To tell or not to tell. Or when to tell. There is still a social stigma associated with any mental illness that stems from prejudice and ignorance. Some disorders have become acceptable, if not downright popular. ADHD heads that list, and in my opinion is probably one of the most over used diagnosis there is. Depression is also acceptable as long as it’s not debilitating. Although in many cases what mostly passes as depression can be just simple sadness, not the utter hell that so many of us experience. Anxiety is always fun too. Bipolar however is still feared and still frequently misunderstood. It’s often perceived as a cop-out. Woe is me… life is hard… I need an excuse to explain my weaknesses and lack of discipline. Or on the other side of the spectrum, we are considered to be dangerous and truly crazy. People shun us like they we were some kind of mass murderer or something. Because it takes so many different forms from person to person it’s difficult to really explain to others.
So that begs the question. What and how much do you tell your friends? Of course the quick answer is, you tell your close friends and no one else. That doesn’t always work though. I’ve had a very best friend that I thought would understand and support me through thick and thin. Once the beast was out however, they decided that they didn’t need the negativity and weakness in their life, and I lost them. I’ve also been in a situation where, I didn’t say anything at first, but as we became better friends I let them know. Not only did they did not understand, and they were pissed that I didn’t let them know from the beginning. They felt misled. There has even been a relationship that failed after they found out even though our friendship predated my diagnosis and I couldn’t possibly have let them know. I try to tell myself that if they were a true friend they would understand and since they didn’t they weren’t my friend after all. But again, that’s not always the case. There are some issues that are greater than the strength of the friendship, regardless of the validity or perception of the reasons behind the issue.
So I find myself drawn to people who are fellow sufferers for friendship. There is a level of understanding that isn’t available anywhere else. They just ‘Get’ you. And there have been some beautiful friendships that I have developed with other bipolar people who have stood the test of time. But there are risks with that as well. As moods cycle, so does the ability to accept and deal with others. And because there is a sense of safety when an episode hits there’s less effort to hide it. And God help you if you both start cycling together. So bipolar friendships can work, but there is a complexity that comes from these conflicting moods and symptoms. I’ve found that it’s best not to hold on too closely.
So what’s the answer? I try to surround myself with as many positive and healthy people as I can. But I also keep enough distance that when the symptoms are too severe, I can pull away and protect the friendship. I also draw on support groups. It’s a way of safely sharing with peers, without judgment. And I try to manage my illness as best I can, so it has less chance to interfere with the people I care about. Sometime it works, sometime it doesn’t. But No man is an island. Friendships to me are as critical to my life as air to breathe. Breathing is important, and so are good friends. And sometimes you get lucky and find that one special friend that does ‘get’ you. Hold on to them with all your might, for they are one in a million.