Because a friend had a "friendship problem," I spent yesterday thinking about the impact of bipolarity on friends.
When I began the medication-merry-go-round fifteen years ago, I always made it a point to call my friends as soon as a depressive episode was over to say, "I'm back." I tried very hard to be responsive to their needs, I sent belated cards for milestones in their lives I'd missed, and we entertained them at our house or I treated them to a meal to celebrate my return.
After years of doing this, it became exhausting. And then I realized that after an extended absence, there were some people with whom I just wasn't interested in renewing relationships. It was somewhat of a stunning realization to figure out that I hadn't missed them at all during my absence, and/or I no longer had the energy or interest in trying to maintain the relationship.
For me, it was the hypomanias and rapid cycling that seemed to wear people out. During the 10 years I was so ill and experienced such severe medication-induced rapid cycling, there were those who disliked the mood swings. (If we're being honest, so did I, but what could I do?). There were still others who needed more stability than I could provide.
In return, I became tired of trying so hard all the time. After living through the silence of so many depressions and the death-like experience of them, I didn't feel like muting the natural enthusiasm that comes with a hypomania. I figured that since I could barely speak for six months a year, so what if I talked a bit too much during the other six months?
In retrospect, it wasn't the most healthy attitude. But, at the time I felt like so much had been taken from me--my health, happiness, career, independence, sense of humor, and self-respect --that I was tired of constantly monitoring my behavior so that it fit within so-called normal patterns.
All these years later, I wonder what it's like to be a friend to someone whose moods shift? Do people feel abandoned when I'm depressed? Or are they relieved that I usually don't share my true feelings with them? During the few times I have shared my feelings, it's inevitably disastrous because most people don't know how to respond. And a depression is surely the worst time to try and explain what I need.
What I do know is that my mother was wonderful, and no one can take her place. She was always so glad to see me that it didn't matter if I was sad. She looked at me with such love in her eyes that I inevitably felt better. To her, I was always perfect. Since I knew she felt that way, it made me feel good about myself. And because she suffered from dementia in her final years and had memory issues, and I suffered from depression and had memory issues, I never had to worry if I was repeating myself.
During a hypomania, I wonder what people so disliked? Was it that I sometimes seemed "too over the top?" Or was it that they knew these periods wouldn't last? Did I make promises I wasn't able to honor? Or were they uncomfortable with my energy level and passion?
I have no idea. My feeling is it's probably not easy being a friend or relative to someone who's bipolar and whose behavior isn't under control.
On the other hand, it's sometimes not easy for me to be friends with people who aren't bipolar. Quite honestly (and I'm writing this somewhat facetiously), I tire of their stability. I find it utterly boring when people are the same way day after day and year after year. People who lack passion and enthusiasm aren't as interesting to me as those of us who have it. I don't find folks who have never been depressed as empathic and soulful as those of us who have been.
So...I guess the bottom line is that we all bring something to the table. And just maybe, people who aren't bipolar could learn a thing or two from those of us who are!