Connecting with people after your diagnosis can be harder than you think. Remember how difficult it may have been for you to come to terms with your diagnosis? If you were like me, you had never heard of the illness before, For others of us, we had been misdiagnosed for so long, this new diagnosis fit. Finally. Some of us felt crazy, others felt it was just something to deal with. My point is that it was different for all of us. The view of ourselves, no matter the size, changed.
That is how it is with our friends.
Initially, everyone is cool. How can they not be? They do not want to be the first person to duck out. But rather quickly, you will notice a change in these friends. They will not call as much, text, or come around. Communication with them will be brief and perfunctory. It will be sad because you know they are reacting to a label, stigma at its best.
This will be the first group to leave. It does not matter how long you have been friends or how close you two have been. You are crazy (they think) and they are not. They do not want that association. They do not want others to know they hang out with someone with a mental illness because what if it rubs off on them? It is a little ignorance and a little bit of selfishness mixed in. But you cannot force anyone to be your friend, this I know for a fact.
Some friends will stick around. These are well-meaning friends. They may not thoroughly understand your illness or that it is chronic, but they want the best for you. There will only remain a handful of these friends so do not take them for granted. Bipolar disorder, as beautiful as it, is a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes, when you are depressed and at a low part of the roller coaster, you will push these friends away as a form of isolation, by not returning calls, texts, emails, smoke signals. You simply cannot deal with anyone else. At first your apology will be enough. But 5 apologies later, your shit is getting pretty old.
And then, like before, they will slowly, or sometimes even at this point, abruptly, sneak out of your life. They can’t understand what it means to live with your illness so they pull the plug. If a person does not live with bipolar disorder it is hard for them to understand your life. Bipolar disorder is a mood disorder, hence, your mood is always affected. That roller coaster takes you up and people will be drawn to you or it may take you down and that is no fun to be around. But please remember, this is not your “fault.” No one asks for a mental illness because as far as I know about most of the disorders, it can make life more difficult to navigate. By the time all was said and done I had two good friends. Then, a friend from college – nearly two decades ago – did not want to be my friend anymore. Yes, it broke my heart, but we had little in common anymore, of which we both agreed. Then my other best friend stopped taking my calls. I do not know what I said or did. Maybe it was just too much.
It was a little before the time of losing my old besties that I made two new friends. Both of them deal with mental illness and I think that is why we relate so much more. When I was having a panic attack I called my new girl friend and cried. I was embarrassed but she made it alright and for that I am thankful. She is also on available during the day so it is easy for us to meet up for a coffee or have a chat on the phone. My other new close friend is a man who was once an inpatient in a psych ward. You would never know he deals with depression and he is the way I hope to one day be. The three of us belong to a meet up group, that is how we met and they came to my book signing before we were really close friends which meant a lot to me.
Just know that even though you lose friends you will make new ones, ones who accept you for who you are today, not for who you used to be.