Today I want to talk about friendship. Someone recently said to me; “You’ll lose all your friends if you keep posting about being bipolar. No one wants to be seen with a crazy person.”
If you think this way — I want a shot at changing your mind. If people say things like this to you — I want to show you that you aren’t alone and that you deserve unconditional friendship.
I deserve unconditional friendship
I’m living with bipolar disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder. Mental illness doesn’t define my entire life, but it is a significant factor in how I live it. If I hid my diagnosis from people I would be depriving myself of valuable mental health support. Mental health support is important. I deserve support. You deserve support. We shouldn’t have to hide who we are.
If I hid my bipolar disorder, my friends wouldn’t understand the importance of checking in on me when I’m depressed. They wouldn’t understand the importance of being patient with me when I’m manic. They wouldn’t understand the importance of my boundaries. I would be missing out on a huge hunk of life that I deserve.
I didn’t always understand
I didn’t receive my bipolar diagnosis until I was in my late 20’s. Sometimes I find myself grieving the years I lost because I couldn’t properly understand myself or what was happening with my mind.
I often look back on high school and college with tears in my eyes. I think about how I struggled and failed at making connections with other people. How I was alone for so long. I think about the fact that I hated myself for things I couldn’t understand. I think about how I often overcompensated with enthusiasm and humor to fit in, and how it rarely worked. And how I allowed myself to be mistreated, bullied, and abused…
Back then, I didn’t have the mental health support that I deserved and it made my life extremely difficult. I always felt so alone. I was always desperate to fit in, but never did.
So much started making sense once I understood my diagnosis and started loving myself. The first step is understanding who we are. Next we need to love who we are, because we are awesome. We deserve self-love. Then we must be brave enough to share our awesomeness with others. Then we can begin making the unconditional friendships that we deserve.
But I get it, we aren’t all in situations where we can be open about who we are. I’m extremely privileged because I’m able to live authenticity. You might not have this luxury. It wasn’t always this way for me. For a long time it was excruciatingly hard for me. So I absolutely understand. Protect yourself. Bide your time. Life will get better. It did for me.
“You’ll lose your friends”
Now, I want to directly address the statement that inspired this blog post, because it is truly an atrocious thing to say. It implies that I should hide a significant part of myself and create a fake facade in the name of friendship…. But that’s not how real friendship works. If someone doesn’t want to be my friend because I talk about mental illness, then I’m sincerely better off without them. If someone doesn’t want to be my friend because I’m living with bipolar disorder, then they aren’t the type of friend I need.
I have lost friends
I have lost friends over the years. But I’ve never lost a friend because I talk about mental illness. I lost a few before my diagnosis; back when I didn’t understand my mind. There were times when I didn’t understand that I was experiencing depression and it seemed like I was an absent friend for no discernible reason. I lost friends before I understood my mania, because it made me seem like I was overly outgoing… I was a bit too much for some people to handle.
Some friends walked away when I truly needed them. It was painful. It made me feel like I wasn’t enough. It made me feel betrayed and alone. But I survived. Some people are simply not meant to be in our lives forever. I’ve walked away from a few friendships too. And that’s absolutely okay. Everything isn’t meant to work out. But I know, it really hurts sometimes…
Remember, it’s okay to grieve the friendships we’ve lost. I have. We all have to do what’s best for our mental and physical health. We all deserve supporting and loving friendships that are the right fit for us.
But, again, I’ve never lost a friendship because I disclosed my mental illness… but if I did, I would consider myself better off for having weathered the loss.
A “crazy person”
Also, calling me a “crazy person” because I have bipolar disorder is horrible. I’m not “crazy” I’m simply living with a disorder. I’m disappointed that this type of language still seems socially appropriate.
I grew up in a place where mental illness was a seriously taboo subject. The “mentally ill” were spoken about with whispers in a derogatory manner. It fueled a lot of unnecessary stigma and many misconceptions about mental illness. It made me scared to learn about my own mind. I feared being “mentally ill” because I thought it was a horrible thing. In truth, it’s empowering. I love understanding who I am.
