a long time non stop. I know he is a good man, he knows he needs help, and is coming to terms with it. Even though he has been extremely irritable and really mean to me, I remember he does care about me. I will decide in the future if it becomes too unhealthy for both of us to see each other daily, but right now I'm standing by him. Sometimes it feels awful; when this happens, I take a break and always promise I'll be back and he can call anytime. We also have other close friends so neither of us isolate, as tempting as it is. It would probably help to mention that I have MDD, so we're both struggling. Our goal is peace of mind, whether or not our relationship works out. It's hard, but I do try to change my negative thinking around and it helps. Let's just say, "it's complicated."

A dear, dear person in my life (once in my life) suffers from the illness of bipolar. Our friendship has always been long distance (literally half a world away), but we grew incredibly close, incredibly quick. Then, she peeled away, a bit at first (albeit abruptly enough for me to notice, immediately) but in time to such an extent that all that has remained is a memory. I cannot possibly begin to communicate the pain the experience brought into my life. It's been a long while (years) but to this day I struggle (and hurt, a lot).

I've had this happen to me as well, grew incredibly close so fast to a friend I had never even met. 6-7 years into the friendship now I have no regrets. We crossed paths on the internet at 16 and she lives about 45 min away and we are both 21. We lost touch for 3 years though, it was hard for me to focus on anything because I was constantly worried about her. Plus her life was spiraling down and I didn't want to witness her struggle. I regret not being there for those 3 years because after getting in touch again, she could have used a friend like me. If you put up with them, they will see it and love you more than anything in this world. They will appreciate you. When the lows are low, they will say stuff they don't mean. I often have to convince myself that it isnt her, it's her bipolar. She will be distant at times and It'll bother me, and I confront her about it and she takes it as her not meeting up to my expectations. Which isn't what I'm trying to say. I try and let her know that I want to remain close to her and want to be that friend for her, not make her feel bad for not making time. I have much experience with bipolar disorder because of her. I also took two psych classes so I kind of know what's going on. When I was 16 I didn't really know what to think of it.

I sometimes find it difficult to deal with the lows that come with my friend, I dont know if its the bipolar or a trait of his own personality, but he becomes very sensitive to what is said and will often read it out of context or pick at it until the topic of conversation degenerates into something less friendly. When he's like that, I find it difficult to talk to him because it seems no matter what I say it will be turned around in his mind to be negative or criticising. As much as I love him, I don't know what to do or how to react when he's like that and it hurts me and hurts him equally when we try to talk it out. I'm at my wits end and its getting to the stage where I'm afraid to talk to him for more than a moment at a time for fear the conversation is going to take another emotional nose dive without my even realising it until its too late to turn it back around. I've recently suffered from depression myself and am still working through some things and these conversations are dragging me down and making me reluctant to communicate at all. Any suggestions?

I have a bipolar friend, and I don't know how to deal with him. I'm gay, so I'm scared of the far-right, and he had recently come out as a far right sympathiser. He posts tons and toms of pretty obnoxious posts on Facebook, then tells me not to take it seriously, it's his condition. He always blames the condition and doesn't ever take any responsibility for his behaviour, so he expects me to take all the shit he flings, and then for me to actually pity him for it. If I do this I'm not treating him like an adult. He often tells me I'm his best friend, an accolade I can't reciprocate, but I feel a responsibility to him without liking him that much. Beyond our childhood we have nothing in common, he seems to have no idea of what I'm actually like, doesn't ask me any questions about me or my life, it's just him him him, he lashes out and then instead of apologising expects sympathy. So I'm in this 'friendship' with someone who has no interest in me, frequently offends me and then expects me to not just suck all that up, but to be incredibly sympathetic. This friendship takes place mostly online, but I feel if it had been more 'in real life', it would have ended a long time ago. Any advice?

I'm not completely sure, but I believe a friend of mine is dealing with bipolar disorder. I want to be there for her and be a good friend, but whenever I'm around her, I feel drained both physically and mentally. I'm rather introverted and she is very hyper, easily agitated, and clingy. I'm not saying she's like this all the time; sometimes she's a lot of fun to hang out with, but, to be blunt, most of the time I feel strangled when she's around. I feel awful for saying all this, but I was wondering if others were going through something similar and had some advice. Thank you for reading.

Hi... strangled is exactly how I feel. My friend with bipolar makes me feel suffocated. He's lost other friends and if I'm honest I'm hanging on by a thread. My post is posted above... he tells me on selfish and tells me I'm nasty to him...I'm not I'm just straight, yes he has bipolar but I'm a human and I refused to spoken to like he does. Though he's impossible to argue anything with as it's twisted and turned back on me. His illness now causes me to be depressed...I don't see us being lifelong friends. .:( x

Hi... strangled is exactly how I feel. My friend with bipolar makes me feel suffocated. He's lost other friends and if I'm honest I'm hanging on by a thread. My post is posted above... he tells me on selfish and tells me I'm nasty to him...I'm not I'm just straight, yes he has bipolar but I'm a human and I refused to spoken to like he does. Though he's impossible to argue anything with as it's twisted and turned back on me. His illness now causes me to be depressed...I don't see us being lifelong friends. .:( x

I have a good friend with bi polar. When she is well, I enjoy her company and a normal friendship. When she is ill, her demands on me are exhausting. She will call and text constantly, day and night and up to 100 times a day. She knows I am at work and have a family but if I ignore her calls, she continues until I pick up or answer. Also, I worry that she will put herself in vulnerable situations so I feel obliged to answer to make sure she is ok. When she is well, I can explain to her how her behaviours impact on me and she understands, but we fall back to the same pattern on each instance of high/low. I have no intention of 'unfriending' her because of this but just wanted to share my experience. She is ill at the moment - I'm exhausted from calls all through the day and night for the last week.

