In response to an earlier post, Kelly wrote, "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."
This is a great question, and I appreciate your bringing it up. I can only present my own opinion on this, but I'm hoping my readers will respond to you as well.
In my case, since I wasn't diagnosed until I was 43, it wasn't a problem for most of my life. I have always found it relatively easy to make friends. And by the time I was diagnosed, I had a core of friends from my youth whom I had known for many years.
I had other friends whom I'd made in a wide variety of different careers, but I found that because of the competition in the industries in which I worked, I considered them more acquaintances than friends.
And while I had suffered depressive episodes for much of my adult life, the episodes weren't that disruptive to relationships. After my diagnosis, and the subsequent medication-merry-go-round, the erratic behavior that was medication induced, and the extended length of the depressions (also medication-induced), things changed.
For the last 15 years, I've had a real problem making new friends because I've been so depressed for such extended periods, and/or I alternated between depressions and hypomanias.
However, in my own case, I have been very open with long-term friends about my bipolarity. Since they had known me for so many years--the diagnosis meant nothing to them or to me. What was difficult was that once the depressions got so much worse and remained so for months at a time, I disappeared from sight.
While I know there are others who find it easier to be with people during a depressive episode, I've never been comfortable trying to make conversation when I feel so miserable that I can barely speak. And I have always found it difficult to pretend I'm interested in people's lives when it takes all of my energy just to survive.
However, again I'm not representative because I'm medication-resistant, and for years I had no relief at all from a series of increasingly devastating depressions.
Still, as I've written before, for most of my life, I tried very hard to communicate with my friends on a few levels. First, when I could feel a depression on the horizon--and since mine do last for months at a time--I would email them and let them know what was going on. I explained that I don't talking on the telephone when I'm depressed, but if I felt well enough I would respond to emails, and if I didn't--I wouldn't.
But, the moment I felt better--even if it took six months--I'd email and say, "I'm back." And I'd call people and invite them to the house for a meal or make a plan to see them. I'd try very hard to find out what happened to them during my absence, and to send belated cards for significant milestones in their lives. I tried to listen more than I talked, although I wasn't always successful.
While some friendships have waned, I have a core of people who remain friends. And now that I'm feeling so much better, I've begun meeting people again. The easiest way for me to find people I like--since I worked as a freelance writer for so many years (which is a very solitary occupation) and I'm now semi-retired--is to meet them in classes or through activities that interest me.
Currently, I'm taking a gardening class and a digital photography class. I've signed up to volunteer at my local animal shelter. I'm also volunteering at a local community garden, and I'm involved in a program at UCLA, which is my alma mater. Soon, I plan on participating in sports once again, and playing music at a senior citizen facility.
When I meet new people, I don't initially tell them I'm bipolar because it doesn't seem any more appropriate than having them tell me they're divorced, going to AA, or that they have diabetes. However, once we develop a friendship, I usually do disclose my bipolarity. The reason is because as far as I'm concerned, my behavior is "normal," although I still do suffer from periodic depressions--and I need to explain my absences without hurting their feelings.
I'm not sure if this is the best tact to take or not. And perhaps others will have different advice. But, while I spent years worrying that I wasn't a good friend to my friends because of my absences, I have finally realized that friends of mine--who are more available than I am--have other qualities that I don't particularly like. So, things even out.
I believe the only way to have good friends is to be a good friend. And without friends, life isn't at satisfying, as least to me.
I hope this is helpful. I also hope that others will provide guidance as well.