Give or take

One of the things I’ve noticed about people is that some are givers and some are takers. And then there are those that are so caught up in their own lives that they are neither. Much like the extremes of being bipolar being either is not necessarily good or bad as long as it isn’t over the top.

I’ve lost another friend this week. Well, I’m using the term ‘friend’ loosely; I guess she never really was much of a friend after all.

For you see, she was a taker.

I don’t mind helping people at all; in fact, I enjoy it. And I regularly helped this lady quite a bit. She was very crafty, and she frequently asked me to give her a hand; mostly with lifting heavy things or giving advice on how to get things put together. She said she valued my sense of style (What the hell?) and asked my opinion on decorating her house and yard. When her car broke down, she called me to pick her up and take her home while she arranged for a tow truck. And I was more than happy to do what I could for her. After all, isn’t that what friends are for?   She had two big dogs, and one time she asked me to watch them while she was out of town. She had a regular dog sitter that she paid, but something came up last minute and she wasn’t able to do it. I like her dogs, and it was no problem even though it was 10 miles out of my way twice a day. The next time she went out of town, she asked me first. (She didn’t have to pay me, remember?) It was for a few more days this time, and she suggested I just stay at her house so I could spend more time with her dogs. Okay, this is starting to really interfere with my routine. Then she went home for a week at Christmas. This time, she didn’t even ask; she told me she was leaving and left me a detailed list of instructions on what I needed to do while she was gone. It wasn’t just watching her dogs, but she had several ‘projects’ that she wanted me to do; like clean her carpets! I let her know I wasn’t happy about it, but by the time she told me it was too late for her to line up anyone else. Oh, but after she was gone she called me and said that it wasn’t going to be for a week… she had a business trip the following week and it was going to be two weeks before she got home. That was completely over the top, and I was really feeling taken advantage of.

And when she got home, she barely even thanked me. She was more interested in my report on how her dogs did, and checking out how I had done with her projects.

In fact, for all the things I did for her I never really got any thanks. And she never helped me with anything or voluntarily did anything nice for me at all. Now, I didn’t do what I did just so she would do for me, but I do kind of expect that as a friend, she would at least show some appreciation.

So much for being a friend.

I’ve known people who were too much into taking care of others, almost always at their own expense. I dated a woman for a while who insisted on giving me a present every time we got together. Not like a card, or something simple; she gave big presents. Like the time she gave me a fifth of my favorite scotch, which is about $50 US. It was like that ever time even though I told her over and over not to. And the concerts she took me to! She bought tickets to see Diana Krall and BB King, which were well over $100 a seat! I tried to refuse, but she had already paid for the tickets and said they would just be wasted. It was very uncomfortable, and I let her know that her behavior was a problem for me. And she couldn’t or wouldn’t stop… So I had to stop it myself. I stopped seeing her.

Then there are the real extremes.

Another woman I knew built her entire life around doing things for others. She especially got involved when there was some major problem that she could jump in and take care of. Her need was so strong that when there was no one who needed her help she would create a crisis so that she would have someone, something that she could give herself to. Obviously there was no time to take care of herself, and even when she actually needed help she would refuse, like the time she had surgery and didn’t even tell anyone; she took care of herself.

I think maybe she was a bit co-dependent.

My Girlfriend’s ex-husband is the epitome of a taker. It’s not enough for him to just accept the attention of others, he demanded it. You did things his way, period. If he needed anything, you came no questions asked. His clothes had to be freshly ironed for him every morning, and they’d better be clean! Whatever he decided to wear that day had to be available. They were involved in the Shag Dancing club. Now, the Shag is a man’s dance, it’s designed to make him look good. Not only did he think he looked good, he would get angry when someone would remark about how good she danced. But his need for attention really crossed the line. He had multiple affairs throughout their marriage, from one night stands to ongoing trysts. It was all about him and his satisfaction. Forget morality, respect or responsibility; he wanted what he wanted, and expected everyone to give it to him.

I did mention he was her ex-husband, right?

That’s one of the reasons I like this woman so much. She hasn’t ever had anyone who cared enough to do things for her. It was hard for her to accept any help, especially in the beginning. She was used to doing everything by herself she was uncomfortable having anyone else do for her. Over time, she has learned to accept help. And she’s always very appreciative. She is a giver herself, especially now that she has become more accustomed to being in a new relationship. We give to each other, from the silly little things to more significant help. She puts encouraging notes in my lunch bag; I leave romantic notes for her to find in her home. She gives me romantic cards; I send her flowers. If she cooks dinner, I clean and vice versa. I’ve repaired broken equipment in her house and she’s helped me paint mine. Whenever I’m having a bad time, she’s there for me. And I’ve been there for her.

That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? It’s all about balance. Not too much, not too little, but shared equally. That’s true with pretty much everyone, isn’t it? And that’s true when it comes to managing my bipolar disorder too. It’s my goal to balance the mood swings, with not too much of an extreme on either end. It’s okay to be excited about something, just like it is okay to be sad. The key is to be appropriate for the circumstance. And, just like relationships, I’m happiest when I can give to others while continuing to take care of myself.

Whether in a relationship, with friends or managing my disease I’m not always successful. There have certainly been times when I’ve taken way more than I should have; selfishly accepting without giving back. And there are times that I’ve given too much at my own expense. I won’t even talk about keeping the moods in balance, or taking care of myself. Most of my life has been out of control with that.

But one way I do try to keep things where they need to be is to surround myself with others who have that healthy balance. It’s so much easier for me to feel healthy when I’m around people who help when needed and accept when they need help. Yes, I’ve lost a lot of friends over the past year or so, some that have been significant at various points in my life. And while friendships aren’t about what they can do for me, I believe that if they are truly your friend they will do for you just as you will for them. Even my therapist says that I haven’t lost friends; I’ve eliminated barriers to my recovery. I don’t want to be overly selfish, nor do I want to be taken advantage of.   I am just looking for balance.

Give or take.

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