Continuing my series of blogs asking my support system to give their point of view on my Bipolar Disorder, and how having someone with Bipolar Disorder in their lives affects them, this week is the turn of my absolute best friend in the world.
I have been best friend’s with her since we were children, and I mean babies. Our mothers met and we became best friends, and have been ever since, for 32 years now. We have always been in each other’s lives, although when I went through my most difficult time during my teenage years and I was pushing everyone away we did drift apart, but we were always friends and she never failed to be there for me. She’s like a sister to me. I class her as part of my family and one of my favourite people in the whole world.
I have moved around a lot in my life but distance has never stopped us from staying close as friends; our bond is more important than any geographical distance. Although we still live far away from one another, she’s my best friend and I know that we will be friends forever. I asked her to answer some questions about my Bipolar Disorder, her answers are below.
Do you think there were early signs that your friend had a mental illness?
“Now I understand the illness a little I can see there were signs but I just did not recognise these signs at the time. Maybe because of the lack of knowledge and awareness. Mental health is one thing that was never addressed at school. It was like it doesn’t exist. It took for my career (as a nurse) to give me a better understanding of the condition.
When you look at my friend’s behaviour, especially between the ages of 14-17 it was like she was just experimenting with life and ‘went off the rails’ a little.”
This answer is so true and so important; mental health was never talked about at school. I had no idea what I was going through so how could the people around me have any idea? The lack of education and awareness has to change. During my teenage years, my behaviour was completely out of character because I was swinging between being hypomanic and depressed, with no periods of stability.
How did you feel when you found out your friend had Bipolar Disorder?
“Although a bit shocked, I felt there would be a lot of stigma associated, but it gave answers and a diagnosis meant my friend could get the most appropriate help. To me, my friend having a diagnosis of bipolar didn’t really change much; my friend was a friend who was having a difficult time and just needed a friend by her side to help her along the way. When having difficulties of my own however I struggled at first to continue to share everything as we always had as felt my friend was dealing with enough. To me, she was the life long friend who would continue to be a life long friend.”
It is a shock when first diagnosed or going through the diagnostic process, not just for the individual. It’s a lot to take in and it can be tough to deal with. I’m so lucky I have a friend who never left my side and who doesn’t care about the label, she just cares about me and takes me as I am.
Did it make a difference in how you felt about your friend when they were diagnosed?
“Why should a diagnosis like this change how you feel about someone. This is my best friend in question. I felt I wished I could maybe have done more but did not change the way I felt. My friend is my friend. My friend for life no matter what.”
What is the worst part for you about your friend having Bipolar?
“It’s hard not knowing how my friend is going to be from one day to the next or when the next bad episode will be. And this leaves you feeling helpless as a friend. Not just the tiredness or not wanting to go out but the self-harm is massive.”
This is something that a lot of my support system struggle with and understandably so; they worry about how I will feel or how I will deal with certain situations and when an episode will come. I’m not surprised because I worry about that too. The self-harm side of things is naturally a worry to those in my life, and I can totally understand that; I think it can be one of the more difficult sides of the illness for others to deal with and I can see why. Luckily for me, through therapy, medication and learning from my own illness, I am now 4 years self-harm free and I hope that will continue for a long time.
What do you think is important for other people who have a friend with mental illness to know?
“I say most certainly talk. And even better if you as friends are open with each other and take time to try to understand the condition. Yes at the beginning it is hard as a friend, you don’t know what to expect or how to help but if they can get good help then with patience things do get better. Just be there for them. It’s important to be open and honest and just be there.”
This is beautifully said and I completely agree; you don’t have to say the perfect thing or know how to act or what to say, you just have to be there as you would with any other friend. That’s what friendship is about, whether a mental illness is involved or not, just knowing that you have someone who will be there for you no matter what. I will always be there for my best friend if she needs me and I know that she will for me, and I feel blessed to be able to say that.
Thanks for reading. The next blog in the series will be from the point of view of my parents.