After reading these comments I can take a tid bit from each of them and apply it to my relationship with someone who is bi-polar. I have become very hard towards her because of the excuses she makes for everything. She said they are reasons not excuses. I believe there's a solution to every problem and she hates that. Ha. She accuses me of being rude and negative. That I think she is lazy and worthless. I tried to explain that it something I have learned from her. So of course I think that and she has said it herself. I'm introvert as well so the clinginess is hard at times. She says I'm a dream crusher as well. She said if I understood the pieces would fit together. I'm just at my wits end.

I dated this girl for 5 years and she had told me from the start that she was bipolar. The first couple years were good and then it all changed. I became her punching bag. I know she didn't mean some of the things she said but how is a person supposed to just carry on like nothing is wrong. I would try to talk to her but then I was just negative and being "mean". I left her a year ago but we have tried to remain friends as we share 2 dogs together. But it has not gotten any easier. I am dating a new girl now and she has been very understanding with the multiple phone calls or text messages from my ex. However my ex has no consideration for time of day. She says "I am her person" so any time she has something to tell me she calls or text whether its 2 AM or 2 PM. I am trying to be a supportive friend, but I am losing my mind. It's like I am dating 2 girls. I want to ignore her most of the time but am afraid of how she will react or what she will do. I am her only friend but I know that is not my problem. She pushed everyone away. I am a "try and help everyone" person and I just cant in this situation. My girlfriend keeps telling my its not my responsibly to take care of her any more. Helping, losing it...

I have a bipolar friend who doesn't exhaust me, but, uses me as he pleases then back i go on a shelf until next time. Everything is his way or the highway. For awhile I thought I need patience and should be more giving but now I'm just so angry at him for using me again - this is the third time, previously I ended things x2. He either makes a convincing argument or it's me being ridiculous so I've stuck around.

My bff calls him a con man, promises but no reward.

Because of his bipolar I'm afraid to be rightfully angry or to hurt him - even though I'm not convinced he even has feelings (he has said as much). I often wonder if I'm the crazy one here, and I hate that. Last time he hurt me severely he just whined how the loss of me affected HIM, not Gee I'm sorry I'm a jerk.

I'm just conflicted today. He's a liar and the evidence today, I'm just upset for being fooled AGAIN. And I don't know if it's his illness or he's just a jerk. (He has many wonderful qualities too). He claims he's not a jerk, he's just self absorbed and I shouldn't take things in a way that it isnt intended.

I'm just so frustrated! I wish he would just never contact me again.

You and I must know the same person. He's the most narcissistic person I've ever met yet he's also the most charming and convincing when he wants something. It's hard not to take being treated so crappy time after time personally, but can he help it? He can say the most hateful words that cut your soul in pieces but he'll make your crumble by his appreciation of having you around once he calms down and the phase passes. Which part is him (a huge jerk) and which part is the illness? Are we simply gullible or trying really hard to be a friend? I have a picture in my head that I'm standing in quick sand while trying to help him over a wall and his weight is sinking me in deeper.

I recently reconnected with a friend from elementary school, three decades later. During the first month, she was exuberant, enthusiastic, and witty when we saw each other.

Then she became depressed and suddenly the amount of contact she wants has increased to an overwhelming level. She sends me messages and audio messages on Whatsapp constantly. I checked the number of messages received in the past two months and it was around 2,000 compared to around 300 of my replies. My friend starts sending messages around 7am each day and carries on until she goes to sleep, and if she sees me on Whatsapp typing, she will call so that I have no choice but to answer.

The exuberant friend she was in the beginning must have been when she was going through a manic phase. During the current depressed cycle, I don't really know how to help her because nothing I say or suggest seems to make any difference. So I just listen and try to be supportive, but it's draining me and seriously affecting my work (I'm self employed and need uninterrupted time to focus). When my friend was a child, she didn't have bipolar or any of the many, many physical health issues that she has now. I want to be supportive, and I've come to realize that the only way I can sustain this friendship with her is if I set firm boundaries.

I'm starting to put the boundaries in place by first deciding what I can handle and then trying to move the friendship towards those parameters. The main boundary is reducing the constant contact to a manageable amount. I want to move toward only replying to text or calls within a certain 1-hour time frame in the evening after my young child is in bed. So far, I have started only returning her calls in that window and have told that time is the best time to call so that I won't miss her call. Next, I'm going to message back that I really need to work, but will respond to her in more detail that evening. I'm sure that setting boundaries is the way to go with her!

I read through all the above comments and two things happened; I care for my friend so much, then he says I have no idea how he feels and goes on a verbal rampage about things I don't comment on. He then furthers the conversation by not being acknowledged enough. His intellect is off the scale, but so are assumptions he comes up with. I cannot show intimacy he says it disgusts him. Seven months of never Knowing how to behave is taking it's toll. I have had issues of depression...when something positive happens in my life he complains about how little I care...This is so imbalanced. Yet I am attracted to his humour and intellect. I need input please!

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