The Buddy System

I am stubborn.

No, it’s alright. I know I am. I often feel like, why get help with something that I could ultimately fix myself? 

Because fixing something myself means feeling good. For me anyway. I can give myself a teeny little pat on the back, maybe dance around for a minute, but then all of my hard work has been traded for a fleeting few moments of joy before it dissipates out into the cosmos.

Is it worth it? 

This is something I’ve been considering a lot lately… and I think this is a big factor for a lot of people who aren’t willing to seek help for treatment. There is a lot of fear around the idea of asking someone for help.

Fear of rejection
Fear of abandonment
Fear of looking weak
Fear of confrontation upon disagreement

And the list goes on.

I went to 6 12 step meetings a few months ago. Though I am not technically an addict, my life has been greatly affected by addicts on more than one occasion. They request that you attend 6 meetings before making a final decision about moving on with the program.

Ultimately, my decision was to stop after 6. There were things I disagreed with, but things I really loved as well, but the final decision was made when I couldn’t seem to focus on anything long enough to be of benefit because bipolar disorder kept rearing its ugly head and distracting me. As I mentioned in my recent post, I have a genuinely hard time taking my focus off of bipolar disorder and putting it on something else without the bipolar element rearing its ugly head and bringing the whole thing down. Without any help from medication, wrestling with bipolar disorder consumes me.

Anyway, the thing I liked the most about these 12 step programs is the idea of having a sponsor.

A sponsor is someone you like and get along with who has been through a similar struggle as you, and is able to help guide someone through the process of recovery.

Well, I’m the sort of person who loves patterns, and I quickly identified that in the grand scheme of things or in another setting, a sponsor might be a mentor if they were helping with your career or non-profit work, this person might be your therapist if you are seeking professional help for various reasons, this person might simply be a friend who has already had two kids when you’re having your first one.

What do they all have in common? This person is someone you go to when you have questions about a specific part of your life. When you want to bounce ideas off of someone. Someone that allows you to talk about specific things because they have a genuine interest in something similar.

What I’m suggesting here is the buddy system. 

I know I said earlier that it is difficult for me to ask for help. I have gotten better at it, but what has changed is knowing who to talk to. It is difficult for me to talk to someone about my feelings if I don’t know how they’re going to react, there are times when that fear can be extremely overwhelming.

When I started going to a local support group, I found the overall experience helpful, but like the 12 step program I attended, I didn’t have anyone to bounce the ideas I got from the group off of. Luckily, one of the attendees who was in my age range latched onto me about as quickly as I latched onto her, and I discovered the secret, amazing world of having a bipolar buddy.

We’re not just buddies anymore, we’re really good friends too. When I was hospitalized last year for a big episode of depression, I was terrified to tell anyone where I was. I knew, though, that she would understand. She did, and brought me an assortment of rockin’ magazines and art supplies.

Therapists also make good buddies, and though you’re very unlikely to go out for drinks with them afterwards, if you are buddy-less and can afford to see one on a regular basis, I think therapists can be amazing when it comes to supporting people in their search of knowledge and understanding.

You can meet other bipolar people at support groups, you can start a social group for bipolar people in your area on meetup.com (or there might already be one!). You can have a bipolar pen-pal, which is a great type of buddy because you can email them any time, 24 hours a day.

We’re all on the same team here, so I think it is a wonderful idea to watch each other’s backs. Some people don’t have a willing ear to listen, and I don’t know about you but I have two ears so I try to listen whenever I can. In the process, I almost always learn something about myself, too!

Before you run out and grab yourself a bipolar buddy, here are a few things you may want to think about first:

