When Mental Illness Happens to Friendships


I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how being bipolar has affected my friendships.  I know it has. 

It’s hard to make plans with people you fully intended upon following through with at the moment you made them when, the day of the plans, you’re in a depression so deep that getting out of bed seems impossible.  I hate being unreliable, but I know I am.  I hate how my moods dictate pretty much everything in my life, but I know they do.

I’m hoping that if/when I find the right mixture of medications, some of this changes.  I know like the doctors have said, I’ll be dealing with this for the rest of my life…I’ll be bipolar.  The medicine can make it more manageable, and can make the highs and lows less noticeable, but they’ll still be there.  I don’t like that, but I can’t change it.  I don’t want to be this way, but I am.  I think some of my friends understand it maybe a little, but I know not all of them do…and I don’t want to make anyone mad or cause disappointment when I cancel plans…

I also can’t pretend to be happy when I want to cry…when I want to cry, I do cry, as much as I hate it…and I know my moods.  I know when to go out and when to stay in.  It sucks, and I know it’s misunderstood…but beyond trying to explain it my friends, I’m not sure what else I can do.

We’ve talked a little in my support group about this…and I know I’m not alone when it comes to losing friends over having a mental illness.  I wish it weren’t so, but it happens.  We can be draining.  We can be all-consuming.  We can wear people down to the point that they might not want to hang out with us anymore.  I get it.
So I don’t necessarily blame you if you choose not to be friends with someone who, for instance, is bipolar…I might not want to be friends with me at times, either.  But I do give people second chances…and many more chances beyond that, often.  Maybe it’s because I understand mental illness a little.  I have friends who’ve been diagnosed with a myriad of mental disorders, and it can be hard.  Many people walk away.  I just try to be patient and understand that it’s the illness, not the person we’re necessarily dealing with when they can be seemingly impossible.  And I guess I believe the real, true friends are the ones who are still around when the rest of the world walks out, when the disorder is at the point that it’s taken the best of a person, when it seems like it will never get better.

But it will.

It will get better, and when it does, I think the people who stood by when someone was at his or her worst will get to reap the benefits of having that person back at the pinnacle of health.  

So if you’re someone who’s been tempted to walk away from a friendship because it’s become too hard…due to mental illness…I urge you to be there.  Be there for your friend.  I’m not saying hang out every day or compromise your own quality of life just to be there…you can be there quietly, simply by sending a message now and then, letting the person know you’re thinking of him or her…you don’t have to completely abandon the friendship.  It’s understandable to want to take a step back now and then for your own mental health.  But chances are your friend could really use some words of encouragement…think about what you would want or need in the darkest depression of your life.  For me, starting to come out of a deep depression, just knowing I had friends who cared made me feel great.