Lately I’ve been wondering about friendship, including what I can realistically offer as a friend now. To be honest, I don’t have that much to give this summer. It has only been a year since my last hospitalization for bipolar depression.
I’ve had multiple hospitalizations for bipolar disorder since I was diagnosed in 2007 six weeks after the birth of my second daughter.
Despite living with bipolar disorder, in many ways I’m doing well and due to that I’m deeply grateful. I have blessings in my life, and I never forget it for one minute. But I’m still struggling all the same.
Ever since I was released from the hospital in 2013, I haven’t exactly been a social butterfly, to say the least. I let go of some friends, and some friends let go of me. Because of that, I believe it would be nice to develop just one new friendship where I’m able to be my real self. I don’t need a whole crew of friends – one kindred spirit would be plenty for me.
The friends who I feel most comfortable around are ones who have mood disorders. One example is Madeleine. She was diagnosed with bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified; i.e. symptoms of bipolar disorder exist but not fully for a bipolar I or II diagnosis.). We met through a Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA) support group I created several years ago. Madeleine is supportive, thoughtful, and often hilarious! I can be my damaged self around Madeleine without feeling ashamed. She is strong enough to face my ups and downs, and if for some reason she couldn’t handle them at a given time, I know she would be honest with me and tell me her limits.
My friend Lucy suffered postpartum depression and as a result, she chose to take antidepressant medication. The medication served as a godsend to her. While Lucy doesn’t have a chronic illness like I do, I still feel deeply understood by her. Unfortunately we rarely see one another in person, but she stays in touch with me through the internet.
Lastly, I’m fortunate to have Anne in my life. She’s a mom who I neglected to keep in contact with during my years of hospitalizations. Anne reconnected with me only a few weeks ago. She suffers with depression and she’s incredibly compassionate. I feel at ease in Anne’s presence – that’s no small thing in my book! I’m thankful that she chose to reach out to me again.
I have a couple other mom friends who don’t have mood disorders but they are more like acquaintances. I stay connected with them for a couple reasons: our children have longtime friendships with one another, and I genuinely like these women.
This is not an exhaustive list of my friends, but I have very few close friends. I realized that I have more close internet friends than “IRL” (in real life) ones! Don’t get me wrong - I love my internet friends, but it’s a different kind of connection, and I believe we benefit from a balance of both types.
Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I had twice as many friends as I do now; some of them were very close to me, others were more of the acquaintance variety. We all know that friendships are precious and they’re also a slippery slope to navigate, especially when living with bipolar disorder. I know I’m limiting myself by focusing on finding a friend who lives with a mood disorder. I have a feeling that the longer I remain stable, the more likely I’ll reach out to make friends regardless of whether or not they live with a mental illness. But for now, I feel compelled to spend time with those from my “tribe” of people. Ideally I’d love a friend who can empathize with me, understand my limits on how much I can offer as a friend, and who don’t harbor stigma. I think the fact that I’m open to ultimately one day changing my attitude towards friendships is helping me to accept this is where I’m at for now.
I would love to know how any of you who live with mental illness regard and handle your friendships with those who aren’t living with bipolar disorder, depression, anxiety, etc.
Take care and thanks for reading,