Thursday, April 16, 2009

Do We Wear Out Our Friends?

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!


Mariposa said...

This is what I was trying to say in one of my comments here...and many times I share your feelings and views.

I think the only advantage I have is I live with my parents and I'm still not married, so I don't have so much to think of. I have only close relatives and super close friends (which are based in another island) so we rarely get together, and that fact makes me look forward to our meeting rather than looking at it as something mechanical just so I can be physically and emotionally available for them.

Do I wear them out, I hope not! But if I do well, I'd rather not go on wearing them out...after all, I blog and I have a full time job...and I figure I still have to sleep too. ;)

Since I mention blogging, this is where this community makes it easier for people to get/offer support...because we do it on our own will at our own pace, we don't feel obligated...and we don't oblige bloggers to be there for us.

I'm glad to have found you here, and just so you know, you will never wear me out!

As always, I prefer the moody roller coaster to a predictable escalator any day, it's fun being's fun being us! I know I am a stubborn little optimistic to the end. :)

Gianna said...

I can't say my experience is anything like yours. Except when I was psychotic and misdiagnosed with bipolar at age 19 a few people freaked out and dumped me (but really only a couple--most people let it go) and now 20 years later now that I'm physically disabled but in a new place/State of the Union I see that my new "friends" aren't so much friends.

In general I've had incredibly stable and loving mutual relationships with numerous people for many many years. Those friends I made in CA.

NOW though that I'm physically unwell...and I live somewhere where all my long term friends do not, NC...I am having a bit of your experience...the people I thought were friends who don't even bother to see how I'm doing--well I know that they're not really friends and I don't intend to rekindle those relationships...

That's not EVERYONE I know here but a good number.

my close friends in CA are still close...we still communicate and I can still feel their love through the phone. One of them visited recently and I had to hide in my room a good part of the time...all the way out here from CA and I had to hide from her...BUT she cried when she left and told me how special the time together was even if I couldn't be with her as much as I would have liked.

The person that has the hardest time is my husband...I'm so very involved in myself right now...but anyone who is seriously ill by the nature illness is that way and we struggle through it...I think we'll make it but it's hard.

marja said...

Ah, thank you for this discussion, Susan. So important to talk about and think about.

Precious indeed is the friend who can take ALL we are and love us and support us through it all. Such a friend is especially precious when when she is strong and hasn't even been there herself, but is willing to come to an understanding and acceptance. I have one friend like that. And how I love her. I just hope I can be there for her in the same way.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Mariposa,
Yes, I know that many times you share my feelings and views. And there is something so comforting about that. Here we are, living across the world from each other, and we have so much in common.

I agree about blogging. While I've never been in a support group--because I have never felt I'd enjoy it--here, I believe people find each other because of what they share.

I'm truly glad I'll never wear you out! And I love that you're a "stubborn little optimist." I always know that whatever your comments are, they will make me feel good!


Wellness Writer said...

Actually, I, too, have close friends whom I've had for many years. It was only when I began the medication-merry-go-round that it was difficult to make new friends.

The people I "dumped" and those who "dumped" me were more in the category of acquaintances than friends.

In the last 15 years, it's been difficult to make new friends, but since I'm better most of the time, it shouldn't be any longer.

Still, after a lifetime of being a person who was so sought after, it was very humbling to suddenly find that people didn't like me. And perhaps that was an important life lesson that had made me more empathic to others.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Marja,
I'm glad it helps. I always think that when we're undergoing something that's difficult, it's good to know that others--whom we truly care about--have experienced it as well.

And it's so nice to have the kind of friend you mentioned--and to be that kind of friend for her.


Gianna said...

well, I think sometimes it's not a bad thing to not be liked...people who are true and real and honest aren't always the most popular people...

yes, all the people who have disappeared on me here in NC I would categorize as acquaintances too...I haven't had time to make deep friendships...

