From the Comments: With a Little Help from Our Friends

I just called my mother. I asked if there was ever a time that I enjoyed playing in a sandbox. Without hesitation, she confirmed my suspicion with an unequivocal “No.” I didn’t think so.

There’s been talk in the discussions recently on socializing, sociability, making friends, and losing friends. While there are other instances, I’m going to call out two from this discussion.

From Jen:

I don’t have a lot of friends, but the close friends I’ve had in recent years were people without intellectual interests and we had nothing in common really other than we all had mental illnesses. I’ve found that there is a void in such relationships. I have this close friend, and because I can’t relate to her about anything other than craziness, I don’t even know why we’re friends anymore. And I have these other people I know through an activist group of women I’m involved with, and they all have advanced degrees, for the most part, and careers or previous careers. I find that I can’t make friends with any of them, because I feel so inadequate.

From bipolartude:

One of my closest friends, whom I’ve known for 20 years (went to school together), moved 1500 miles to be in my city…At first supportive, my friend told me after it didn’t “clear up” that it was too much for her to handle.

So, the questions: Can you relate to either or both of these friend-based problems? Do you feel you can make new meaningful friendships? Have you lost once-meaningful friendships due to your MI? With either new friends or old ones, how do you explain? Do you even try? This is a particularly close topic to my heart right now, one I cried over just last night. My responses will be in the discussion.

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7 comments
  1. Jess said:

    I’ve always had relatively few friends, but they’ve been strong friendships. However, that changed when I was diagnosed with BP in high school. My senior year was extremely hectic; I started off with a three month depression that was horrendous. I won’t go into all the details here, but if you’re curious, I have a blog post discussing it. Then, in the spring, I became hypomanic frequently, and then had one full-blown manic episode, which changed my diagnosis to Bipolar I. I’m sure, on the outside, I genuinely looked crazy, as my mania brought on strange appearances and lord knows what else. My memories aren’t really all there from my senior year. I think I remember making a shirt about a girlfriend, which I didn’t even have a girlfriend! and wearing it to school underneath this hot pink mesh shirt thing. It was so bizzare. I don’t know how my parents let me walk out of the house like that. And this was in a VERY conservative town, so odder still was the fact that I was writing about being a lesbian. Damn, high school was a bitch. Anyway, I lost all of my high school friends because of my MI.

    Once I went off to college, I lost touch with some of the ones that I really liked, and I tried connecting. I would send emails or Facebook messages to no avail. One of my close friends stopped seeing me and being my friend before school even ended. She was the one that I was saddest about losing. She even tried to say she was scared for me (when I was manic) because I was getting ready to crash. In typical manic fashion, I told her it was nonsense, and I wouldn’t crash. But, as the illness goes, I did crash…hard. For the first two years of college, I mourned the lost of my friendship with her and one other guy. But, gradually, I was able to make a few new ones; however, we’ve also lost contact and such after graduating from college. Now, I have my partner, and probably two close friends that I keep in contact with and see from time to time. I’ve adjusted and I’m fine with that, but it used to hurt, deeply, when I lost my friends from high school. I already felt alone when I was depressed (but i still knew people where there, I just had no energy to see them), but being normal and wanting to hang out, but people not wanting to see me…that HURT!

  2. Jess, I understand, and that does hurt. I have never made friends easily. But I did have, for several years, some very close friends I met online. The group of us had the same chronic, physical illnesses, and we related to each other from that and from being feminists (for the most part) and having some stuff in common. We grew very close as a group. Two of them I met in person. One, I didn’t. One of those I met in person, was the person who introduced me to my roommate where I ended up living for three years. But then, when I became psychotic, they ditched me. The friend I was closest to, just dropped off the face of the earth. Two others told me point blank that they couldn’t deal with me and my crazy emails, and one said that her therapist told her to cut off all ties with me. That really made me feel great.

    At the time, I was not correctly diagnosed, and I discuss this more on my blog, but I was under the impression that I had a dissociative disorder from abuse, and that is what my friends believed I had. This was all untrue, and it would take years before a doctor told me so, and gave me my correct diagnosis of Schizoaffective Disorder. But when you’re psychotic, and you haven’t gotten treatment yet, you don’t know you’re psychotic. So I didn’t know why my friends ditched me. For years, I just felt abandoned by them.

    The one friend from that group who did stick by me as a friend is someone who I have never met and who lives in a different state, up north, and who doesn’t talk to me about my mental health. But she is a dear friend who exchanges cards and letters and gifts with me, and we have now known each other since 1997. She is the one who was the most understanding, even though she never asked for an explanation of my behavior. When I got treatment, and the meds worked, and I wasn’t psychotic most of the time anymore, we started emailing a lot again. And I am glad I have her in my life, even though most people would say this doesn’t count as a “real” friend because it’s online. For me, it is a very real friend, and as someone who has difficulty relating to many other people, it is the best real friend I’ve had at some points in the past few years.

    I never had a lot of friends in high school, never met any in college as I went to community colleges, and I don’t have friends at work who I see outside work. I find it really hard to explain my mental illness and my life status which is a result of that illness to people who don’t have mental illnesses, and I have difficulty relating to some people who share serious mental illnesses because I find that we usually all have difficulty with social skills, and I have trouble relating to them about things unrelated to being mentally ill.

