cat friends

This is a post I have published twice. I rewrote it a bit and am publishing it again. I just keep running into people with this same problem and I am hoping this will help. So please bear with me if you’ve seen this….

I hear a lot of my mentally ill friends online talk about “friends”. Mainly, it’s about how they don’t have any. I feel I have a pretty good circle of friends, but of course, I am 55 and had a lot of time to collect them. But when you’re depressed it’s easy (as you know) to feel lonely and without anyone to talk to.

I have sort of a system I have of dealing with friends and I thought I’d share it with you. Now I’m not saying you should do this and it might not be relevant to your situation. But because it is such a big topic among us, I thought maybe something in here would spark an idea for you.

I’m talking about real life friends…the kind you meet. Internet friends are fine, but they cannot be your whole life. You need people around you to be there when you’re down, and to be there when you’re ready to get out and go somewhere. Having said that, I did meet my very best friend of ten years online. We belonged to a writer’s group. We did meet in person and have had many wonderful adventures. If you can find someone who has a mental illness, that’s a great way to feel right at home. They’re a great source of immediate understanding. However (at the risk of sounding hypocritical) be careful here. Don’t sacrifice your own mental health. A friendship is a give and take. If someone ALWAYS pulls you down, it may be time to gracefully exit.

Okay, here goes: I was very depressed and felt like my friend situation was a bit out of control. I had friends I had not seen in forever, friends I had alienated with my behavior, friends from high school, you name it. Only a couple of these people were what I would call close friends. Because I wasn’t thinking too clearly, I decided to make a list. I sat down with a piece of paper (later used my phone) and listed everyone I thought had friend potential. I included friendly relatives I liked, old friends I had lost contact with, neighbors, old church friends,whoever I could come up with. I came up with about 8 people.

So I started at the top and even though I was depressed, I thought about that friend. What did she like to do? Did she have kids we could talk about? In my case, the top of the list was my best friend. I had to make amends for my poor manic behavior. (I went over this in a previous entry.) So I contacted her and said hi and we chatted. That went well even though I didn’t feel too great. Then I put a note in my phone to call her in a week or so. And when I felt better I proceeded to the second person on the list. I knew her very well (she has bipolar also), so I invited her over for cookies. I was in my pajamas when she came with no make-up. But we had a good time chatting and I felt better. I then, again, made a note to call her again in a week or so.

Now I was depressed and certainly didn’t feel like going anywhere. But I figured I could get the contacts going a little bit.

The next friend I sent a card to and told her I had been feeling down, but missed her. And guess what, she called me.

So I moved all the way down the list, a little at a time. By the time I had gotten to the bottom of my list, reminders started kicking in to call people again and chat. I got brave and invited one over for coffee. I actually put some clothes on for that one.

I worked this system from deep depression to my current stronger recovery. I still work it today. My friend list has grown to 18 friends and 4 relatives. Now that I am feeling better, I am doing all sorts of things with them and going out. A couple I only see about twice a year, but most of them I rotate through and really keep up with. Eighteen might seem like a lot of friends, but it comes in handy. When I’m down, I can rotate it around so not everyone gets all the moaning. I’ve moaned too much to the same person before and it ended in disaster.

I also made the decision to let these people know about my bipolar. I started out by telling them I had been fighting depression. Everyone is familiar with depression, so that was no big shock. Then as I could, I worked in the bipolar. So far, I’ve had no problems. I wanted to disclose my illness so people didn’t take it personally if I cancelled on them. And if I needed to be down in bed for a while, they understood it was not about them. I hope not to trouble anyone by manic behavior, but if I do, I can at least apologize and explain more about bipolar.

So where did I get my friends? I figured you might like to know as you’re probably skeptical I have so many. These aren’t just people I know….they are people I can call and go out to eat or to the movies with. Here goes: I met my friends 1) through the internet 2) on Craig’s List! 3) met 4 through church and have known them thirty years (am in a support group with them) 4) met two at my old job before I went out on disability 5) best friend from high school 6) met my first year of teaching 7) guy friend from high school 8) young person with MI I mentor 9) from bipolar speaking training 10) from weight loss clinic 11) from recent church retreat 12) one from bipolar support group 13) one I met through Girlfriend Social (I have not gotten to know her yet). This all doesn’t equal 18 because some I met at the same place and are repeats.

I have two “friends” I text on occasion but never ask out. They are too busy, so I don’t know if they are really friends or not.

I hope that doesn’t sound like bragging cause it’s not intended to. I don’t have any miracle skills or traits that make me a great friend. BUT I keep contact with these people and do things with them. I share my ups and downs and ask about theirs. I laugh with them. With several of them I do hobbies…such as baking. I think you would be surprised at how few people bother to keep up friendships. That is why YOU will keep friends…because you bother to call them!

So now every Thursday (I have a reminder in my phone) I glance down my list and see who I need to make contact with. Should I invite this one to dinner? How about a movie? Maybe one is sick and I go make a visit. Maybe someone just needs a friendly text to say hi. Maybe this one is a friend I only see on occasion, so I make a note in my phone a ways out to contact her.

My list changes all the time. I am always looking for new friends.

People also fall off the list. I have a “three contacts” rule. If I get in touch with them three times with no response, they are gone. One girl fell off the list because I cancelled on her so much she never returned my calls anymore. And one aunt I would call often died. A couple of ladies I met with just didn’t click.

Now you have to be thick-skinned with people. It’s really hard to do when you are depressed, but keep it in mind. If someone doesn’t get back to you, it doesn’t mean they hate you and you are a terrible person.Try again. If you are overly sensitive to everything, it’ll be tough to make and keep friends. But as your depression starts to lift, it will get easier.

All of you are in different ages and stages of your life, so meeting people may be harder or easier for you. But try school, church, support groups, meet up groups, websites like girlfriendsocial, or whatever you can think of. Try to be as brave as you can…ask someone sitting by you in school to meet you for coffee. If they say no, don’t worry about it. It was good practice.

I hope you get out there and meet some friends. Let me know how it is going. And if you need more ideas on how to get started or where to meet people I am here.

many hugs, lily

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