Whether you’re two friends and one happens to have bipolar disorder and the other doesn’t, or if you’re in the ever-intense double bipolar friendship (which tend to be some of my favorites), maintaining a friendship that includes bipolar disorder can be a confusing but rewarding adventure.
I must admit, the most common thing the bipolar-less person asks me is what their bipolar friend’s actions ultimately mean. Apparently there are things the (cycling, I’m not entirely sure about the stable ones) bipolar friend does that the average human friend doesn’t do, and I’ve seen some trends (and, well, lived them). What it boils down to is that problems with bipolar friendships seem to come most often from something like misinterpretation of our actions.
I thought I would put together a list of ways to help the friendships of anyone who is friends with someone with bipolar disorder. This could be for non-bipolar folk, or bipolar diagnoses alike, as long as the second person in the friendship has bipolar disorder.
1. Making Plans
The most common situation I know of is that two people have just met and they have really hit it off. Maybe they’ve hung out a few times and really enjoyed themselves. The trouble comes when bipolar disorder switches gears from a good or stable mood to a depressive mood.
So maybe one friend calls the BP friend, but they don’t want to hang out. Maybe they text them some other time, and they can’t, for whatever reason, hang out. This is about the time where a lot of people would shrug them off and maybe not call again, or continue making plans with other friends and stop inviting the BP friend.
Instead, I would recommend sticking with calling the BP friend to hang out and inviting them to social situations, and here’s why: there may be many times we don’t feel physically or mentally able to be around others, and these times can last from a matter of hours to a matter of months. It is something we have no control over, and you better believe we want to be able to be out with our friends.
The refusal to hang out is nothing personal, and it is important to a friend to see it that way.
2. The Disappearing Act
It is also common for a symptomatic bipolar person to fall off the face of the earth sometimes. One minute they’ll be in your life, and the next you wont be able to reach them by phone or email or whatever. This is another area where friends take it personally, but it is almost always because of bipolar symptoms flaring up. Your BP friend may be feeling very overwhelmed, or depression might make them feel like isolating themselves. BP friend might even be having a situation as serious as delusions or mania (and locked themselves indoors to clean the apartment for a week straight).
For a person with bipolar disorder who is still having symptoms, we can be extremely inconsistent. Many people love this wild and spontaneous aspect, but others take it personally when we are very open and friendly one minute and have disappeared the next. Many of us will come back around when we’re feeling better, and sometimes others need a little reminder that you’re still there wanting to be friends.
3. In Times of Trouble
I think many people make friends with bipolar folk because of their strong empathy and vivid personalities. It isn’t as widely realized that our upbeat attitudes can often come at the price of very low, depressed moments that follow.
It is 2 am. Your phone rings. It is your BP friend. They’ve clearly been crying and want to talk.
The risk of suicide for someone with bipolar disorder is unfortunately a very real danger. If we’ve gone out of our way to call someone, it is (in my experience) usually an emergency situation.
Staying calm and simply talking to your friend can do a lot to make them feel better.
One step further, if you’re pretty close with this person, having an emergency plan set up ahead of time with them in case this situation arises is a great idea (and is something I’ve done for a couple of my friends).
Really, being available to talk when your friend needs to talk is a huge part of the bipolar friendship.
4. Not Your Job
I would really hope that our good ol’ BP friend would be taking care of themselves. A lot of tension in relationships come from when they are not, and the friend feels the need to try to take care of them.
I realize that helping out a friend who is in trouble is one thing, but having a friend rely on you solely for their needs is no longer a healthy friendship. It is important to notice when your own needs aren’t being met because, like everyone else, your priority should be to take care of yourself first (after all, there isn’t anyone else who is going to).
5. Try to Be Forgiving
Though there are those in the bipolar community that will remove themselves from society when they feel volatile, there are others that find themselves in a situation where they can’t hold back. That’s right, our favorite word vomit.
Wow, yes, it is truly terrifying to think of how many horrible, insulting things I’ve said to people over the years. Sometimes it just comes out, and even though I only mean it for the slightest of moments, it is already out there.
Let me just say, our minds play tricks on us. One minute we could feel things like love and adoration and respect, the next we feel like Tina Turner in Beyond Thunder Dome. I’ve even had situations (more often than you’d think) where I become delusional and accuse people of the wildest, weirdest things they’ve never done. (Now you know why I opt to just stay home from the party…)
Being able to see, say, the humor in these situations helps me a lot. Being understanding, knowing what my friends truly think about me helps me remember that the things they say (or I say) don’t always count. If you’re going to hold a grudge, maybe a bipolar friendship isn’t for you.
To finish things off, I thought I’d conclude with a list of reasons why people with bipolar disorder make kick-ass friends:
10. We are a resilient bunch, you can’t keep us down
9. We are often forgiving of others
8. On occasion we’re the life of the party
7. We know how to be risk-takers
6. Many of us are creative
5. We love to make up for periods of depression when we’re feeling better
4. We’ve all led very interesting lives
3. We are a very humorous folk
2. We can empathize with whatever you’re going through
1. You wont find a more passionate group of people out there!