From the Comments: Regarding Friends

A few topics ago, Jen brilliantly suggested that we start a discussion about making friends. Last spring we had a rather good conversation on this topic (here)* but not quite in the context that it was recently presented. Among other insightful things, Jen said

The friends I do have I don’t feel really know me well because they don’t know the truth about my life and what I deal with. And for most of them, except for the few who do know, I don’t think they care to understand it. So I do understand that feeling of “Why bother?” I don’t have an easy answer for this.

And so we ask: Why bother? More specifically, perhaps, What do we gain from sharing our MI stories with friends? Are you able to consider those who don’t know “friends” at all? What are the consequences of, both, sharing and not sharing — consequences for them, consequences for the friendship, and mostly consequences for yourself? And then (it has to be asked), If you are ever lonely, what’s the relationship between your MI and that loneliness?

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7 comments
  1. Good topic idea!
    When I read the sentence “Are you able to consider those people who don’t know friends at all?” I started taking an inventory of my “friends” and came up with, “not really”. I do have two people I would consider friends who don’t really know about the illness, but we aren’t close friends, and they don’t really know me. They are both the kind of people who don’t like to get into too much personal info even after you’ve known them for years, so I basically relate to them in one area – this organization we’re involved with, which has nothing to do with mental health. But if I need someone to call, would I ever, ever call either of them? Well, no. I couldn’t. So they’re not real friends, I guess. I don’t really feel like I know them on a deep level either, so there is probably plenty of information they haven’t told me about themselves.

    I do have one friend from that same organization who happens to be a former therapist, who I did tell about my illness. And I can actually say she is like a real friend to me. She is a friend to me. And that has been a positive difference in my life, because when I first met her I didn’t think she would ever want to know me much at all. We are not close friends; I don’t see her a lot. But I’m really glad that I can talk to her in a REAL manner, where I don’t have to put on a mask and pretend to be someone else for her benefit. That is worth the scariness of divulging the illness. But then, she is a former therapist. To some extent, she has to understand this illness more than most people I know would. She has seen it before. She knows what it is. A lot of them don’t know….which is partially because they don’t know I have it myself. When you are sitting next to someone at work or in college or some other place, and they never know it almost puts a burden on you that you have to pretend to be fine and okay all the time for them, and you can’t just be yourself. I wish that I felt more free to be myself, without being stigmatized and misunderstood and mistreated and judged for it.

  2. Alan Smithee said:

    Why bother? More specifically, perhaps, What do we gain from sharing our MI stories with friends? Are you able to consider those who don’t know “friends” at all? What are the consequences of, both, sharing and not sharing — consequences for them, consequences for the friendship, and mostly consequences for yourself? And then (it has to be asked), If you are ever lonely, what’s the relationship between your MI and that loneliness?

    I have long wished that I would be able to not share about my illness, but I really am incapable on holding back when it’s anyone I spend a lot of time with, mostly because, they’re gonna notice something’s up, and also because I feel like I am in such need of help all the time lately. Ugh. Can’t write any more. My brain is messed up. Now I feel cry-y. Blech.

    • Meredith said:

      Alan, I am with you on not being able to hold back. For some reason I even need to tell some of my clients. Some of them are Social Work students. But it’s usually in context of something, not just blurting it out. Also, I feel that until we find something that really works for us and makes us feel better, we reach out to everything out hope, despair, whatever, but knowing that something needs to change and someone out there knows something. Take care! And read A Symphony in the Brain by Jim Robbins (review to come soon).

  3. erinire said:

    Jeez, I wish I could keep my MI from friends. My old friends know the unmedicated me – the one that once stormed out of her own party after a fight with her husband, only to return, three hours later, car-slept and disoriented. My friends were my husband’s friends, so they all got both sides.

    Anyone who gets close enough will find out, eventually, and sharing my MI makes it easier for them to understand why sometimes I don’t return phone calls. Plus, I feel that it’s part of me, and not always a bad one. It’s easier to tell than to hide.

  4. Meredith said:

    I don’t tell people in hopes they’ll understand me anymore. I don’t hide it, I tell people, but I figure they’ll get it for what they get it for, I don’t know how they will absorb this. And no one gets how the illness is tied to my behavior. Well, my wife does. She’s the best. She doesn’t try to goad me into feeling shitty due to my behavior. She tries to help and she asks. But even my siblings don’t have a clue as to what to make of it. They asked me what it is and all that and really it is very hard to explain. “Uh, my emotions are all over the place. I get mad at the drop of a hat for no fucking reason, etc.” Well, my siblings get mad like that because of how we grew up. And then there’s the genetics. My sister tried to tell me our younger brother (the least likely) was probably bipolar, all the while I was thinking of her. OMFG.

    Anyway, I digress, I think. I have found it really hard to explain this disorder to anyone other than my psych and therapist and wife. Most of my friends haven’t seen the recurring behaviors that define it so it’s better to just leave it alone and live on that surface of “true” friendship. Oh, I have one other friend but she’s got a tendency for depression so she does understand.

  5. Emma is a name said:

    I struggle with the idea of not telling people. At the moment I only have three close friends, but in turn they know all about my issues and have a good awareness of what they can contribute with and offer to help me get through the rough times. I used to have a much wider circle of friends, but whenever I sunk into a depression it did affect my ability to make, keep and see through plans with these friends. Most of them got angry, some I told – in the end, only a few stayed, the rest were scared off by this complexity that it was. But this openness sometimes feel like an obstacle to myself: at what point in a burgeoning relationship is it time to share? I prefer honesty and straight-forwardness, but I am also aware that not everyone does, and that saying “oh, by the way, I’m bipolar and have severe anxiety” can stir up a huge amount of varying responses, some of which are more harmful to me than they should be. It’s… A vulnerable moment, and I do think I shy away from social situations because I am uncomfortable, because I am uncertain and to a degree, I feel that everyone can see how awkward and unstable I am from just a quick look. I know it’s not so – in fact, many tell me they think I’m arrogant because of this aloofness – but my loneliness is as much a curse as a protective nest wherein I can actually recuperate and take care of myself. It’s a double-edged sword.

    • a double-edged sword indeed. Well spoken and thanks for sharing, Emma is a name said.

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