Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Potato Guide to Making Friends When Bipolar

When I learned I was bipolar, I found myself thinking I was unloveable. I was scared to get close to anyone, feeling like my mental illness rendered me dangerous and useless.

These are all lies.
Every single one.

The other day I encountered another human who expressed a similar sentiment.

"How do you make friends when... I'm scared to make friends knowing I'm...."

Here's what I've figured out for new friends. This is for me. It's been working for me. It isn't for everyone.

1. Early on, they need to know I'm bipolar.

This can't be a secret to any of my friends. Why? My friends are my support team, to varying degrees. It doesn't mean they're my therapists. I'm grateful as they all play different parts in my life. Some are great for getting out of the house with, others commiserate, others are good at nurturing me.

2. They need to know what this looks like.

The good. The bad. The ugly.

My friends know how my bipolar manifests itself. It's not their job to keep an eye on me, but a lot of them do. If I'm acting off, they'll say something.

3. Some of them even know how to help me.

They know how they can support me (I'm pretty good at verbalizing my needs). I am so grateful when they do. It's not their job to help me. All I expect is that they respect me.

4. In turn, I know when to see a therapist, not a friend.

Friends are not therapists, but they can be therapeutic.

5. I have a list of Things you Don't do to Friends

For me, a mood disorder can mean I'm hella irrational at times and I usually even know when it's happening. I have a list burned in my brain of things to not do to friends in those circumstances. Friends don't stick around long if you're abusive, no matter how much you can attribute to your mental illness. Some might, but I don't feel like testing it and I also want to respect my friends.
  • No long, late night angry angsty texts.
  • If I feel my anger rise to a certain level, I know to run instead of engaging.
    • In turn, my friends have to respect that I need to run (it almost never ever, ever, ever happens). If they don't, I know they're not a safe friend for me to have. Nothing, nothing good comes from rage that goes beyond a certain degree. Once I'm away, I'm good at calming myself down.
  • No sending emails when angry, ever!
    • When frustrated, write thoughts in a word processor and then do nothing. This can vent out some frustration. Sending those words? Never going to do any good.
  • No attacking character, the core of who they are.
    • Unless if it's in a calm, well thought out way that's in love with very good constructive reasons that were thought about for a while and that the nature of the friendship is to engage in such conversations. If this is happening, it's not an attack. If it's not? Probably not a good idea.
  • Friends are not therapists. Don't use them as such.
  • Never lie. Don't give them a reason not to trust me. Trust is all you have, sometimes.
6. Figure out ways to love and support them.

This is within my emotional capabilities of the time, of course. Different for everyone.

7. Never take them for granted.

Side Note: There are times when I encounter someone that I tend to act up, more, around. Someone where, being around them, for some reason or another, lines up with my feelings of frustration, anger, or anxiety.

If this happens, I try to figure out why (frequently with my counselor) or on my own. I don't try to make things work and fit if I don't have the energy to make it so. If they're new in my life, not woven into my life, then I won't hesitate to let it be and walk away. I'm not in a place where I can afford to be around humans that bring out my worst. That can do a lot of damage in a few different ways and I don't have as much energy as I'd like to work through things.

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