I’ve lost a lot from bipolar disorder, not the least of which has been friends. I’ve lost money, a career, and my physical and mental health, but it’s been the friendships that I’ve lost that have hurt the most. I lost numerous acquaintances, and that hurts. But to me, the heartache came with the loss of true friendships. Or at least what I thought were true.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a friend as someone you like, someone you enjoy being with; a person who helps and supports someone. It’s that last part that is tricky. If my “friend” helped and supported me, I guess they’d still be my friend. Everyone needs friends. I think even self-proclaimed loners need at least one good friend. Maybe that friend is their spouse. Friendships are important in life. They give us a lot—as much as we give to them.

Maybe that’s where the inherent problem comes from. Someone with bipolar disorder is not always in a state to give. First there’s the likely self-esteem issue and, of course, the potential social anxiety—both of which can make friendships difficult. Adding fuel to the fire comes in the form of depression. When the person with bipolar is depressed they tend to push others away. They are low-energy and often times will hibernate in their homes, or even their bedrooms. They are very non-social and frequently cancel plans.

Then comes the mania. At first blush, it may appear that a manic time is when the friendship would blossom—and it can. At least at first. There is the partying, the shopping, the loud music, and the joking; but then comes the risk-taking, the irresponsibility and the dangerous side of mania. And worse yet comes the rapid-cycling. Swinging moods from one extreme to the other. How can that do anything but wreak havoc on a friendship? 

I guess for me the question is not knowing why. For me, why did I lose three extremely good friendships? One of 5 years, one of 10 and one of 17. I think it was the cycling, the irresponsibility and the unpredictability that went along with it. But it was sad. It was sad how such deep and meaningful relationships could be set a fire. How they could be thrown by the way-side without even an explanation. For me, it was so devastating that I took to my bed and didn’t rise for two years. It was like the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back. It was simply more than I could handle.

Now, I have a few new friends, and two awesome best friends—the kind of friends that everyone dreams of. And surprisingly, they both have bipolar disorder. I think that kind of friendship works best. We understand each other’s ups and downs. We get each other. There are no demands and no expectations—merely friendship.

If you’re a friend to someone with bipolar disorder please don’t dismiss their friendship. There’s a lot you can do to help them fight their illness. Read my blog on How to Help Someone with Bipolar Disorder. Don’t be a statistic—another loss to bipolar disorder. Maybe your friend doesn’t know how to articulate it to you, but they need you. They need their friend.

I consider myself a good friend. I’m caring and attentive. I’m compassionate. I’m giving and accepting. I don’t judge. I just don’t know how I didn’t warrant that in return. I expected understanding and patience. It’s sad that people dump their friends—especially when they need them the most. I expected loyalty. Despite my health. Despite anything.

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