  1. It is probably best to have a buddy who is actively seeking treatment, and interested in learning more about themselves and what they experience. Obviously, if your buddy is a therapist you are safe on that end, but it can be dangerous to take on buddies who are in a current self-destructive mode. That self-destruction could potentially launch us into “saving mode”, and the point is not to save others. If you are a licensed mental health professional, by all means have at it, but otherwise it would be safer all around to have a buddy who is in the realm of at least stable-ish.
  2. Some people don’t mesh well, and that is natural. There are certain people I “click” with right away, and others I’ve tried to be friends with but just can’t seem to get in the groove. I would suggest not forcing it, when you find the right person, you will probably know it right away. Also, if the other person is of the opposite gender, you may want to ask their intentions (platonic? romantic?) before moving forward to make sure they align with your own intentions.
  3. Think about what level of commitment you feel comfortable with. Just email? Talking on the phone? Meeting in person? Sometimes that level of commitment is flexible depending on how comfortable you feel with the other person, and that is ok too.
  4. Know your buddy’s emergency plan. In the event that your buddy has a big episode, have a plan made ahead of time so you will know what to do. It is unfortunate, but a realistic possibility that emergencies pop up, but if your buddy also knows your emergency plan they can be equally as helpful in the event that you experience a big episode as well.
  5. Put the mask on yourself before putting it on someone else. I know this is a recurring theme in this blog, but it is important to remember that as a bipolar individual, you have specific needs in order to help keep yourself stable. Sometimes that means taking a day or two to respond to an email, or saying no when plans are requested, but that is ok. It is extremely important to take care of yourself first (because you’re the only one who is going to do it!) and it is very likely that your buddy will know exactly where you’re coming from (because they’ve probably been there too!).

Buddies come in all shapes and sizes, and they might share similar backgrounds, similar mindsets, similar ages, or similar symptoms as you. Having someone to bounce ideas off of, or even just talk with periodically can be extremely helpful -especially if you are between therapists.

So shake off the isolation! Spend some time with someone who’s communication barriers are down. Practice talking about what you experience in an open way, because a little practice can open the door to talking openly in other areas of your life as well!

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8 responses to “The Buddy System

  1. You know, believe this or not, there isn’t a single free meeting for bipolar disorder in the greater Pittsburgh area. I looked into every resource I could find.

    So, I sat there one day, tapping my finger on the desk and staring at the Meetup.com site. I couldn’t decide on whether I should see if anyone in the local area was interested. But, I was worried. Is that even legal? I’m not certified, and have no money to become certified. And if I could figure the legalities out, then how would I even conduct this thing.

    You are brilliant. You gave me the idea. It might take some time for startup. But, I know a place that would probably permit me to use their meeting space, and maybe wouldn’t charge. I can probably work that part out.

    I think i’ll put it out there on meetup.com and see what kind of response I get.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      Hooray!

      Yeah, our Seattle group has been called a “peer support” group, but I prefer using phrases like, “bipolar network” or “bipolar peer group”. Some people come for support, but a lot of people just want to connect and learn, and others are just looking to make friends who have had similar experiences.

      I’m glad you’re giving it a try, hopefully you’ll get some bites! We’ve gleaned a whole bunch of different ideas of places one could possibly meet, so if you are ever without a location, shoot me an email and I can rattle off a few different types of establishments that are probably in your area that are usually willing to share space.

      Good luck!

  2. Sarah,this is a brilliant post & full of good advice! Especially the platonic or romantic part, as it’ll lay down an important factor right at the beginning.

    May I be so bold to ask if I can put it up on my blog? I would obviously give all credit to yourself & this blog. I understand if you say no, so no obligations.

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      That is absolutely fine! I am happy to hear that you got something good out of this and want to pass it on, definitely feel free to do so!

      Thanks!

  3. OK great I’ll do it now.

    Big Thanks!

  4. Pingback: Great Bipolar Advice « The Bipolar Place

  5. I like this post for multiple reasons … One time during a manic phase I tried to start such a support group on Meetup because I could not find something less structured than the hospital support group. I was hoping for basically a chance to just share experiences and thoughts with other bipolars. Short story is that it failed miserably after 1 meeting, dying on the vine for lack of interest. The group’s founder was not a good choice, being (at the time) a poorly-medicated, depressed introvert who doesn’t relate well to strangers and who takes perceived rejection personally … Lulu, I hope Pittsburgh is more successful than Akron. I don’t think there are any legalities if you don’t claim to be a counselor or call it a group therapy session. It’s just a get-together with no promises other than understanding or empathy

    • Sarah @ bi[polar] curious

      I agree with you in the sense that these groups can be tricky to run, as having a bunch of inconsistent bipolar folks running a consistent website or event can be extremely frustrating at times.

      I think membership to these sorts of groups (in my experience) usually happen slowly, I would liken it to the rate it takes to gain momentum in any online community (blogs, forums, twitter). I suppose the key is patience, but that is something I struggle with a lot, personally.

      Sorry to hear your group didn’t work out, but I’d venture to say you may have a bit more luck giving things a try while more stable than in a manic place. At least that way you could give it an honest go. 🙂

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