    Because of the lack of accomplishments in my life due to the illness, my self-esteem sucks, and my ability to engage with others who I feel are more accomplished than I am is really limited. I don’t know how to get past this point. I know I need to get beyond feeling lousy about myself for being different, but it’s hard, and I think society really reinforces the stigma so much that it penetrates my brain to some degree even as I fight against it.

    • Jess said:

      Jen,

      Thanks for sharing! That must have been really frustrating with different diagnoses. I’m glad you are now correctly diagnosed; I hope that’s a relief. I’m sorry your friends have left because of mental illness as well…it seems sometimes, that unfortunately, friends need to have an MI or also know someone close who has an MI to fully understand.

      I’m glad I’ve gotten to meet you online, though, and I hope I can offer support.

      Take care,

      Jess

    • said:

      Hi Jen…
      I’m about to write a comment with my experiences, so I won’t include the ‘relating’ part here. I just wanted to affirm that, especially these days as the world gets smaller because of the connections we can make online, the friendship you have with the woman you haven’t met in “real” life is still a very real friendship. Anyone who says otherwise just hasn’t adjusted to our new culture.

      You already know where I stand on your accomplishments and their relationship to your self-esteem and ability to make friends and be sociable. Still, I can’t help but say again that it hurts my heart a little. On paper, I am one of those “really accomplished” people — but that’s only because building my CV is the only thing I know how to do; it’s just sometimes easier to live in my head than in the “real world.” But I look at you, at the things you have done, at your writing, and I am inspired and, often, awe-struck. I consider myself lucky to have met you through this forum. And — very honestly — if you’re open to it, I have every intention of asking you to meet me for coffee or something next time I’m visiting family in your neck of the woods…NOT because the MI thing is the only thing we have in common, but because I kinda think you’re awesome.

  3. said:

    So, I said I cried the night before I wrote this topic. Well, I talked to that once-best friend last night, hung up the phone and cried again. We’ve known each other for almost seventeen years, were once inseparable, were roommates for a few years after college too. He doesn’t know it, but the reason that we may talk once or twice a year now is my MI. It’s a two-way street, in that he’s reacted very adversely to my behavior at times and I wasn’t able to maintain my end of the friendship at other times. I try not to place blame on either side, but there are moments when I blame myself as much as I blame him. The thing is that I can’t make excuses for myself, but having known me for so long, he’s seen it all. There’s no more explaining I can do. He knows what’s going on. I was living with him when I had the episode that finally got me diagnosed. My last severely depressed episode corresponded with a very hard time in his life, and I think he just can’t forgive me for that, for being withdrawn, for not being able to talk or listen, for not being able to leave my apartment. I mourn the loss of a friendship for what it was, AND I mourn the loss of a friendship for what I thought it was. In the last few months (ya know, with the whole New Year’s Resolution 2001 Odyssey thing), I’ve realized that he very well might have loved my mania. As dangerous as it was for me, it was fun for him and often encouraged by him. So, yeah. I’ve made a hard decision: I think he thinks I’m a terrible friend or a terrible person — but I’ve decided that I can live with that because it’s better than trying to explain again.

    And that’s the thing about making new friends. I am really very good at making acquaintances, especially at social work-related functions. But I haven’t made many good friends in the last couple years, because trying to explain it all again is just not something I know how to do anymore. My attempts at explaining have bitten me in the ass with this last friend, and (at least right now) I don’t have it in me to try. The good news is two-fold: the small handful of friends I have are great, and I’ve been pretty antisocial most of my life…so “having friends” isn’t really high on my priority list.

    • Jess said:

      Thanks for sharing. I am sorry about the loss of your friend, but I’m glad you’ve come to the realization that it would be too much to try and explain again, especially since he was there through it all. I’m glad that you have made a few new friends that are very supportive! Explaining MI is always a bitch, because you never know how someone’s going to take it. I’ve been lucky, in that my few friends understand it. Actually, I hid my depression and abusive relationship from my roommate, as strange as that sounds, but she supported me once I finally told her after the relationship was over. We don’t see each other all that much anymore, but that’s because we’re both busy, and I don’t blame her or me as one-sided.

      Take care,
      Jess

  4. Alan Smithee said:

    I don’t have many friends. I mean, true friends. I invited the three that I had to my wedding, and just recently recovered a fourth. Of those four, two are MI diagnosed, one is non-MI, and one is…. crazy? Australian? I’m not sure of the right word to describe her. She’s not MI diagnosed, and she might not even be MI, but she’s also not sane, which is equal parts trouble and sublime. I could probably have more friends if I wasn’t MI. Part of that is on them: they cannot deal with it. Part of that is on me: I often make no plans with anyone because I can never tell what I’m going to be like on the day in question. Also, I hate talking on the phone. Nobody’s ever really friend-dumped me because of my MI to my knowledge, but I have been friend-dumped way more than I am comfortable with for a person who considers herself a “good” friend. Interestingly, my MI has led to stronger friendships in a lot of cases. It creates a little support system with others who are uni-polar. Once we disclose that to each other, we can say things like, “Oh god, I hate standing on the platform because I would love to jump in front of that train,” and the other person is like, “Yeah, I know, that’s the worst,” instead of the more common, “WTF IS WRONG WITH YOU?” Also, MI led me to renew a much missed friendship with a fellow MI, who I now count as one of my closest friends.

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