Living with bipolar is a rollercoaster ride. From the manic highs to the depressing lows, it has a way of seeping into every aspect of life. I know from my experience, bipolar disorder and friendships can also be tough to balance. I often wonder if people will go running out the door when I open up to having bipolar and the challenges I face, which means I fear opening up because I don’t want to seem like a huge burden on the friendship.
When surveys like this one garner responses saying that people with bipolar are selfish and use their illness as an excuse to be ignorant to the world around us or that we are ‘self-centred and create a fantasy drama world in our heads and we’re just impossible to deal with, well it’s no doubt we have difficulty with friendships.
Often, I choose to avoid social occasions because it’s easier to stay at home when I’m in my depressive cycle. For me, sometimes having fewer friends is, well, easier. Sound familiar? Well, you’re not alone, and here are some important things for you to consider.
Bipolar and friendships – It’s normal to find it hard
Take it from me. You have to learn not to be too hard on yourself if you find that maintaining friendships is a struggle. We swing between two poles of extreme yet opposite emotions, and that is damn exhausting. Bipolar friendships can be challenging to maintain for several reasons, some of which include:
Unable to talk to people
Sometimes, you don’t feel like conversing with anyone because you feel emotionally low. The energy takes to do so can be draining. Unfortunately, some people don’t understand how bipolar disorder works and can assume that you are rude, angry or don’t like them, and they can withdraw.
People get scared
When you become so depressed, people around you can become scared of what you might say or do. A survey found that some people are wary of being around those with bipolar disorder because they didn’t know what to say or do when they were at a low point and that this makes them shy away from bipolar friendships.
Others find you impossible.
This all boils down to ignorance and misconceptions surrounding bipolar disorder, which has nothing to do with you. However, it can be difficult to think otherwise. Losing a friendship because of these can trigger a sense of grief and sadness.
Although the stigma surrounding bipolar disorder has eased, it’s still there. When people with bipolar show symptoms, as we’ve referred to above, people can be quick to pass them off as a personality trait instead. People can’t ‘see’ bipolar, so it can often be out of sight and out of mind. Thankfully, there are some ways to manage your friendships.
How can you manage your friendships?
Strong bipolar disorder and friendships start by giving your friends a head start about your illness and the symptoms that you face. They might not be aware of these things, so it’s ideal for helping them understand. That way, they’ll know what to expect when you have a symptomatic episode.
Also, it would be best if you let them know what behaviours or conversations trigger your episodes. You can make this fun by talking about it over lunch. However, if you notice that your friends don’t want to stop engaging in the things that trigger you, you should show them the door without apology. The last thing you want is a bunch of toxic people around you!
It might be challenging, but you should be more receptive when your friends show concern about your well-being. Most often, they ask because they care and not because they want to be judgemental. When they raise a problem, especially during your manic episodes, try to consider it before shrugging it off. They might be seeing things that you can’t during your episodes and want to prevent you from harming yourself.
What should you do when you have bipolar friends?
Bipolar friendship problems are real, and you can quickly get exhausted if you don’t know how to manage them. But before you run out the door, you should remember that it’s not their fault that they behave the way they do, and they can live everyday lives when their symptoms are properly managed. Now that you know that all hope isn’t lost, here are some tips for maintaining your relationship with your bipolar friend.
To reach out to your bipolar friends, you need to know what their condition is all about. Thankfully, you can access tons of info from the internet to help you understand what they go through and ignite the flames of empathy in you.
I have blog posts on bipolar here.
Show your friends that you value them and are rooting hard for them. You should always tell them how courageous they are and how much you love them. It will help solidify your friendship and make them feel appreciated.
Show them support
It’s a good idea to make an effort to know them beyond the usual, understand their triggers and avoid them. When they feel like being alone, it will help to let them be and offer your support in other ways. You can also get them to try new fun things to get them out of their depressive episodes and be on guard during their manic episodes.
It will be best not to lose yourself in the process of being the best person to your bipolar friends, which is why you should take care of yourself. Remember to take time to unwind and release stress. You should always be in the best condition to take care of your bipolar friends.
Although there are times when I’d prefer to hide out at home in my comfort zone and times where I withhold the real me, I still value friendships. As someone with bipolar disorder, friendships, particularly with the right people, are essential in managing bipolar. They give you the chance to escape the constant and often conflicting chatter in your mind to be present and enjoy the company. I don’t have lots of friends, I have a few good ones, and that’s enough for me.