As I write this post today I’m feeling pretty out of it due to a summer cold that came on strong. The yucky bug has lingered around our home for almost two weeks! First it struck Marilla, and then it made mincemeat out of my husband Craig, who doesn’t even usually catch colds. I stayed healthy while I first cared for Rilla, and then for Craig, but I knew deep down it was only a matter of time until I’d start sniffling.
So here I am, sore-throated, stuffy-nosed and sneezing in mid-eighty degree weather. For once I am happy that our home is naturally quite cold…it strikes me as similar to a root cellar! At least I’m able to function enough to take care of the girls even though I become a big baby when I get a cold. Craig is working at a site with a ninety-minute-long commute each way, which is probably for the best since his bedside manner in regard to the common cold is not his strong point! To top things off, due to the MAOI (monoamine oxidase inhibitor) medication Parnate that I take for bipolar disorder, I can’t consume any over-the-counter cold medications or else I’ll get way sicker than the cold itself.
As crappy and crabby as I feel, surprisingly I haven’t lost my craving to blog - at least it gets my mind off my cold for the time being!
My last post covered my social anxiety and Meetup groups. Ever since I wrote that piece I’ve pondered other subjects to write about, including how friendships are affected by mental illness. This post only touches on the tip of the friendship/bipolar iceberg. (Sorry for that sketchy metaphor – I’m going to blame my poor writing on my cold.)
Seriously, I’ve wondered about what I can realistically offer as a friend now. To be honest, I don’t have that much to give this summer. It has only been a year since my last hospitalization for bipolar depression. I’ve had a whopping seven hospitalizations, and it feels much less than a year since my last stay at Chez Hellhole. My therapist, who doesn’t like to throw out psychiatric labels, recently surprised me when she told me that she believes I suffer with PTSD from my hospital experiences.
In some ways I’m doing great, but in other ways I’m still very fucked-up.
My friends who I feel most comfortable around are ones who have mood disorders. One example is “S.”. A few years ago she was diagnosed with bipolar NOS (not otherwise specified; i.e. symptoms of bipolar disorder exist but not fully for a bipolar I or II diagnosis.). We met through the “Women with Mood Disorders” DBSA support group I created several years ago. She is supportive, thoughtful, and funny as hell. I can be my damaged self around S. without feeling ashamed. S. is strong enough to be able to deal with my ups and downs, and if for some reason she couldn’t handle them at a given time, I know she would be honest with me and tell me her limits.
I have another friend, “D”, who suffered postpartum depression and she took antidepressant medication for it, which served as a godsend. While D. doesn’t have a chronic illness like I do, I still feel deeply understood by her. Unfortunately we don’t see each other in person very often, but she stays in touch with me through the internet. I’m fortunate to have another friend “M”, a mom who I neglected during my years of hospitalizations. M reconnected with me recently. Ssuffers with depression and she’s incredibly compassionate. I feel at ease in M’s presence – that’s no small thing in my book! I’m thankful that she chose to reach out to me again.
I have a couple other mom friends who don’t have mood disorders and who I don’t see often. However, I want to stay connected with them for several reasons, mainly because of our children’s longtime friendships and I also genuinely care about them. This is not an exhaustive list of my friends, but I don’t have many friends, though. Before I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder I had twice as many friends as I do now; some of them very close, others more of the acquaintance variety.
Friendships are precious and they’re also a slippery slope to navigate, especially when living with bipolar disorder. I know I’m limiting myself by focusing on friends who live with mood disorders, but I really can’t help it! I feel compelled to spend time with my “tribe” of people who can truly empathize with me, and who don’t harbor stigma.
This post’s title “Another Great Divide” is the name of one of my favorite Split Enz songs. The song lyrics brilliantly depict the breakup of a romantic relationship using simple mathematical terms, but for me the title “Another Great Divide” also evokes a rift between any two important subjects, i.e. the divide of a friendship between a “normal” person (if one exists, right?) and a person with serious mental illness.
I would love to know how any of you who live with mental illness regard and handle your friendships with those who aren’t living with bipolar, depression, anxiety, etc. This is a subject so near and dear to my heart, so please comment away! Take care and take your vitamins! ;)
“Another Great Divide” by Split Enz