The truth is this — people who live with mental illness are just people. We are nothing to be scared of. We are just as deserving of friendship as anyone.
Also, mental illness isn’t contagious. You won’t catch my bipolar disorder if you have brunch with me.
I will keep writing
When I started blogging about mental illness I quickly realized that there are many people out there just like me. Many of you reached out to me. I receive messages daily. Some are from complete strangers who let their insecurities, fears, failures, and successes spill out. Some are long-time friends and acquaintances who are telling me about a part of their lives that the outside world has never seen. I’m astonished and inspired by the strength of the people who read my blog and message me. My blog followers mean a great deal to me. In a sincerely spectacular way, we are all friends.
Now I feel a responsibility to continue because I know what it’s like to not understand your own mind. I know what it’s like to feel completely lost and alone. I know how isolating and debilitating that can be. So now I share in hopes that my words will find those people. That maybe you will feel a hint of friendship or kindness from what I’m writing. Because you deserve friendship and kindness.
Conversations about mental illness are becoming more normalized. But there are still plenty of misconceptions and unfair stigmas attached to mental illness. Don’t let those stigmas get the best of you. Stigmas mostly originate from a lack of awareness and understanding. But minds change, people grow, and you are strong.
You will find your people. You will find the friendships you deserve. You will find people who love you for who you are. You will find people who know about your weaknesses and help you grow stronger. You will find people who love your weirdness, your joy, your diversity, and whatever it is you have to offer. You will find people who pick you up when you’ve fallen. People who will make your life full. As Evan Hansen says; “you will be found”.
And just in case, there is a list mental health crisis lines and supportive communities on my blog that you can use. You can also share these resources with a friend. You are not alone.
“Today, no matter what else, today at least… you’re you. No hiding, no lying. Just… you. And that’s… that’s enough.” -Evan Hansen (Dear Evan Hansen)
Thank you for sharing! Friends should be able to support you as a whole, not pick & choose which aspects to accept & which to reject. Bipolar Disorder is part of your life (and mine). It shouldn’t be hidden out of fear of losing friendships, in my opinion. Thanks!
Thank you for your real input on this for us.
Thank you for being so bold and speaking out. You are NOT crazy but inspiring. My brother was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in his 20s but didn’t share much of what he was experiencing. Probably more of a man thing than a stigma thing. Keep on writing!
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Thanks for sharing Elizabeth. You are a beautiful person!
I’ve gone through all that too. I am lucky last year when i started having an episode and couldnt sleep i went inpatient for 10 days and i got sleep i am proud of myself for nipping it in the bud having it since my teens or younger gave me some experience and i went through some tough times but i found writing my passion i wrote 53 books and over a thousand short stories. i also did 53 books and working on a book i want to make it a 1000pgs 400 through already
Keep sharing your story! Unfortunately people feel that way because there is so much stigma surrounding mental health, especially “scary” disorders that most people don’t understand, either from lack of experience or poor media portrayal. I am glad you’re still sharing your story and disclosing your illness to your friends. I think sharing and teaching others is the best way to end the nasty stigmas surrounding mental illnesses. I sincerely hope the people who said that to you learn they need to do better, and there is no shame in mental illness. Thanks for sharing!
Thanks for blogging. I love your candor.
Thank you for blogging. Enjoy what was written. I too, believe we find friends that understand us.
I was searching for a way to help and to understand my best friend that has been experiencing some mental health issues. Thank you for speaking your truth. I just wish my best friend would accept what is and has been going on with her so she can get the help she needs. We are both 56 years old and she has worked most of her years in the medical field but she is in such denial. She knows all about my mental health issues as well as my families but denies hers and is so defensive anymore. I just dont know what to do.
I am so grateful I stumbled upon your blog and this post! Thank you for sharing and being your authentic self. Karla xo