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A Great Divide

Dyane Harwood

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,

Dyane

 

Comments

The losses we grieve when we live with bipolar disorder are real and painful. But we learn, too. At the very least we learn compassion for ourselves and for others living with chronic illnesses. I am blessed to have met you and others in our tribe. My life is richer for having friends like you in it. Thank you, Dyane, for putting into words how bipolar disorder affects our lives.

Kitt, ever since we discovered one another through WordPress, I've been truly blessed with your friendship. I consider you to be one of my teachers, but not the kind that pontificates from on high. (thank goodness!) You regard me as an equal and you've treated me with compassion from the moment we met online! I am thrilled to know you've got my back, and I'm there for you as well. What we have is true friendship; the kind that I value more than most anything except for dark chocolate. (Kidding!!!! Joke!!) In all seriousness, your friendship is priceless.

I am battling a drawn out bipolar depression. I am still in a stage that I have difficulty relating to my friends that do not have experience with mood disorders. It takes too much energy to explain. This depression has gone on for so long now that my "normal" friends have moved on without me, unable to stay by my side in my cocoon for so long. I am not easy to be around much of the time. When you don't feel like being "presentable" to socialize that's difficult to explain to someone who hasn't been there. My friends with experience don't care if my hair isn't brushed and I'm still in my pajama pants or that I don't want to go out to the movies but would rather sit at home and watch a video.

Hi Dyane, I can totally relate to you having been diagnosed 27 years ago. I left Jersey 11 years ago after living there for 23 years and have found it difficult to find friends. However, I wouldn't say it's because of my condition but situation. I would suggest making new hobbies and doing different things and getting out of your home as much as possible; even if only to the nearest park. Exercise around nature is a great pick me up. You come to realise that YOU are your best friend. My parents have both moved to the next level and they were my friends too and I know they are around. I met another girl with bi polar and though we hit it off, she unnerved me and we were like two negatives and I had to end that relationship.

I would suggest being out when your not too tired or in a low mood where you are lethargic and let life happen. I'm sure you are quite sociable and will meet people not over internet or communication by text, or emails but by human conversation, face to face. Good luck x

This is interesting to read. I got my diagnosis in 2010,but have been strugeling with the illsnes since 2001(excuse me, but it was years of hell).

Anyway when it comes to friends,I have had the same thought. I lost moste of my friends because of my illness,I didn't feel like staying in touch,i was way to depressed to care about friends.

In 2010 I got medicatet(lamictal and Quetiapin ) for bipolar. after being better for a while I started to miss having a friend that i could releat to and that could releat to me. Despite me having a good boyfriend who was there for me, I felt lonely. I do have some friends now,and I started to talk more to a friend that used to be very close to me. But still, I feel kind of lonely,because the fact that they don't understand why I do what I do/the feelings(except two friends who know depression).
So yeah i thought for a long time that I wanted a friend that has bipolar,just so i culd feel understood or "home".

I do have two friends who have had depression, and know what it feels like to be so depressed that they think of scuicide. I like that I know someone who understand that part,but that might be egoistic of me,because it's not fun to be depressed and i don't wish depression upon people. Still, these two friends are not that close to me,so I feel lonely. I do know that a normal person can not imagin how it is to have bipolar disorder,since "normal" ups and downs are nothing. To many have said "you just have to think positiv",stop feeling sorry for yourself", "get yourself togheter".

I still have periods of highs and lows,but not in the same range,and far less often.(feeling shit now tho)

Maybe all the years whitout medication did something to me,and maybe that's why i want a bipolar friend. Anyway, I like your post and thought,made me feel less lonely for a bit :)

I used to keep my illness under wraps and never tell anyone I was bipolar. People just thought I was a character. But this past year I have let a lot of people go - especially those who are in denial that I am bipolar. I do not need to hear that. I want people to be aware of my illness and recognize when I am getting too obsessive with my thoughts or getting too hyper and winding me up. I feel much more comfortable with people who have some kind of mood disorder and lately there are a lot of us around. I don't want to be told "Oh don't be silly" or "oh don't feel that way". Part of my problem with being bipolar is that I stuffed my feelings most of my life and they came out as an explosion. I want people in my life who at least try to understand me. I think many of us who are bipolar feel life very deeply. I am finally getting in touch with my feelings and I lead a disciplined life. It is so refreshing that after being with this illness for nearly 40 years that I can finally find people to talk to about it or understand. The more of us who do and who try to educate the general public, the better our lives will be, I believe. I have an article on my website on how I manage my illness from the four directions- or earth air fire and water - or mental emotional physical and spiritual. I have been drug free for many years. www.rebirthingplus.com
Thank you all for being in our tribe. We can do this.

Thank you for writing this. I have made good friends in the hospital and in outpatient therapy. They understand my struggles. Deeply. I'll be attending a DBSA meeting next week.

My 19 yr old son Was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of eighteen.. He was a straight A student through out his high school yrs.. He felt suicidal his senior yr. he committed himself in a hospital he came home two weeks later .. He was happy he was sociable with the family he came out of his room.. He went back to school and graduated.. He didn't want anyone to know about his diagnosis ( I believe the ones he did confide in gave him a hard time)..he wouldn't talk to me or his dad.. He stopped taking his meds.. I hated what our relationship turned into, I didn't know at the time I had bipolar.. Josh tried to tell me but of course I wouldn't listen.. We couldn't talk we'd both get angry.. Oct 2, 2013 he committed suicide .. His older brother found him in the back yard two days later.. Our lives are in turmoil at times feels like spinning out of control.. I'm scared sad angry but most of all I feel like a failure as a mom I didn't save him I'm so haunted by the thought that I didn't save him I didn't know he was in my back yard dead for two whole days. We wS beside ourselves so worried cal liking everyone we could think trying to find him.. But it was to late.. I've committed myself a few times since then trying to find a way... I've always self medicated myself my whole life.. I've been clean and sober for six months.. I'm doing it for my eight yr old son or I would just give up.. It's so. Really hard not to.. I'm grateful to have a husband whose supportive,. I just know it's unfair he deserves the same amount of support that I know I'm not giving.. Today I have been very manic or I wouldn't be posting anything on here

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