because bipolar

Today I feel utterly revolting.  My eyes don’t want to stay open and my brain hurts.  I feel agitated yet unable to move or comprehend much at all.  I feel like a ruin.  A shell.  A spent vessel.  I just do not feel ‘right’.

A friend asked in one of my groups the other day about whether it was her cycling that made her lose what she thought were strong friendships.  I always pondered this too.  I mean, how can it be possible to have had such a deep friendship with someone only for it to literally dissolve overnight.  Literally.  I had to think on that question overnight because I knew there was something more in this than what was obvious.  We blame ourselves.  Anything happens, it is our fault.  Because bipolar.  Then the epiphany happened.  And I simply replied ‘I think it has more to do with the fact that my mood finally shows me what a dick they really always were’.

By my saying that they were always dicks doesn’t mean that everyone anyone has ever had a falling out with are dicks. Sometimes people just act dickish. Doesn’t mean that it is their entire personality.

True friends who know your truth, whatever that truth may be, don’t just come and go.  They stick around.  They may not understand and may withdraw for a while but they do not just disappear.  This is relevant not only with those who have a mental illness – this relates to every single soul. Even those with out a mental condition. Friendships are like rivers – some are deep, some wide, some seem to go on forever, some are winding and meandering with rapids, some are tidal and some are prone to flooding. In any case, like rivers, friendships are our own personal lifelines, just the same as how rivers are to the environments its water feeds.

I don’t mean to put people into categories and people by their very own nature do come and go, they do get busy with their lives, but here is a basic rundown of what I view my interactions with other humans as.

I have ‘satellite’ friends.  They are the ones I may or may not know very well at all – I may not even know their names.  Very cordial interactions.  Little thought given to said relationship. Acquaintances.

Then I have the ‘Orbiters’.  They circulate closer, don’t know too much about me and me about them.  I know their names and probably have their phone number but I never call them.  Still very cordial, however due to my lack of vocal filter, they may see ‘me’ much more often than the ‘Satellites’.

In between the Orbiters and the Core crew I have what I would probably call the ‘Tectonic’ friends.  These are the ones that I have let in enough to cause pain and hurt if they turn on me (or vice versa).  Like the Tectonic plates on our Earth, when they move, when they shift, they can cause massive damage.  The opposite can be relevant too – the changes can change the relationship in such miraculous ways.

Lastly is the ‘Core’.  There are very very few people in this category.  Very few.  These people have either known me for years or have had a very deep and personal friendship with me for whatever amount of time.  These are the people that I may not see for years but when we catch up it feels like it was just yesterday when we saw or talked to each other.

I don’t have a list of who goes where because like water and it’s essence, the nature of friendships ebb and flow.
 

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your job is to just be a friend

So, you have just found out that someone you know, or even love, has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder.  You might feel confused, you might feel worried.  I try to remember how I felt before I was diagnosed how it felt when a good friend told me that she had bipolar.  I know for sure that I had no idea what it was and it did kind of scare me.  What should I do with this information?  What is the expected response?  What is the response she needs?   What kind of attention do I need to give to this, in order to ensure that our friendship didn’t change just because she happened to have a little extra ‘something’ that lots of others don’t?

Mental illness is taboo.  There is no other way to put it.  Nobody wants it and those that have it are most likely to hide within their diagnosis.  Usually they will be very wary and careful about who they share this news with.  There are underlying reasons for this – the first being the most obvious.  People don’t understand, and what people don’t understand can scare them.  The many other reasons pretty much stem from that very one reason.  It is taboo.  It is scary.  You might feel like you never really knew this person at all.  However, chances are that they are still the same person they were the day before they were diagnosed.  Chances are that they’ve been living with this all of their lives.  The only thing the diagnosis does is give that person the chance to get well, the access to medications and services that they haven’t had access to in the past.  They have been given the chance to finally, maybe, stabilize.

Don’t offer unsolicited advice.  Don’t diminish their feelings.  As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, it is happening to us so therefore it is a reality.  It may sound irrational to you but sometimes, some things sound so completely right and rational to us that it is better to just open your ears and shut your mouth.

Up until I decided to share my truth with the world (sounds dramatic eh?  Well, if you know me you know that I have a knack for the drama) I was so terrified that I would be judged.  Actually, not judged – misjudged.  That people would back off and I would be left all alone.  News flash peeps.  The absolute opposite has happened for me.

So now you know this very personal thing about the person you know, or love.  What should you do next?  You could ask questions.  Listen.  Ask them about it.  Ask how they feel.  Tread carefully.  Most of all, don’t be scared.  The person who has this condition has trusted you with something that most people probably will never know about them.  Don’t tell other people.  Keep it to yourself.  If you are worried about them, talk to them.  Be straight up.  We have a sixth sense when it comes to this kind of thing usually and let me tell you, while I am more than happy to put myself out there in order to bring more awareness, 99.99999999% of others are not.  It is not your news to tell.  It doesn’t need to be the next 6pm news headline.

From time to time, if you are really close to the person who has shared this with you, you will notice different behaviour patterns.  This is normal and to be expected from bipolar.  Everyone who has bipolar is very different, so don’t put us all in the same basket.  If you do notice a behaviour that is out of the ordinary (increasing spending habits can be a big one, withdrawing from social events, there are a gazillion things that can be warning signs that things are on the up or down), don’t ignore them.  Talk about it with the one that trusted you.   Once again, tread carefully and no no no unsolicited advice.  The person who has trusted you will hopefully have a team of educated professionals that offer medical assistance to them to aid their rocky road to stability.

Your job is to just be a friend.