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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! ?

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Comments

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.

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).

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