I'm actually excited about being healthy enough to make good friends again because I envision it as an opportunity to make unusually special friends because I've learned so much about myself and people and I'm no longer willing to be anyone but me with less of the persona who drew people to me in the past--not that she wasn't me either but I think I'm more authentic now.

of course my core friends are already like that and we've grown together but I made them in a time of my life when it was easier to meet people at university and what not...

I'm excited to meet people who will find my mature adult self interesting upon my recovery because I've matured so profoundly it can only be good.

Wellness Writer said...

I would agree there is a difference between acquaintances and real friends.

And, I, too, look forward to meeting new friends who will like like me as I am.

What I truly don't understand is why people liked me so much when I wasn't nearly as deep nor willing to share very much of myself.

But, perhaps that just says something about the work I was doing (TV and magazines) rather than who I've become.

I've off to my gardening class! Have a lovely evening!


Tamara (TC) said...


I LOVE that you are so open and honest with your feelings and your process! I tend to be the same way. I need to write to understand myself and sometimes I wonder if I share that writing when I shouldn't. But, all I can do is be me and hope that my true friends understand. Acquaintances come and go. Sometimes I get me feelings a bit hurt when I lose and acquaintance but I do understand that my changeability can be wearing on some people.

By the way, I am blogging at as well as my Desire to Heal blog. I found that I wanted to keep Desire a bit more educational but I was sinking into depression not having a place to be me.


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
I know what it's like to wonder whether disclosure is always a good thing. And, there are times when I delete a post because I no longer feel good about having published it in a public venue.

But...I also wonder how we learn from each other if nobody shares their true feelings. For all the years I kept these feelings to myself, I felt so isolated. And it was very difficult to feel like I had to figure everything out myself.

And while others seem comfortable discussing how miserable they feel (particularly in bipolar and depression blogs), I find few people who explore "why they feel that way, and share their healing processes."

You always have and it's one of the reasons I enjoy reading your blog. Thanks for letting me know that you're blogging elsewhere. I was concerned about you and didn't realize you were posting elsewhere.

I'll read your other blog. But know that I'm sending hugs your way!


Kelly said...

This post leaves me thinking, "How does a person with bipolar disorder make friends?" My moods aren't exactly conducive to deep meaningful relationships. I'll go through a stretch when being with another person is the last thing I want. Then, of course, the poles swing and I suddenly seek contact with the outside world.

My biggest question is always how to explain these mood swings, and whether an explanation is even necessary. I don't think I could trust anyone knowing I have bpd.

Wellness Writer said...

Dear Kelly,
Sorry it took me so long to respond to your comment. I had a class on Monday night, and didn't sleep well.

I appreciate your bringing up this issue, which I think is a very important one. In response, I'll write a post on it on Wednesday.

I'll tell you how I feel about it, and hopefully other people will weigh in as well.


Tamara (TC) said...


I think my greatest passion in life is constantly searching for how to heal and feel better. I think of my body/mind/spirit as a laboratory and I love to try almost anything if I think it might help. Whether it is good or bad, I have always been very open about my thoughts, feelings and what works and what doesn't work. I figure that if someone can learn something by watching me go through trial and error then that is a bonus! I realize at time it can make me seem like I am all over the place with what I think, believe and feel but how else do you learn?

I am so happy to be a part of a community where others are exploring just like I am and sharing what they are learning. I think we live in such an exciting time that we have access to so much information and to people from all corners of the world. Connecting is so healing and how wonderful that all you need is a computer to reach people who you never could have just a few short years ago!


Wellness Writer said...

Dear Tamara,
I couldn't agree with you more. I think it's so great to try different methods of healing, and I've been learning a lot about chakras (sp?) from you.

Also, I realize that people sometimes feel I try too many things and quit if it's a bad thing.

But what I also notice is how few people are willing to thrust themselves into something entirely new. So, I figure that if I like a small percentage of what I try, it's okay.

And I agree that it's fun to learn about what others are doing, and find out how it's helping them.

To think that we can connect with people across the country and throughout the globe because of common interests is extraordinary.

Hugs to you!