So my internet friend over at Pretty All True was brave enough to post about a friendship she lost, in part, due to both of their problems dealing with her depression. I didn’t link to the post because I didn’t want you to think that Kris was all depression all the time or anything. But you can find it if you want. Anyway, it got me thinking. My best friend, the boys’ godmother and all around terrific lady is bipolar.
I’m not going to go into our friendship or what bipolar disorder is. Instead I thought I would post 5 tips for anyone who has a friend or who is themselves struggling with a mental illness. I actually hate that term because ‘mental’ to me means “spaz” but I think that’s just left over early 90s slang. Also, because I think most people who deal with depression don’t really like to think of themselves as “sick”. Anyway, it is what it is.
So if you have a friend struggling:
1. Knowledge is power
Try to learn everything you can about their condition. Whether it’s depression or bipolar disorder or any number of things that can come up. By knowing what you’re dealing with, you will be better equiped to deal with it. I think this is even more important for emotional stresses than physical ones because you can see physical pain (like a broken arm) and understand why your friend is being so short with you – because damn broken bones hurt and make you kind of snappy. But with depression it just seems like your friend is being a big old bitch for no reason. She/he is not. Also, and I can’t stress this enough, try to learn the warning signs of suicide. Though, honestly, I’m not sure how helpful they are. Mainly because suicide just seems to come out of nowhere no matter how many “signs” you see in the rearview mirror.
I find knowing about bipolar disorder really helps me to not take things personally. I understand that the reason my friend hasn’t asked me about my life is because she’s in the middle of a very ramped up manic cycle that includes paranoia, irrational behavior, elation and there’s just not room in her head for me. Not because she doesn’t want there to be but because, in that moment, it’s not allowed. So I chill and don’t get offended.
2. Keep calling, emailing, texting, whatever
When my friend is in the middle of a deep depressive cycle, she falls of the earth. It sucks to not get emails or texts back but I keep sending them. I don’t care if they drive her crazy, when she pulls back out I want her to know where to go.
3. Be honest
For a long time I tried to play nice. When she was hyper I laughed and played along even if some of the behavior was seriously scaring me. When she was depressed I tried to act like everything would be ok. Then, despite me doing everything I thought was ‘right’, she ended up in the psych ward with bandages around her wrist. She thought it was hilarious but I was pissed and, for the first time, I let her know it. Her actions caused me a great deal of pain and while I know she’s not entirely in control she isn’t stupid. She needed to know what it does to me. By playing along I was enabling her. By being honest, I am now able to ask about her meds, her state of mind, etc. and not pretend it’s all going to be ok.
4. Take care of yourself
Sometimes, I just can’t do it. I can’t take the phone call or I can’t take the way she’s freaking out about something that should be so easy (like working a shift). I know it’s not her fault but damn, it’s stressful and I have a life too. I have my own struggles. I need to take care of myself. So I give it a few days and let myself heal a bit. The surest way to wear the friendship down is if you both end up beaten. One of you needs to take the time to take care of yourself and usually, it’s the one who is most able to. Don’t feel guilty.
If you are struggling:
1. Knowledge is power
Just like your friends, you need to know what is going on with yourself. Learn about your condition, treatments, medications etc. Plus, all the stuff I said above.
2. One thing to try not to say
“You don’t understand me. Your life is great.” You might really feel this but it’s not true. It’s just not. As hard as it might be, especially when you’re depressed, try to see that your friend is human and like you, trapped in their life/head whatever. You can’t see in that life and at the moment you probably can’t even see the truth in yours so passing judgement (even good judgement) will be detrimental.
3. Be honest
Depression is so hard. Really, I hate to see my friend in that much pain. I know it hurts. But I don’t know how much and I don’t know when it starts to get better. I need to know these things. The one luxury the person with depression has is that they know themselves. The friend just has to guess and that can be torture. If you think of it, even if you are embarrassed, please tell someone how you’re feeling both good and bad.
4. Take care of yourself
You don’t have to spend your “good” days repairing burned bridges. Get better first. Restore yourself, then make a call. Don’t feel guilty. That will just make you feel worse and this is the time you get to enjoy feeling better! Your friend wants you to be happy so let yourself be happy.
And the one tip that goes for both
Trust your friendship
I understand that mental illness can kill friendships. There are whole weeks I go without speaking to my best friend because I seriously can’t handle that shit. But I trust that we are friends. When I see or call her the next time, nothing has changed. We’re still 18, sipping wine and swapping make out stories. I trust our friendship, that part that you can’t force, to always be there as long as my friend is.
I hope this didn’t sound preachy or trite because honestly, even though I offer these “tips” I have a hard time following them myself!
I would like to hear your stories – names can be changed to protect the innocent 😉 I always allow anonymous commenting too.