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! ?