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How To Cope With Losing Friends Because Of Your Mental Illness

I know much of life is a slow erosion of friends. People choose different paths, leaving both of us with not much to say. We have arguments that are never resolved. I think a lot of people lose friends because of pride. That’s not a good or a bad thing. It just is.

When you have autism or a significant mental illness (such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, PTSD, addiction, etc.) it’s different. The loss might be more palpable because you’ve gotten close to fewer people to in the first place. With autism in particular, you might find that some of your friends were never as close as you thought.

I always had a few friends growing up. Although they tended to drop me after a while. I had the same best friend- an autistic girl- for years. I had to cut her out of my life to protect myself when she got into an abusive relationship. Other friends came and went. Some were damaged people who brought me down (I couldn’t see manipulation at the time) to make themselves feel better. I also had a trauma unrelated to autism that caused me to reevaluate the people in my life.

I think I’ll lose a lot of friends soon for different reasons. Over the past couple of years I’ve finally come to accept that I am actually disabled. I communicate differently. I can’t work full-time or in the kind of environments most people do. It takes me so much time to arrange my focus towards something, organize my time, engage in repetitive behaviors, and combat my natural depression, that I can’t expect to accomplish as much in one life. And I don’t have to feel guilty about it.

Most of my regular friends work real jobs now. They’ll get married and have families. I’m still hanging around playing Pokémon GO, and writing about pain. I realize that’s low-balling it at my level of functioning. But I’m working towards something better. I’m willing to accept it if my old friends can’t relate to me anymore. We don’t have to make a big scene. We can just let each other drift away.

To be honest, I’m also losing my ability to relate to neurotypicals. I’m not comfortable talking openly with them about the things that concern me. If someone hasn’t grown up with this pain, I feel awkward and exposed around them, like they’ll be judging every word that I say. A lot of that is my problem.

People don’t always believe that I have autism. I know I show enough tells. But I guess not everyone is cued in to them. Sometimes people might believe that I have autism, but they doubt it’s as bad as it is. Believe it or not, a lot of people don’t see Asperger’s as an actual disability.

Five years ago I’d have been so flattered if someone refused to believe I was disabled. Now I know what it actually means is that they’re not willing to listen to my point of view while keeping their own bias out of it.

I had an autism counselor not believe me when I said I was the one ending my friendships. I know she thought I was trying to save face but denying that I might have some agency was insulting.

Losing friends is one of many rites of passage for people with psychotic disorders. It’s like losing your virginity. Everyone always remembers when their first psychotic break was. My boyfriend’s best friend was on track to be a very successful commercial artist. But when he got diagnosed with Bipolar Type 1 at 25, his crowd wanted nothing more to do with him. Now, he finds it easier to relate to other people who also have problems. So many of our stories are the same.

The best advice I can offer you here is to stick with your tribe. That’s what I’m doing. It might not be the most enlightening thing in the world. But having a psychiatric condition is like being in AA. Those are the people who understand you best.

Don’t write off neurotypicals either. They might surprise you. The few non-disabled or mentally ill people who I’ve felt comfortable with have brought me so much joy. You just have to keep an open mind. Like you want others to do about you.

*Image from Tumblr. Yes, I know they spelled inseparable wrong. I like it anyway.

How To Cope With Losing Friends Because Of Your Mental Illness

Gwendolyn Kansen

Gwen Kansen is a mental health writer in New York. She likes food, karaoke, and smart-but-campy books & TV. She's hoping to capture a little sliver of life on here that might not be the first thing you'd see.

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APA Reference
Kansen, G. (2016). How To Cope With Losing Friends Because Of Your Mental Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from


Last updated: 18 Sep 2016
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