Friendships & Mental Illness

It must be exhausting to be my friend. I have an eating disorder that doesn’t always want to be in recovery, I’m bipolar and I have depression. But that’s just the fun stuff. I can be insecure, and lack confidence. I am untrusting and because of that will build a wall that Trump would be jealous of. I have spent a lot of time in therapy working on my relationship with myself. After all, when everyone else leaves we are only left with ourselves. This can be empowering in a “I am man/woman hear me roar” way. But I am a person that could count their friends on one hand. Yes, yes quality not quantity but come on man I wouldn’t mind some quantity too. And by quantity, I mean more than one. Without realizing it I had been spending my young adult life trying to develop friendships as someone battling with mental illness. I grew up in the country, 35 miles away from any town so my brothers were my friends. I had been handed two instant friends so that was easy, they couldn’t get away from, I was a faster runner. High school was a different story. I was lost. I did not know a single person. There were hundreds of people waiting to turn me down. I often sat alone, or with the Special Ed kids. I would talk to others in class, but I was never any good at the follow through. As I began to grow into my own amazing self I met Elyssa in yearbook class. She and I both had the same smarmy sense of humor. I believed we totally could have been friends. But I couldn’t ask her to hang out once that bell rang. Being a teenager can feel like a mental illness at times. The constant ups and downs of emotions, the fear and the insecurity. Mine most likely was magnified by a yet to be diagnosed disorder. I never did ask Elyssa to hang out and I am bummed that I couldn’t get past my mental block. Whether you have a mental illness or not friendship can be intimidating. The fear of rejection sits in the majority of most of us, except Oprah, Oprah fears nothing. So, trying to start and maintain a friendship as someone who is mentally ill or with someone who struggles mentally can bring about those feelings of rejection.

Everyone has the potential to be a great friend if they want to”. As a person who suffers from depression I don’t often leave the house. When I make plans to do so I instantly regret doing so and figure out how I can break them. I want to go but my depression talks me out of it immediately and it is a powerful motivator. I recently picked up a book, The F Word,by Lily Pebbles which delves into the ways in which female friendships are developed, maintained and dissolved. She doesn’t discuss what it’s like to be friends with someone with a mental illness, but I liken it to her description of being in a long-distance relationship. Things can often become forced because you are trying to schedule time, trying to make an effort to see that person and things don’t work out. She suggests, to keep this relationship alive and kickin’ by being spontaneous and thoughtful. One thing I appreciate more than anything is a little note or a gif. Sometimes you won’t be able to drag me out of the house, but you can send me a card and I will greatly appreciate that. Reina, one of my newer friends, understands that I may be attached to my bedroom but does not let me forget I am valued.

I have maintained two friendships from my time in eating disorder therapy. Being in that environment is like being in high school except everybody hates going to lunch. We learn every little thing about each other from nicknames (hears looking at you Pablo and Pookie), to family traumas, to hopes and greatest fears. You could not ask for a better set up for long term friendship. Previously, as a people pleaser, I found myself in one sided friendships. I gave and gave, and then I gave some more. Before I knew it, they had moved on and I was left to doubt everything about myself. Without knowing, I was hiding my mental illness as I was performing the act of friendship. Eventually this would blow up resulting in a bipolar episode of unsafe sex, hiding in my room or binging. For me friendship meant self-destruction. They would end, and I was devastated. As my therapy evolved another component was added; how to become a friend.

When making a friend we expose our true personality to someone new and with that comes the hope they’ll understand us, but this is a risk and our natural instinct is to protect ourselves from pain

IMG_0638 Tisha, ever the patient person, was my guinea pig. I was to ask her to do something, anything and no matter her response I would realize she was still my friend. Oh boy this was difficult but a few walks and a pedicure later we were still friends. Not every date worked out and that was okay. A true friend understands. Tisha is a very busy person. The majority of our friendship is conducted over the phone and I am okay with that. When we get a chance to get together I value that and do my best to fight my depression to stick to it. Lily, we are on a first name basis by the way, reminds me that I needed to find someone who I can rely on but who will have empathy for my situation. And for me one of those people is Tisha. This is especially important as a woman with depression and bipolar disorder. I will cancel plans some days. I will try so hard not to, but I probably will once. Sorry. And it is okay to be raw and real. Why bother to try and hide? And in return GIVE the same. Let her or him know that you are not the only person in the relationship with shit going on. You are here to listen too.

So, what do I hope you get from this blog post?

Number 1: Being friends with someone who has a mental illness can be difficult but just keep trying, you’ll get to them eventually.

Number 2: Friendships do take some work and they are not a one-way street. If you are stuck in a rut maybe the one thing you can do all day is send a text saying, “Hey”. A friend will respond.

Number 3: I like Lily Pebbles and her book, and I want to be her friend.